Flight of the Phoenix

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I didn’t think it was possible to do a bad imitation of Michael Bay without making it a deliberate parody, but this remake of the 1965 Jimmy Stewart classic manages to ape parts of Bay’s signature look while actually making Armageddon look like Citizen Kane in comparison.

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This movie follows the general outline of the original story with a few mostly meaningless changes. Instead of the starting in-flight, we get a pointless back story about the oil company shutting down an exploratory oil field in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia (instead of Libya in the original), run by a woman named Kelly (Miranda Otto), who’s understandably bitter toward Ian (Hugh Laurie), the company’s man on site. The Hardy Krüger role is taken up by Giovanni Ribisi, whose reason for being in the story is left annoyingly murky. There is, of course, a whole oil crew’s worth of mostly faceless characters, but none of them emerge as sharply define individuals like they did in the original. Rather than genuine conflict, we get hyped up arguments that substitute shouting for emoting and a few artificial moments of physical danger that depend entirely on the stupidity of the characters.

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The simmering conflict between the arrogant Dorfmann and the proud Captain Towns in the original is completely missing. The character of Towns (now played by Dennis Quaid) no longer seems to have any point of view. He’s just in a bad mood when the plot demands it. They really missed an opportunity to expand on the original story because this version was set up to have a three-way battle of wills between Ribisi, Quaid and Otto as the leader of the drilling team, but nothing like this ever emerges from the muddle of a script.

Given the advances in technology, the special effects are understandably more complex and seamless, but I would hesitate to call them better. Millions of dollars in CGI can’t seem to buy them a crash sequence one-tenth as exciting as the one in the original film.

Considering that the new version starts earlier than the original and throws in a couple additional complications not found in the ’65 version, yet clocks in nearly thirty minutes shorter, it’s not surprising that they had to jettison certain elements. Unfortunately, the baggage thrown overboard contained everything that made the original good.

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