Re: Objectivist theme movies / Flight of the Phoenix

From: David Hayes
Newsgroups: humanities.philosophy.objectivism
Date: Tuesday, April 07, 1998 3:47 PM

John Alway wrote in message <> under header "Re: Objectivist theme movies / Terence Rattigan"…
>"David Hayes" <> wrote:/
>>"Flight of the Phoenix" has an unsavory manner of making every character
>>look bad at least once. The seemingly-level-headed pilot portrayed by Jimmy
>>Stewart loses his reason in an extended moment of accusations and
>>castigation. The model-plane designer played by Hardy Kruger has the
>>ingenuity to determine how a flight-worthy aircraft can be built from the
>>parts left from the crash that has left all the characters stranded on the
>>Sahara, and Kruger rationally defends the theoretical knowledge he possesses
>>as being equal to that used in passenger-sized airplanes, yet the film
>>depicts him coldly, icily when unemotionally dismisses any objection over
>>his design being unsuitable for the two injured passengers because the
>>doctor among the survivors has assured him that those two untransportable
>>passengers will be dead before the proposed craft can be amalgamated from
>>the available parts.
>That's not what I got from the movie. The sense I got was that the
>brilliant engineer was appreciated as a man of enormous value, a man
>without whom they would not be able to survive. There were several
>scenes that brought this point home, aside from the obvious fact that
>they were all banking on him and his talents.

The engineer may have been their best hope, but they not look upon him with appreciation. The Captain played by James Stewart doesn't object strongly to his subordinates working on the project because Stewart figures that the renewed sense of hope that his men are experiencing is better for them than the desperation that had been their mood, but Stewart does not believe that the engineer will pull off his plan.

>One [scene] was when the
>engineer deliberately took more than his share of the water rations, and
>gave the argument that he was doing most of the work so he deserved more

Others gripe about this and then acquiesce because the alternative is worse.

> The engineer had such supreme confidence in his mind that he shocked
>the other characters several times with his clear, uncompromising
>decisions. For instance, when he casually remarked that he was a
>builder of model air planes and not the passenger variety this floored
>the others, be he calmly and logically described how there was no
>difference in principle.

Those of the others who respond to the engineer's revelation of his never before having designed a plan with a wing spam longer than 18 inches, react as if the previous nondisclosure had been not merely withholding of vital knowledge, but an act of betrayal.

> When they actually flew the machine [to civilization] and landed they were all
>elated about getting home and by the achievement. At the end of the
>film, the engineer is not presented as a cold, calculating person.
>Rather, he is appreciated fully for his achievement, and he is smiling
>and happy for his accomplishment.

Yes, everyone is happy that they have made it through, and there is some sense of camaraderie for having come through the same experience, but this is not exclusively the engineer's shining moment.

This ending seems a bit too "Hollywood," a bit too much of delivering the expected happy ending. What we see during the flight is the plane being moved along by the currents, not the ingenuity that put it there. It's worth noting that had the filmmaker's original vision reached the screen, there would have been an all-too-improbable episode of the plane going into a 360 degree loop (that is, flying in a circle straight up and then upside-down and then earthbound) before narrowly missing a bridge by flying directly beneath it. (The scene was dropped after a stunt pilot died in an attempt to film it.)

I don't dispute that there are some intermittent moments in "Flight of the Phoenix" that do show rationality, ingenuity and success despite long odds. What I find fault with is the film's continual undercutting of those traits by packaging them in the same personalities as are unessential negative characteristics.

David Hayes


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