The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Flightplan

After viewing this movie, I said to Debbie: “I don’t know what to do for my review. Everyone accuses me of being so negative, but there isn’t a kind thing to say about this piece of garbage!” She then reminded me that I really liked the subtle touches in the opening titles. And she’s right.

Watch the opening credits carefully. They display the only artistry in the entire film. As some of the names are displayed over the exterior of a moving subway train in Berlin, you can see the letters ever so slightly reflected off the train’s paint. As the train pulls away, the credits shift light and shadow horizontally to mimic the look of the train’s windows.

The other good thing about the movie is the summary premise. A woman wakes up on board an airplane and discovers her daughter is missing. Or was the daughter ever there? It’s the old “Is she crazy or a victim?” ploy.

They had a workable concept, they had good credits, they had reasonably good to very good actors (I greatly admire Jodie Foster’s abilities). But the final script and the director sabotaged the end product.

The director is relatively young and this is his second feature film (not counting a half hour film school project). He is obviously delighted with his big Hollywood budget and has a ball playing with camera shots he dreamed of in school. Cameras go overhead and whirl around their axis, a stock airplane landing shot (wheels touching runway) is rotated ninety degrees so the runway looks like a wall, film stock is sped up to suddenly put the actors in slow motion at seemingly random times. He also has a neophyte’s grasp of how to build tension. The airplane keeps suffering random and disconnected bumps in the air, each accompanied by a loud low frequency CLUMP.

The key to making a story like this work is to keep the protagonist in a thoroughly plausible and realistic world, so she and we can discover the subtle clues that point to whether her danger is imaginary or real. Unfortunately, the script keeps opting for little touches of Hollywood falseness instead of normalcy. Nothing big… just tiny things that leave you aware that this is not a real person in a real situation, but something made up for a movie.

Examples include: Announcements at Berlin Airport are made first in flawless American English, then are translated into German as a secondary language. The flight from Berlin to New York seems to have no German passengers on board. Electronics have “beep beep” noises associated with each operation. Air marshals are seated at the rear of the most massive passenger plane flying. FBI agents, police, and SWAT teams calmly let people walk off hijacked planes without challenging them or ensuring they are not carrying weapons. Recorded greetings on the plane’s video system are played in every language on the planet Earth. When the authorities need to do an emergency transfer of 425 passengers off the plane, they drive three buses up to the single forward exit door. An air marshal interrupts flight attendants’ activities during passenger boarding with inane requests (to prove he’s a “normal” passenger).

Then there’s the big stuff. Foster’s character is described as a propulsion engineer who helped design the engines on the plane. Yet she has memorized the entire interior configuration, knows the electronics system, and knows where every internal access hatchway leads and exits. She also seems to have some knowledge of explosives or shaped charges or something (or else is INCREDIBLY lucky). When she boards the plane at a standard “parents with small children” pre-board announcement, she and her daughter are completely alone in a long shot down the full aisle and passenger compartment of the super-jumbo jet -- there is not another passenger or flight attendant anywhere for around one full minute (vital for the plot, but a real puzzler). And the central reasoning behind the elaborate cat and mouse game is so far-fetched as to defy any sense of plausibility or logic.

I could go on, but reviewer Frank Swietek pretty much summed it up in his wonderful quote about Flightplan: “So preposterous that you not only have to put your brain on hold but remove it from your skull, toss it to the floor and stomp it into insensibility.”

Parent’s note: Surprisingly inoffensive! No nudity, no sexual suggestiveness, no swearing, one non-graphic death, and two people get punched.

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