Much like the mythical phoenix, who incinerates itself at the end of its lifespan and is reborn from the ashes, this Dennis Quaid film is born from the original Flight of the Phoenix, a film that should be burned in effigy just for inspiring this remake.
There’s nothing better than a movie that gets right to the point. The main plot device in Flight of the Phoenix is a plane crash that leaves the movie’s characters stranded in the desert, so the crash happens less than fifteen minutes into the film - just enough time to introduce the characters and then BAM - crash landing. Unfortunately from there the film also crash lands, with very little of importance happening from that point on. There’s a little bit of character development, a few obstacles thrown in the way, and woe to any poor soul wearing red, as the movie takes a cue from “Star Trek” and targets those characters for inevitable death during the hour and a half to follow the crash.
The major problem the film has is its own advertising campaign. I really wanted to see Flight of the Phoenix based on its trailer. What I didn’t realize is that I pretty much had seen the film by seeing the trailer. Almost every significant event that transpires in the film is shown or alluded to in the trailer. That leaves little surprise for anyone who has seen the ads for the movie, not that that really stops anything. My wife hadn’t seen the trailer and still found the film listless and lacking.
That’s not to say Flight of the Phoenix is the worst film ever made. There are lots of other films of lesser quality out there, many of them also starring Dennis Quaid. Phoenix has some admirable qualities as well, the best of them being Giovanni Ribisi who plays Elliott, an eccentric curiosity of a man who strongly resembles Andy Warhol. Elliott comes up with the rescue plan for the movie - building a new plane out of the old one. Ribisi manages to keep Elliott as an interesting, meek character who can’t help but stand out in a film of cut muscles. But it’s a more fascinating character than that - Elliott seems to harbor some secret past, and his mousey demeanor just makes you wonder all the more what that past might be. In a film that surrounds Dennis Quaid with muscly rap stars and manages to make The Lord of the Rings’ Miranda Otto seem bland, Ribisi’s mysterious performance just punches how talented the man is.
If you’ve seen the trailer for Flight of the Phoenix then save yourself two hours - you’ve seen the best the move has to offer minus the ridiculous moments of suspense that even the most clueless viewer would know the outcome to (if an outcome of an obstacle affects the entire happy ending of an otherwise formulaic film, it’s not much of a mystery as to what’s going to happen). If you haven’t seen the trailer, you might give Flight of the Phoenix a chance, but don’t be afraid to fast forward through moments that don’t have explosions or Giovanni Ribisi in them.
The DVD release for Flight of the Phoenix falls into that extremely rare category where the DVD extras are more interesting than the movie, and in some cases, improve what is otherwise a poor film. The disc doesn’t carry anything unique, but what it has is done well.
The highlight of the release is “The Phoenix Diaries”, a behind-the-scenes look at the film that is more compelling and stylistically interesting than Flight of the Phoenix itself. The film explores the filming of the movie, which took place on location (as opposed to a studio). Twenty-five hours away from Hollywood, California, the cast couldn’t help but bond and quickly relate to their characters feeling of desolation, filming in a hot desert and the cameras for this featurette were there to capture it. There is a candor that is seldom seen in big Hollywood type films, and even the director is painfully honest throughout. Watching him yell at wind machine operators and write off an effects guy who can’t deliver a needed effect makes you wonder if John Moore is more passionate about filmmaking, or just an angry guy, but it’s still a fun watch. The documentary short also shows some of the evolution of the movie, and how one character’s death was changed just hours before the scene in question was about to be filmed. As a whole, it’s one of the first times a featurette about a movie has kept me interested after the movie lost my interest.
There are a couple deleted scenes as well as some extended scenes and they’re a bit of a split as far as worth. Almost every single extended scene would have added to the movie in some way, and their exclusion from the final film ended up leaving some questions asked at times they could have been answered. The deleted scenes however are pretty pointless and were better left on the cutting room floor.
Finally, there’s the requisite commentary, featuring director John Moore, production designer Patrick Lumb, and producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey. I was a bit surprised at the commentary. I figured after such a comprehensive behind the scenes look it was certain the commentary would either be repetitive or annoying, given the personalities you see in conflict in the featurette. I was mistaken though. If these people clashed during the making of the film, they’ve since kissed and made up, and the commentary sounds like a bunch of friends reminiscing about old times. It’s full of funny little bits (what’s a producer’s favorite day? the first day of filming because that’s when they get paid) and philosophies of the different aspects of filming, although it is a little closer to the “over-complimentary toward the stars” attitude I expect from commentaries.
So you have a pretty good DVD, for a not so good movie, which makes this a hard recommendation. If you like bonus features, you might like the disc, which has an enjoyable look behind the making of Flight of the Phoenix. However if you’ve already seen the movie, or even just the trailer, I’d have to say this one’s not worth your time.