Flight Of The Phoenix

Flight Of The Phoenix (2004)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Tyrese Gibson, Miranda Otto, Hugh Laurie
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Documentary, and More

You’d think that with today’s technology a remake of the 1965 Jimmy Stewart original would be that much better. Unfortunately even with all the improvements on the visual effects, a weak script and a poor directing choice couldn’t save this film from being one of the many re-makes that should and will be forgotten in no time.

"Flight of the Phoenix" is the survival story of a group of oil drillers who during a routine flight over the Gobi desert encounter a massive high-turbulence storm forcing the cargo plane to crash 100’s of miles off course. Having only limited supplies of food and water, the remaining survivors must come up with a plan to somehow get back to civilization. Moral is low when the group realizes there’s no possibility of being rescued and in a last desperate attempt, the group, with the help of one unique individual attempt to build a new plane out of the old.

What should be immediately noticeable about where this film is going to go wrong is choosing ex-commercial director John Moore to direct. His past film, "Behind Enemy Lines," was by far the most insulting war film I had ever seen and this film is only marginally better. The entire film consists of the cast arguing with one another and chopping one plane up to make another. Even these plot devices are poorly handled. On top of that, the script is terrible, featuring paper-thin characters and tacked on dialog. Sadly talented music composer Marco Beltrami crash-lands with one of his worst scores since "Cursed." The only highlight of the film is the cinematography. The wide shots of Mongolia and the Gobi desert are quite nice. Please stop with the MTV-style editing for the lobotomized, though.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings "Flight of the Phoenix" home in both an original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio as well as a separately sold full screen edition. Thankfully if there is anything that could make this film viewable is that the picture is impressive. Any speckles of dirt or grain have been lifted from the print and never once appear on the DVD. Even up close shots of the desert floor reveal minute details without any sort of noise or softness to the frame. Details are satisfactory until you look at large pans of the landscape. These tend to look slightly hazy. Color rendition is also satisfactory. Very rarely did I notice any sort of discoloration or over saturation even though the majority of the film is presented with mix shades of brown. Flesh tones seemed realistic, even though the actors themselves never seemed to get sunburned or have a weathered appearance considering their time in the desert. Give credit to the director and his apparent lack towards realism.
Black levels are also slightly inconsistent during the nighttime sequences. But for the most part they are good. Sadly the film is compressed a little too much, with an average of 4-5 mbps. If Fox were to allow for a little less compression I’m sure the image would have been reference quality.

Both a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 (448kbps) and a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 (754kbps) audio track are selectable from the language selection section of the menu. Both are quite good with the DTS edging ahead with better channel separation, especially during the opening storm and plane crash, as well as better lower frequency extension. Unfortunately this film only has a few standout moments that really let the soundtrack come alive. The above sequence is one of them and the other is during more sandstorms. Other than that the film doesn’t sound that interesting. Marco Beltrami’s constant choice of, let’s sell a "Flight of the Phoenix" soundtrack, musical numbers are alright at first but become questionable later in the film. The use of Outkast’s "Hey Ya" is an example of where this film’s sound becomes dated already. Music aside, dialog is crisp, clean and natural sounding at all times. Dynamic range is never restrained allowing subtle sounds like the wind to envelope the audience, to the sound of gunfire echoing across the span of the desert itself.

Director John Moore, producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey and production designer Patrick Lamb provide an <$commentary,Audio Commentary> for the film. The usual topics are discussed such as the locations, casting choices as well as how the various visual effects were created. Sadly even with this informative piece of information, I never could really involve myself in their discussion of the film. Obviously this had to do with my dislike for the film. But for those who enjoyed this film, give the commentary a listen. It’s informative.

"The Phoenix Diaries" is a fabulous 42-minute documentary on the making of the film. I can say this. If the film was shot as well as this feature was, we’d have a fantastic picture. The entire mood is incredibly real that you almost mistake it for a different film. The edited is tight and the music is very mellow and somber. Just to give you an idea, the opening features helicopter dailies with a quite narrative by the director. Once you’re used to it, the beat picks right up and you’re introduced to the entire cast and parts of the crew. What was surprising too was that nothing’s held back. John Moore consistently curses at his cast and crew, throwing temper tantrums when things aren’t going well. Various interviews with the cast are edited between sections of the mini-doc. I liked that they’ve let their guard down and respond like real people without the pressure of Hollywood peering down their back. This is the best mini documentary I’ve seen in a long time. It’s such a shame the film wasn’t this good. Another thing I’d like to point out is that this appeared to be shot digitally and features not only great image quality, in <$16x9,anamorphic> I might add, but also great sound. Rent the film just to watch this.

4 extended scenes are available and again this is another section of the disc that shocks me. Each scene is presented in full 5.1 16×9 and looks like they could have been easily re-edited into the film and you’d never tell. It’s not often that extended footage outside of the film is of this level of quality. And what’s stranger is that each of these scenes should have been in the finished cut. They help flesh out the film so much further. Someone really dropped the ball by not re-editing these sections back into the film.

Two deleted scenes with optional commentary are more like what I expected with the extended scenes. Unfinished footage that extended the crash sequence is the first scene. I liked the fact that they actually used a full-scale plane for every shot that the plane was on screen. Even overhead shots are completely scale and not models. The second scene has the crew building the frame for dismantling of the original plane. Moore describes that the scene was cut for timing reasons and that the audience wouldn’t be too interested in a scene like this. Unlike the extended footage, these scenes didn’t need to be in the film.

"Flight of the Phoenix" will surely do well on DVD for a month or so. It seems that any film, regardless of quality, succeeds immensely on home video. For 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment that will be a blessing considering how poorly the film did at the box-office. Is the film worth owning? Hell no. Get the 1965 original instead that is also available on DVD. Is it worth a rental? Compared to the numerous dreadful films released on video recently, I’m sure you’ll get your $3 bucks worth. At least it’ll hold your attention, even though the outcome of the story is already known before you even pop the film into your player ruining any surprise or tension you should have for a story of this type.