out of Five
Running time: 113 mins
Competent, watchable remake that improves on the special effects and running time but loses the moral complexity and the character work of the original.
It's not hard to see the appeal of remaking Robert Aldrich's 1965 adventure movie - after all, it opens with a gripping plane crash and quickly develops into a race-against-time thriller simmering with jealousy, tension, anger, madness, guilt and class hatred. As remakes go, then, the 2005 version of Flight of the Phoenix isn't that bad - it improves on the original in some areas, but loses most of its complexity in the process and wastes the opportunity to make it anything more than a competent genre movie.
Sandstorm Causes Desert Plane Crash
Dennis Quaid plays cargo pilot Frank Towns (the role originally taken by James Stewart). He and his co-pilot Tyrese Gibson (from Too Fast Too Furious) are sent to X to pick up a crew of disbanded oil workers, including Hugh Laurie, Tony Curran and Miranda Otto. On the flight home, the plane hits a sandstorm and, in an exciting sequence, Towns is forced to crash-land in the Gobi desert, wrecking the plane in the process. All seems lost until a mysterious stranger (Giovanni Ribisi), who has hitched a ride on the plane, announces that he designs planes for a living and that they can build a new, smaller plane from the wreckage and fly it to safety.
The film is made by John Moore, who proved his action thriller credentials with Behind Enemy Lines. On the plus side, it manages to shave a good 30 minutes off the original's running time, with no significant loss to the action. The action sequences themselves (the crash in particular) are very good and CGI sandstorms have definitely come a long way since The Mummy. There's only one really dodgy moment- a shooting where the film goes into freeze-frame/slo-mo and holds it long enough for the audience to start laughing.
What it does lose is the moral complexity of the original - there are no evil, lazy, cynical or bonkers characters here; everyone is pretty much behind the plan from the word go. In fact, there's only really tension between Quaid and Ribisi, whereas the original made much more of the guilt and blame between Stewart and alcoholic co-pilot Dickie Attenborough, as well as capitalizing on the fact that the stranger's German nationality is an additional source of tension to the post-war characters.
Some Major Changes From Original
There are a couple of other major changes too, most notably to the desert nomads scene, which now -predictably- becomes a gunfight. Moore has also made the climax a little more exciting. There's some truly appalling product placement too - they should have had a caption that said 'Soundtrack by iPod' - as well as a poorly conceived tongue-in-cheek soundtrack that plays songs like 'So Glad We Made It' just before the crash.
That said, the acting is decent, particularly Ribisi, who's as good here as he's ever been. Quaid can do 'rugged all-American' standing on his head, of course, and he's not really trying too hard here but it still works. Of the supporting characters, only Hugh Laurie and Miranda Otto stand out (the latter largely because of her Unusually Large Forehead).
In short, Flight of the Phoenix isn't quite as good as the original, preferring to substitute wisecracks and effects for depth of character and thematic complexity. However, it's still an enjoyable film and remains worth seeing.