Fast-paced drama

Ervell E. Menezes says Flight of the Phoenix, though not engrossing right through, is well worth the time

Dennis Quaid in Flight of the Phoenix
Dennis Quaid in Flight of the Phoenix

IN the late-1960s James Stewart portrayed a pilot involved in an engrossing survival drama after his plane crashes and he is forced to play second fiddle to German plane designer Hardy Kruger in Flight of the Phoenix. In this flashy remake, Dennis Quaid plays the pilot Frank Towns and Giovanni Risbi is the last-minute addition to the passenger list and claims to be a plane designer. His blonde hair may imply he is German. Flight of the Phoenix is based on Elleston Trevor’s best-selling novel.

The remake is directed by Irish ad-whiz John Moore of Behind Enemy Lines fame and for starters is set to catchy music but this probably has an adverse effect on the mood and suspense and lacks the edge-of-seat drama of the original. The outcome is a good-in-parts drama of human beings under duress set against the backdrop of undulating sandscapes because the cargo plane has crashed in the world’s most foreboding desert — the Gobi.

It is apparently an error of judgment on the part of pilot Towns that forces the C-119 cargo plane (carrying oil exploration equipment and staff) to crashland and the eccentric, near anonymous Elliott knows it. That it will later lead to a clash of personalities between these two is obvious. But the 11 other passengers, including a lone woman named Kelly (Miranda Otto), are not without their own share of panic. Then, there are the Arab brigands lurking in the background watching their every move and waiting to attack.

Maybe director John Moore zeroes in too fast on the subject. Pacing is important when it comes to suspense. Also, there is not enough time devoted to etching the characters of the diverse players and here scriptwriters Scott Frank and Edward Burns must take the blame. The personality clashes are well-handled and dramatic relief is provided by narrating amusing incidents like the rabi and the priest at a boxing match. There is also a good dig at religion. "Spirituality is not religion, religion divides people," says one of the 11, who was taken to be irreligious.

The only way out seems to be to build a new plane from the undamaged components of the wrecked cargo plane. Will the provisions last? Is there enough water to survive in this nightmarish desert? Burying of egos is not an easy exercise but they will have to resort to it in order to survive. After all, it isn’t about winning. Rather, it is about staying alive. Thankfully, they don’t resort to the song, Stayin’ Alive.

With problems assailing them at almost every turn in the story it is a chequered existence for these disparate characters. The fare may not be engrossing right through but this remake of Flight of the Phoenix certainly has its dramatic moments and Dennis Quaid is no stranger where histrionic skills are concerned.

He is well-matched by the diminutive Giovanni Risbi, especially in the latter half in which he calls the shots. Miranda Otto as Kelly provides the feminine relief and Tyrese Gibson as the co-pilot makes his presence felt in this drama of human resourcefulness when pushed to the limit.

So despite its handicaps, Flight of the Phoenix is well worth watching.