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FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX

SYNOPSIS:
A small desert rig searching for oil, managed by Kelly (Miranda Otto), is forcibly shut down and a cargo plane is sent to pick them up, to fly them to Beijing and beyond, across the Gobi desert. The plane hits a giant sandstorm and pilot Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) tries to fly round it, unsuccessfully. When the plane crashes, two of the passengers are killed and the survivors face uncertainty, isolation and the wild side of nature. Also on board is Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), an unexpected traveller who was waiting for a ride out of the desert when the cargo plane arrived. The withdrawn young man eventually comes up with the remarkable plan to rebuild the downed plane from the salvageable components. Towns refuses to go along with the harebrained scheme, until a small band of deadly desert smugglers turns up to reinforce the dangers they face staying stuck in the sand. But bad weather, bad luck and bad feeling between the small band of survivors threaten to kill them off before the plan is realised.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Over 30 years after his father, Robert, directed the original adaptation of Flight of the Phoenix from Elleston Trevor's novel, William Aldrich came up with idea that Fox (which had made it) should remake the film. I am not sure what arguments he used, but it couldn't have been to improve the casting; the original had Jimmy Stewart as Towns, Hardy Kruger as the airplane designer, and actors like Peter Finch, Richard Attenborough, George Kennedy and Ernest Borgnine. In any case, by 1997 Fox had agreed. And it can't have been that this was a better screenplay than Lukas Heller's, since it took another seven years to get it written.

Director John Moore is said to have been jumping at the project because of his obsession with airplanes. It's a pity his obsession doesn't stretch to characters. This is a survival adventure movie, set in an isolated, desert location. There is nothing but sand dunes to distract us from the intra-group tensions. So it is rather depressing to report that the make up of the group thrown together in such tense circumstances is glib, tokenistic multi-cultural and politically correct. A woman is written into the story (Miranda Otto) to play the manager of the rig looking for oil, an addition that is neither credible nor useful, since her presence causes no sexual tension whatever.

So perfunctory are the attempts at creating character that when some of them are killed, we hardly bat an eyelid. It's only when Giovanni Ribisi is released from his character's shell well into the second half of the film that there is anything vaguely interesting going on; a killing to jolt us awake. Ribisi, his dark Italian hair dyed blond as a misplaced homage to Hardy Kruger perhaps, comes to the band's - and the film's - rescue, but the latter is too big a task even for an actor of his talents.

Dennis Quaid's Towns is a bristle bearded caricature with no recognisable personality other than the one word description that might have been written into his script; 'gruff'. Miranda Otto is left to do the best she can with an empty shell of a persona, and the rest of the cast are nothing but simplistic labels; it's not their fault and they work valiantly, but script and direction lack veracity, imagination and intelligence.

Review by Louise Keller:
A boys own adventure that relies on its exotic setting rather than credible storyline, Flight of the Phoenix fails to take flight due to a mindless script and uninspiring direction. A remake of the 1965 film starring James Stewart, Peter Finch, George Kennedy and Ernest Borgnine, the story is based on a novel by Elleston Trevor about a group of people stranded in the middle of the Mongolian desert with little hope of being rescued, after their plane crashes in a storm.

Dennis Quaid heads the cast of the remake, and injects a considerable amount of gravitas into his role as pilot Frank Towns, while Giovanni Ribisi makes his enigmatic Elliott, an intriguing eccentric character. It's credit to all the cast that they deliver the trite lines the script demands with such conviction - lines like 'Are you ok?' and 'Let's go home; we're not garbage, we're people to our families.' In fact Quaid is so convincing as he gives his life-affirming motivational speech at the end of the film, I was sure he must be referring to the fact that the shoot was nearly over.

Director John Moore has not been able to keep the reigns on this project to maximise its effectiveness as a thrilling survival adventure. He seems intent on the impossible task to make the film into a Lawrence of Arabia/Lost Horizon epic. The situations and responses seem so contrived, including the casting of Miranda Otto as the head of the oil rig. Otto is as good as ever, but her role is obviously that of a token female. This is one project that the multi-talented Edward Burns, who is credited for co-writing the script with Scott Frank, will undoubtedly want to forget.

The film begins with plenty of promise as the group whose oil rig has been shut down, boards the plane reluctantly. There's a lively rapport in the cockpit between Quaid's Towns and his co-pilot AJ, played by charismatic Tyrese Gibson, as the plane takes off, which is contrasted by the mood of the passengers strapped in the back. The scenes of turbulence as the plane flies through the storm are terrifying, offering the only moments that we actually connect with the characters. The South African Namibian Desert (doubling for the Gobi Desert) is spectacular - ripples of barren sand dunes that extend as far as the eye can see. I also enjoyed Marco Beltrami's score, which incorporates vocalizations and African and middle Eastern influence in some of its passages.

Incongruities in the script will irritate the discerning, and the relationships all seem fake and contrived. Teenage boys may enjoy this adventure on some level, but for the rest of us, it is more interesting to read about the origins of the Phoenix, a mythical bird that lives forever.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (M)
(US, 2004)

CAST: Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Tony Curran, Krk Jones, Hugh Laurie

PRODUCER: William Aldrich, Alex Blum, John Davis, Wyck Godfrey

DIRECTOR: John Moore

SCRIPT: Scott Frank, Edward Burns (Lukas Heller, 1965 screenplay)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Brendan Galvin (Donal Caulfield, time lapse)

EDITOR: Don Zimmerman

MUSIC: Marco Beltrami

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patrick Lumb

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 21, 2005

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: October 26, 2005







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