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FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Tyrese Gibson, Miranda Otto, Hugh Laurie
Director: John Moore
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: March 1, 2005

"THE PLANE WILL FLY!"

Film ***1/2

It may be a remake, but Flight of the Phoenix is without a doubt one of the best escapist adventures to come around in a long, long time. A movie like this was more common back in the 80s or the early 90s, when all that was needed for such a movie were a vast setting and highly tensioned moments of action. These ingredients ensured audiences who crave a movie like this a real good time.

This movie has both those qualities plus added bonuses of well written characters and even moments of seat gripping suspense. It proves that with the added elements of character and story, and action adventure can, in fact, be effective. Along with National Treasure, this movie is definite proof that the clean cut action movie genre is making something of a comeback.

I've actually never seen the original 1965 film starring James Stewart and Richard Attenborough, but I'm confident that even though I've heard that scene for scene the two versions are most similar, my opinion still wouldn't change. For one thing, this new versions contains rousing effects sequences that, of course, couldn't have been accomplished 40 years ago. Not that I'm implying that the qualities of visual effects should influence more remakes, but in this case, this was some of the very best effects work I saw in any movie last year.

This new version takes place in Mongolia, where a cargo plane has just landed to cart away a group of oil drillers, whose site has just been shut down due to low productivity. The pilot, Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid), along with co-pilot A.J. (Tyrese Gibson) are used to picking up what they see as nothing more than "garbage" and "zeros". The leader of the oil crew, Kelly (Miranda Otto, fresh off of Lord of the Rings) is angered by the shut down, but proceeds with having her team and equipment board the plane as ordered.

Before the cargo doors shut, a last minute passenger is added to the mix, an eccentric individual named Elliot (Giovanni Ribisi). He's not part of the oil crew, but has made nice with them and Kelly insists there's no harm in letting him on board so that he can catch an easy ride to Beijing. He is then allowed on board, and the plane takes off.

Not too long after take off, the plane encounters an unexpected, and forceful, sandstorm. After making several attempts to elude the storm's position, Towns find his plane engulfed right in the center of it. What follows is an outstanding and jaw dropping sequence as the storm comes close to ripping the plane apart, killing two passengers. For a sequence involving the demise of a cargo airplane, the movie even puts Con Air to shame.

Towns manages to crash land the plane, with no more casualties in tow. With the plane partially buried in the sand, the group find themselves stranded in a vastly remote area of the Mongolian Desert. Chances of survival look very slim, with food and water in short supply and no one having any idea of their location since the storm took out the radio antenna.

As the survivors start to lose their cool with their predicament, Elliot announces that there is a way out. From the moment the plane crash landed, Elliot has been observing the plane's structure very closely. He tells them that by breaking down the original design, and using certain parts, another plane can be rebuilt entirely.

It takes some time convincing Towns, who thinks the extreme hot weather will kill them if they attempt such hard labor with low water, but Elliot insists the job and design is flawless. How does he know such much about planes? Turns out, Elliot happens to design them.

With the rest of the crew wanting nothing more than to leave the desert, they don't hesitate to go along with Elliot's plan. The procedure starts out nicely, but harsh weather conditions tend to challenge the job's longevity. In addition, the crew soon come across a deadly band of "Nomads" who don't mean very nice. A sequence where the crew attempts to negotiate with the desert warriors during a nighttime confrontation is a moment of superbly executed suspense.

The movie even offers something of a revelation of one of the characters late in the film. It can be considered a twist, because by this point so much has gone on, and what's revealed about this person comes at the possibly wrong time for everyone in the movie. I can't say anymore than that.

The movie's director, John Moore, really knows how to move the action along at a breakneck pace. Moore also directed Behind Enemy Lines, a pure guilty pleasure that had so much action, there was hardly time for anything else, it seemed. Flight of the Phoenix is a much more satisfying action film in comparison.

Moore knows how to do crash sequences with state of the art effects. Behind Enemy Lines included what was one of the most intense aerial action sequences, with pilot Owen Wilson trying to elude a heat-seeking missile. Moore has topped that with the astounding plane crash sequence. This was one use of effects that was completely worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The movie's cast is in supreme form, with the standout performance belonging to Giovanni Ribisi. Ribisi is an actor who always gets into his performances, and he is nothing short of amazing here in the role that is most remembered in the original. He engulfs into the character of Elliot, the outcast of the group, with a maneuver and dialect all his own.

With stunning action, nicely developed characters, and an excellent adventurous tone displayed by director Moore, Flight of the Phoenix is an adrenaline-fueled, exciting ride that deserves to be taken by adventure fans of all kinds. Despite being a remake of a renowned film, and opinions of its fans may be different from those who haven't seen it, the movie at hand remains a first rate escapist adventure.

Video ****

Fox does yet another magnificent job with this release. The anamorphic picture is a strong visual knockout, a thoroughly clean and strikingly clear from beginning to end. The desert landscapes look astounding in their bright yellows and browns. And even crucial night sequences deliver a fantastic effect, with not a single visual flaw in sight. Full screen is available separately, but this is one movie that you will want to see in its widescreen glory.

Audio ****

First off, I'd like to announce that I now have DTS capabilities, so every disc with a DTS track will be reviewed from that perspective. With that said, I haven't been so blown away by a single audio presentation in quite some time. The 5.1 DTS track on this disc is absolute theater quality, and with this being a full throttle action pic, you can rest to sure that you are going to get plenty of bang for your buck. The plane crash sequence alone will rock your socks, big time! This year has already had a good number of reference sounding releases, and this one is right up there with them—maybe the best sounding disc I heard this year thus far!

Features ***

Good enough list of extras, including a commentary track with director John Moore, producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey and production designer Patrick Lumb. Also include are deleted/extended scenes, and a revealing 40 minute making of documentary titled "The Phoenix Diaries".

Summary:

Flight of the Phoenix offers everything one could ask for in an action adventure flick. It's a true audience pleaser with rousing effects, stunning action and a well written story. It's a must have for both action fans and those who want a true reference disc for sound and video quality.

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