Thursday, March 13


I've been doing a little disaster movie research, and decided to add the Airport movies to my list. When I told someone of my plan, they immediately assumed I was mispronouncing the funny spoof version Airplane and tried to correct me. Despite this common misconception, Universal actually produced Airport in 1970 (and three sequels over the next few years) as one of the first flight based disaster movies! After looking over the cast ( Jacqueline Bisset, Burt Lancaster, and Dean Martin) I decided that this movie would be the perfect return to the world of disaster movies after the somewhat disastrous and paranoia inducing The Day After. It even won an oscar!
After watching the movie I understood why it won an oscar; produced in the days before CGI it could not depend on amazing special effects and stunts to make it a worthwhile disaster movie. Amazingly enough, the actual 'disaster' aspect does not occur until more than 3/4 through the movie and then almost seems superfluous. The real drama has to do with the melodramatic personal relationships of the main characters, all of whom happen to be involved in the mini airplane disaster. Mel (Burt Lancaster) is in charge of the airport and must deal with weather problems and the bomb on a plane while adulterously lusting after his co-worker Tanya (Jean Seberg). Meanwhile his equally two-timing brother-in-law Vernon (Dean Martin) is lusting after the stewardess Gwen, played by Bisset. Ultimately the tension peaks when D. O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) takes out insurance on his own life and brings a bomb aboard the plane being flown by Vernon and attended to by Gwen. There's also a really funny sub-plot involving a modern day stowaway who ends up sitting next to the bomber.
Anyway, after over an hour of lust-drenched encounters between every possible staff member at the airport, the actual disaster part of the film occurs. Basically: thanks to some would be hero passengers, the bomb goes off, Guerrero gets blown out of the plane and general chaos ensues both mid-air and on the ground. After some tense moments, the film ends with the plan safely on the ground, Mel in the arms of Tanya, and Vernon holding the hand of the injured Gwen (too close to the bomber) and informing the paramedics of her condition while his wife unknowingly listens.
As mentioned earlier, this film was made in 1970, so most of the bomb and damaged airplane shots are pretty bad. You can tell they re-created an airplane on the studio lot and then basically shook it up and down while extra had to sit there and try not to get too badly hurt. The great thing about the movie though, is that this barely matters. Thanks to the really funny stowaway subplot, as well as some great character development (especially for both the bomber and his wife), the movie remains quietly interesting even with the poor special effects. In some ways though the movie reminded me of Grey's Anatomy--because it seemed like EVERY single person in the film was in some type of sexual relationship with a co-worker. Despite the constant sexual tension, I also felt like all of the women were really interesting characters. I found Jean Seberg's character,Tanya, especially fascinating because she was playing a young widowed woman in a position of responsibility in a mostly male environment. While she did coddle (and apparently sleep) with her boss/co-worker, she was a clearly valued employee. Jacqueline Bisset's character, Gwen, was also really interesting in other ways, as she dealt with an unexpected pregnancy. She and Vernon even engage in a not so subtle conversation about abortion, and verbalizes some strong feelings about her own path. Overall, it was worth the watch for the great cast and compelling if overly melodramatic plot!

Also.. they made 3 sequels. One of which involves a plane underwater in the Bermuda Triangle. I think that one is definitely going to be my favorite/the most ridiculous movie EVER.