Feature by: Jack Foley
IT MAY be a remake but Flight of the Phoenix director, John Moore,
is adamant that his contemporary version of Robert Aldrich's 1965
original is a worthy update with plenty to offer.
He even defiantly confesses to not having watched the original
prior to shooting the new version.
"You know, it didn't even occur to me until after the fact
that I should have reservations," he told a recent London
"I'm stupid for not, perhaps, paying more attention to the
fact that the first thing that people are going to understand
about the film - certainly from a reviewers point of view, or
a critic's point of view or for anyone who wants to give the time
to research the thing - is that it's a remake.
"But in America, people can barely find that Continent [Africa]
on the map without three gos, so they're not going to be overly
"Certainly, the audience that the studio would chase to
go see the movie would be younger, because unfortunately, you
know, you go to a test screening of this movie and over-25s fucking
love it and four out of ten people say they remember the original.
"But those sorts of people don't spend money and don't go
to movies, so the younger audience isn't really going to have
an issue with it being a remake. And I didn't really, I just thought
it was a good story, and it's my tirade against reality television.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but we seem to be hell-bent
on destroying ourselves with reality television. And I don't just
mean that every programme is a reality programme - which it's
not because why is it real? But every show is about the idea of
annihilation, you know, lets put 10 people in a room and see who
kills each other and fucks each other up and connives at the other
guy, and fucks him up and kicks him off!
"So Flight of the Phoenix is meant to be the reverse, a
bunch of people who if they don't stop fucking with each other,
they're going to stay there."
The movie in question sees a rag-tag group of survivors having
to build a new plane from the wreckage of the one they crashed,
given that they are stranded in the middle of the desert with
no hope of rescue.
And, for the most part, it's an enjoyably lightweight affair
that makes the most of the stunning locations which Moore sought
so hard to find in order to add to the authenticity.
"The movie's set in The Gobi Desert and we went to Morocco
and the places aren't that good in Morocco - they're shooting
at each other over the Algerian border, so we couldn't go there,"
"We went to Beijing and sat
in a hotel for seven days, cos every time we'd go down to the
lobby to go to Mongolia, they'd go 'your papers haven't come through',
so that was a fucking waste of time.
"And then we went to Namibia on the way back and it was,
like, 'well how the hell did we miss this first time around?'
It's just amazing.
The only sort of very well-known film that had shot there previously
was The Cell, but that was a much smaller unit. We were bringing
the whole sort of circus in, so it was quite a big deal for them."
While the location did offer authenticity, however, it did bring
other difficulties - such as the shifting landscapes and the fact
that it was so isolated.
Yet Moore is equally candid about coping with both of these problems,
especially in light of how well he feels the finished product
has turned out.
"It was physically very demanding on the crew. It's alright
for me, I could sit in a box and say 'action' and 'cut' but they've
got to hump all the gear in and stuff gets broken all the time
because the silicate in the sand conducts electricity, so it gets
into the camera and it will shut it down," he continued.
"And yeah, it was trying for the crew because the sand gets
everywhere - and it keeps moving!
"Over a period of four months one of the major dunes that
was sort of featured in 30% of the shots reduced in height by
something like 120ft.
"The production designer spent most of his days in a bulldozer
trying to put back what nature had decided we didn't need any
more overnight. It literally is so fluid - more like an ocean
"And we employed 222 dune-groomers, who would run over it
each day with their rakes.
"The set was so big that we did honestly have over 200 dune-groomers
because one stray footprint and you're fucked. A cup would like
blow away and it'd be 'don't go after it'! And then you'd get
some over-eager PA chasing after the cup!"
Needless to say, such extreme working conditions took their toll
on just about everyone - actors included - and there were those
who found the shoot heavy-going.
Adds Moore: "At the start, some more than others were a
little moany; I mean we had one cast member who wanted to leave
the day he got there.
"He just freaked out when he realised he was going to be
there for four months. And there's no easy escape - even if you
freak out, you can't hop on a plane to anywhere.
"You're three flights away from most places that high maintenance
actors would want to be. So he just really freaked and wanted
to leave and so had to be talked off the ledge two days before
we started shooting."
Asked whether he would reveal the identity of the actor, however,
Moore merely smiled and said: "It's not DQ!"