Among Hollywood's current infatuation with pointless, passionless remakes, 'Flight of the Phoenix' may be the most pointless and the most passionless. There really is no reason for this film to exist -- it's almost as if Fox was so desperate for a title even remotely recognizable that they picked this one out of a hat at random.
In this tale of the "triumph of the human spirit" (at least that's what the back of the box says), a group of air crash survivors are stranded in the Mongolian desert with no chance of rescue. They a strange bunch, including reckless captain Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid), a brilliant but unstable aircraft designer Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), the wisecracking Ian (Hugh Laurie) and perhaps the only sensible passenger on the whole plane, serene engineer Kelly (Miranda Otto). Facing a brutal climate, dwindling resources, and an attack by desert smugglers, they realize their only hope is doing the impossible... building a new plane from the wreckage, and saving themselves with the flight of the Phoenix.
One wonders what audience the studio execs thought this remake would appeal to. The 1965 original, directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Jimmy Stewart, while a good movie is generally not considered a classic. In fact, it wasn't even much of a hit during its original theatrical release. It also boasts next-to-no action, a desert-bound scenario that's not particularly exciting, and a cast that is almost all male. By the end of this remake, we're left with little to do but scratch our heads at the vapidity of the whole enterprise.
Yet I cannot deny that, as the film wore on, I did start to grow a bit fond of its characters. I was never not entertained by the surprisingly strong cast, all of whom I can only assume did the movie because they wanted a free trip to the desert. There's Quaid, the poor man's Kurt Russell, but still a dependable, likable actor. There's Laurie, always quick with the quip, and right before hitting the Emmy jackpot with TV's 'House.' It is also easy to watch the always-classy Otto of 'Lord of the Rings' fame, as the only female in the group, and the same goes for Tyrese Gibson, thankfully downplaying his usual street thug routine as Quaid's co-pilot. But best of all is Ribisi, who does an oddly compelling hybrid of the crazy character actor Will Patton and that Reverend guy from the old "M*A*S*H" television series. His facial tics and general weirdness are rather affected, but he does give the movie its only real sense of urgency.
Truth be told, this remake of 'Flight of the Phoenix' is not a bad film -- it's just totally unnecessary. Director John Moore is fast becoming Hollywood's remake king, having also helmed the dreadful 2006 shot-for-shot redux of 'The Omen.' Predictably, he brings no fresh perspective to the material. Why did he want to remake it? What aspect of its story and themes did he feel would resonate with modern audiences? By the end of 'Phoenix's 113 minutes, no such answers are provided. This is just another far-too-faithful adaptation of a film that was perfectly fine to begin with.
With its vast 2.35:1 desert panoramas and gorgeous sun-drenched exteriors, 'Flight of the Phoenix' was ripe for a great-looking high-def presentation. And this 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer delivers rather well on that promise, with a generally attractive, sometimes even splendid picture.
The film is predictably bright. The sharp contrast gives some nice pop to the picture, with whites reigned in so that detail is not usually compromised. Blacks remain solid, and the print is in excellent shape. Even on the many static shots of huge sand hills and endless skies, the image looks smooth and stable. Colors are vibrant and free of chroma noise, with only some of the oranges and yellows a bit overpumped. Fleshtones, however, remain accurate.
The only faults are a bit of softness, which is usually only noticeable on long shots. Though a clear improvement over the standard-def DVD, detail is not as impressive as the best Blu-ray presentations I've seen. I also saw some noise in solid areas -- not severe, but definitely noticeable. These drawbacks don't entirely undermine 'Flight of the Phoenix' on Blu-ray, though -- it still scores a solid four-star video presentation.
Fox serves up another DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, from which current Blu-ray hardware is able to extract a core DTS 5.1 mix (at 1.5mbps). Unfortunately, the film's sound design is only fairly-good, with all of the talkiness enlivened only by occasional bursts of surround action.
The most dominant effect is lots of swirling sand. Ambiance is a bit fuzzy, though -- the rears never sound that distinct, with sounds all mushed together. It does create a fairly consistent wall of sound, but after a while it begins to feel like white noise. The impressive sections only come at the beginning and the end, during the scenes with the plane. Otherwise, dynamics hold up well, with rock-solid dialogue and nice separation across the front soundstage. Low bass is also quite strong, delivering a considerable wallop during the action bits.
Typical of most of Fox's recent Blu-ray releases, the studio again slices off most of the extras from the standard-def release. Which is a shame, because the DVD actually had one cool feature, a 45-minute "Phoenix Diaries" documentary. It featured director John Moore pouting about like some sort of junior league James Cameron, berating the cast and crew, and throwing temper tantrums. It was the rare, candid look at the filmmaking process, but it's not included here.
We do, however, get the screen-specific audio commentary, with Moore, producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey and production designer Patrick Lumb. It's a much more tame affair, focused almost exclusively on the technical. There is little talk of the actors or the story -- only sets, effects and a last-minute location change to Namibia. I kept waiting for someone to answer the question, "Why remake 'Flight of the Phoenix?'" But alas, it never came.
I might lose all critical credibility for saying this, but I actually liked 'Flight of the Phoenix.' Yes, it is just another pointless remake, but it's non-offensive entertainment, and I've seen far worse. This Blu-ray release is perfectly fine as well, with a nice transfer and soundtrack, though I could have used a few more extras. Still, 'Flight of the Phoenix' makes a perfectly fine rental.