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Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005 10:46 am

Wild blue yonder

Does anyone ever have a pleasant airplane ride in the movies?

Does anyone ever have a pleasant airplane ride in the movies? If more than a moment is devoted to this form of transportation, something bad happens. If it isn’t mechanical failure, the culprit is the human element, as in the current films Red Eye and Flightplan. An even more serious problem is the spate of bad airplane movies. In fact, the sorry trend of 1970s disaster flicks took off after the huge success of Airport (1970), a bland soap opera on wings. Airport brings together an array of stereotypes and dumps two tragedies on them: a mad bomber and a blinding snowstorm. Airport also boasts one of the Academy Awards’ most glaring errors, Helen Hayes’ win for Best Supporting Actress. Three sequels followed, each more ridiculous than the last. Airport 1975 (1974) features a flight attendant, played by Karen Black, flying the jumbo airliner after a collision takes out the pilot. Airport ’77 (1977) apparently thought that it was The Poseidon Adventure, having the crew and passengers try to escape from a submerged airliner. The Concorde: Airport ’79 (1979) is my favorite because it’s the most idiotic. If you can believe that passengers will reboard a plane after it has dodged rocket fire, anything is plausible. Remakes of some disaster films are in the works. I sure hope we can relive the Airport movies. The unintentional comedy of the Airport series inspired Airplane! (1980), an absolute gem of a spoof. Directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams set their sights on the genre in general, but they used Zero Hour! (1957), an obscure film written by Airport author Arthur Hailey, as a springboard. The most ingenious concept was casting dramatic character actors in comedic roles. Leslie Nielsen, a serious actor since the 1950s, changed the course of his career to become one of the most popular comedy stars of the last few decades. Con Air (1997) is another humorous airplane adventure, but its tongue-in-cheek attitude may have been lost in the sea of testosterone. A group of convicts in transport takes over the plane in an elaborate escape plan, but the story is clearly laced with sarcasm. Call me crazy, but I’d rather be seated next to John Malkovich than Helen Hayes.
New releases on DVD on Tuesday (Oct. 11): Kingdom of Heaven, Kicking and Screaming, Unleashed, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
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