Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

I had mixed feelings when I first learned they were remaking Flight of the Phoenix.  On the one hand, the new cast looked good and I felt that there was room to improve on the original, which I consider solid but not exceptional.  On the other hand, the addition of a single female role felt like tokenism, and well, it was a remake.  I've seen Gus Van Sant's version of Psycho, so I know how wrong that can go.

Overall though I was curious enough that when the film became cheaply available on DVD I was willing to give it a try.  So how do I feel about it now I've watched it?

I have mixed feelings.

In broad strokes, the movie follows the same basic outline as the first: a plane crashes in a remote location, hundreds of miles off course.  The chances of being found are utterly astronomical and so a fractious group of individuals must learn to work together as a team and - guided by an abrasive outsider who is either brilliant or mad (or both) - construct a new aircraft from the wreckage if they want to survive.

In addition to the plot, the remake has kept many of the same character arcs, and this is one area in which I wish they'd made more changes.  Both versions of Flight of the Phoenix lack a strong, sympathetic character for much of their length.  It might be formulaic to juxtapose the abrasive but indispensable designer with a warmer and more sympathetic character, but it's a formula that works.  By instead juxtaposing him with an dour and defeatist character (albeit one who slowly overcomes his own shortcomings), it's a long time before you have anyone you really want to root for.

I'll give them points for making a larger proportion of the subsidiary characters more likable than the original, though.  I especially liked the subversion of the usual "pompous jerk" paradigm with Hugh Laurie's character.  It neatly sidesteps the standard trope of him being a pain in the butt for the whole film and then ultimately getting killed off or learning an important lesson about humility.

I also liked - at least in theory - the decision to add a bit more action to the film's mix.  The original didn't have anything of that ilk, being focused on the survival and character elements.  I'm less convinced by the actual execution of that idea, though.  The two action sequences don't really feel meshed into the script all that well.

Overall, the 2004 version of Flight of the Phoenix is much like the original: a strong cast produces a solid but not exceptional product.

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