The Film (4/5)
Airplane pilot Frank Towns (James Stewart) and a group of passengers heading home, sudden must fight for survival, when the plan hits a nasty sand storm. They crash land in the Sahara Desert and chances of being found are slim to none. With the days passing by and the water supply shrinking, all seems lost until the passenger by the name of Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger), announces that he is an airplane designer, can build a new plane to fly them back home. Can he be trusted? Or will Towns and Dorfmann lose their minds in a power play?
THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965) is a surprisingly effective survival movie from one of the most exciting directors of the 1950’s to 1970’s, Robert Aldrich. Aldrich was one of the transitioning directors who moved from the old Hollywood system to the dawn of Television before the French new wave transformed Hollywood forever. What made Aldrich stand apart from his contemporaries, was his unusual output of films, and his matter of fact directing style, that never focused on overly fancy camera work. In many ways, you could easily compare him to Don Siegel or Clint Eastwood. While picturesque and stunning as the desert location is in the film, Aldrich focuses on the subtle interplay between characters and the rising tension. The numerous character subplots all pay off, and it reminds me of the similar work Aldrich did with his movies ATTACK! (1956) and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962).
The main point of tension in the film is the power struggle between James Stewart (REAR WINDOW, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) and Hardy Kruger (HATARI!), as the old pilot and the young German engineer. Both are head strong and determined to be the right man for the job. With the stakes high, there’s no telling if they will kill each other or not. Both actors play their roles excellently with lots of rage and raw emotion. As for the rest of the cast, the emotional center of the film is Richard Attenborough (THE GREAT ESCAPE, JURASSIC PARK) as Town’s assistant. One of the film’s emotional highs comes from the earth shattering laugh he gives after discovering one of the films’ many twists. The rest of the cast is a who’s who of character actors of the time including Peter Finch (NETWORK), Ernest Borgnine (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), Ian Bannen (THE HILL), Ronald Fraser (FATHOM), Christian Marquand (THE LONGEST DAY), George Kennedy (NAKED GUN), and Dan Duryea (Fritz Lang’s SCARLET STREET).
FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX delivers some break neck thrills and a fine batch performances from its actors.
FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX sounds and looks fantastic. The movie comes with two audio options. First up is the English LPCM Mono 2.0 track. The sound mix is finely tuned and has no noticeable errors. The soundtrack and sound effects sound better than ever. Speaking of, the second track is a Music and effects isolated track. The sound design shines through on this track, and is music to my eyes.
The movie comes with an eyepopping 1080p HD transfer. The wide chunks of desert glow with some finely detailed color balance. The black levels are also sharp and show off the plane set and desert. The only minor issue is the transfer is so clean and detailed, that you can spot the outlines of dry skin make-up.
The main extra is an interview with Film Historian Sheldon Hall. Hall talks about Aldrich’s Career, his place in film history, why the movie was a flop, genre of picture PHOENIX is, and the 2004 remake of the movie. An all-around excellent interview. The original theatrical trailer is also included. The disc comes with a 20- page booklet of liner notes with an essay by film scholar Neil Sinyard and tons of production stills.
FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX is one of the good survival pictures, from one of the most talented independent directors. The cast and Aldrich give us a damn good show. This masters of Cinema Blu-ray may be light on extras, but it has a fantastic transfer and sound mix. Highly Recommended.