When a single trip to the bargain matinee equals my monthly Netflix subscription, for most movies my frugality partners with patience and we add the title to our queue. On a 1997 date night, my wife and I saw Air Force One, and she didn’t really enjoy dinner afterwards because I was still ranting about its impossibilities.
Since then, she’s gotten pretty good at gauging my interest in seeing movies either about aviation or that employ it in the story line. A fan of Denzel Washington, she had hopes for his new film, Flight. And then the trailer showed a MD-something-or-other flying inverted at low level and its and its blended right wingtip slicing through the statue on top of some dome. She looked at me, didn’t say a word, and then reached for her laptop.
When it comes to movies, I get it. Unrealistic, often impossible action makes the film more exciting, to those who don’t know any better. Perhaps I’m overly anal, I can only surrender only so much of my disbelief. And I wonder what affect such impossible action has on people with a real interest in flight? And how do they compare to old movies that portrayed flying more honestly and realistically?
Twelve O’clock High is arguably the best, most realistic, and honest aviation film ever made. (And if you want the rest of the story, read Hollywood Pilot, by Paul Mantz, who bought the surplus B-17s used in the movie, choreographed the flying, and was the single pilot of the Flying Fortress that took out the tent, which was supposed to have a break-away pole, in the belly landing scene.) Second is Hells Angels by Howard Hughes.
On the civilian side, the High and the Mighty, based on Ernie Gann’s novel gets real. It amps up the emotional problems of the crew of a trans-Pacific flight, but not the mechanical. After a thorough search of the odd corners of memory, I don’t find any really good GA films, except maybe The Other Side of the Mountain, about the paraplegic skier, Jill Kinmont. Beau Bridges played her love interest, and he landed his Citabria on the rural road that passed the family homestead in Bishop, California.
The point, is that viewers who are aspiring pilots can more easily trade places with (or replace) an on-screen avatar when aviation environment is at least believable, if not true to life. Some may say that aviation reality won’t sell today, but until the death of its director, producers were working on Top Gun II, the sequel to what may have been the last honest aviation film made with real airplanes.
If I’m going to surrender my hold on aviation reality, I want to be able to fully enjoy the show, not annoy my wife with an endless list of impossibilities, which is why I’m really looking forward to the 2013 direct-to-DVD release of Planes, by Disney Pixar.
Just out of curiosity, what’s your favorite aviation movie? –Scott Spangler, Editor