It's a shame when all the ingredients for a great movie - cast, crew, a compelling story and technical acumen - are painstakingly gathered and then never quite come together. Flight of the Phoenix, a remake of the 1965 Jimmy Stewart air-disaster classic, suffers from such a malady.
Like its titular aircraft, Phoenix seems cobbled together from leftover parts and ideas, scraps of scripts and remnant characters that never quite manage to become cohesive. Like the original, the new Phoenix uses the idea of an air disaster in a remote desert as a starting point for human melodrama, a blood-and sand-soaked soap opera where survival becomes as much about learning to live and let live as living itself.
Unlike the Stewart Phoenix, it cloaks the human drama in a veil of ill-conceived special effects and action sequences. Where the original allowed its characters to carry the film, the new Phoenix relies on visual gimmicks and the unexpected - and unwarranted - appearance of a band of desert warriors.
Instead of learning to love or hate the characters as they come to terms with their plight, the audience is left cold and detached, waiting for the next "big" moment.
The film is not without appeal. If nothing else, it stands as a minor masterpiece of set design. Hemmed in by an almost stage-set story that happens within the limited environs of the plane wreck, Phoenix is visually interesting and nearly flawless at finding visual cues for the audience to explore. Of course, while reading the small signs, admiring the crash damage and tracing the fine lines of a homemade technology is interesting, it's an empty exercise without developed characters or progressive plot to spin off it. The script never quite allows you to understand the peril of the survivors' situation, the enormity of rebuilding an aircraft or the tension of being caught in a confined space surrounded by miles of empty. It is a movie that fails to take off.
Title: Flight of the Phoenix ($29.99, 20th Century Fox)
DVD EXTRAS: The highlight is an odd making-of documentary that details the difficulties shooting in a remote location but also seems to want to explore art-film ideas out of reach in an all-action movie. It's a technique that doesn't always work, but it's kind of fun watching it try.
The verdict: HH out of HHHHH