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August 17, 2008

Air Farce One (movie review)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:00 AM * 98 comments

From the Unpublished Archives of Red Mike

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Let us talk, dearly beloved, about Air Force One (1997). Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, Gary Oldman.

I bring this up because it shows what the popular culture take was, ten years ago, on:
a) The President
b) The Russians
c) Terrorists
d) What to do, as a passenger, in the event of an airplane hijacking

Continued below the cut


In this movie, Harrison Ford is the president of the United States. (It says so right on the posters.) For some reason I can’t recall the character’s name. But stranger things have happened than ol’ Harrison getting elected, so we’ll skip over that.

We start off with a special op being carried out by night. A group of troopers on air-ram parachutes are assaulting a building! They’re using laser sights with those lovely glowing red spots to target the guards. And no one I used to hang with ever did that. What’s the point of telling everyone in the world that you’re sighting in, and the approximate direction you’re coming from? Ten years ago we were using carbon-dioxide lasers, which are invisible to the naked eye. (You need special goggles to see ‘em.)

Well, once we’re on the roof, the troops set up a bunch of demolition charges. Some Hollywood demo charges blink red lights. Some of them beep. These did both. Not to worry, no one on the opposing team will notice.

The troops kidnap a gent out of bed, then leap into a waiting helicopter and whisk him into the night.

We cut to a few weeks later, to a state dinner in Russia. The Prez is there with his family, and he’s being congratulated for the joint US/Russian op that we just saw, that captured some international war-criminal guy who had been leading a break-away formerly Soviet republic.

Harrison makes a speech about how from now on US policy would be to intervene wherever there is a wrong to be righted at the earliest possible moment — and I said Yeah. And how are you going to tell which side, if either, is right? And who in Lower Slobovia voted to make you their big brother, anyway? We never think about that for the rest of the movie.

The Prez also makes it official US policy to never bargain with terrorists. Not that this is a new concept, or anything, although all his advisers go nuts about him coming up with new policy off the cuff like that.

Well, we go on to Air Force One for the trip back. And we have, as a special treat, a six-man Russian news team doing a story on the US Prez. They’re promised an interview with him.

Well, the plane gets into the air, and the plot starts getting thick.

There’s this Secret Service guy, see, and he shoots his buddies and opens the small arms locker. The “news team” turns out to be terrorists! They go to the small arms locker, pick up M-16s, bullet-resistant vests, then begin running around the aircraft whooping and yodeling and shooting up everything in sight.

Now all anyone who was trying to defend the aircraft (and there were several, with handguns) needed to do was wait in a thwart-ships passageway, maintain location until a bad-guy walked by, and nail him with a head shot before he could bring his weapon to bear. In regular security alerts in other craft that I’m aware of, the security alert teams do just that—go to good defensible, commanding positions and stay there, while a roving patrol sweeps the ship. Anyone who isn’t the roving patrol gets shot on sight by the stationary people.

This doesn’t happen here. Here, the defenders keep popping into view like targets at a carnival shooting range, and keep getting nailed.

But not to worry! The Prez is hustled off to the Escape Pod (a standard piece of Air Force One gear ever since Escape From New York). Somehow these guys never figure out that taking the First Lady and First Kid to the escape pod as well might be a clever plan.

The pod’s away! The plane heads for an Air Force base in Germany. They land there, but the evil terrorists shoot the pilots and, in a death-defying series of maneuvers, take off again. And this was another Yeah, Right, kind of scene. An aircraft as heavy as a 747, rolling across grass, will sink to the tops of its wheels in the ground. Then the landing gear will snap off. After that, things get nasty.

But we get back into the air.

Meanwhile, rescuers have reached the escape pod. But wait! What’s this! The escape pod is empty! The Prez, sly rascal, stayed aboard to Defend His Wife and Kid!

And that he does, with good old American fisticuffs. He’s facing a group of armed, trained, mentally prepared young men, so naturally some sixty-year-old guy with a desk job can beat them into submission.

Now this is where it really falls apart. Whatever else the President of the US may or may not be, almost by definition he’s one of the best politicians in the world. His talents aren’t in punching people out—they’re in talking people into donating their pants to him. He should, just by talking and turning on his charisma, get the terrorists to offer him a date with their sister. That would have been a better movie, IMHO, but we didn’t go that way.

Meanwhile, the evil terrorists have herded everyone else on the plane into one large room. Where they are left unbound, unblindfolded, and unguarded. These are high-ranking military men and presidential advisers. Based on only limited experience with the breed, if asked to describe a typical presidential adviser in one word, I’d say “ruthless.” Naturally, they don’t come up with any kind of plan.

Two of the evil terrorists come into the room. They allow people to stand behind them. They’re within arm’s reach of a whole bunch of people. This is one third of the terrorists’ force, including their mission commander. No one thinks, while standing behind these guys, to rabbit punch them then do a dog-pile.

Meanwhile, the Prez is busily dumping fuel, and all kinds of neat action-adventure movie things. I skip over most of this.

I’m also going to skip the Constitutional Crisis subplot, being hatched back in Washington. Ya see, no one can figure out if the Vice President should take over while the Prez is out of communication, possibly captured by hostile forces, or under duress. Now it would take you or me about one minute to figure out that the answer is Yes, but these guys can’t get to that point.

Okay, the Prez has finally been captured by the bad guys (and they’re down to three or four people by now). And with a gun to his head he’s forced to call the Russian President to tell him to release that evil guy who was captured back in the first reel. And now we see that the Prez doesn’t really have any strong ideals—he makes the call.

But this could have been fixed with two lines of dialog. Back during the State Dinner in scene two, he could have leaned over to the Russian Prez and say to him (it’s planted that our boy Harrison speaks Russian), “The only way I want to see General So-and-so released is feet first in a box.”

Now when he’s making the call, he can say, “Remember how I talked this afternoon about releasing General So-and-so? It’s time to release him now.”

That’s kind of what happens to the General anyway, in a more confusing, random way.

Anyway, there’s a lot more action-adventure and fisticuffs. The Prez and his family are rescued by heroic Air Force personnel.

There’s a really good special effects plane crash. And that’s the end of the movie.

You were wondering about the Secret Service guy who gave the evil terrorists the guns and such, weren’t you? You were wondering about his motivation, weren’t you? I know I was.

Was it money? Was it ideology? Was his mom General So-and-so’s kid sister? Who knows? We’re never told. There isn’t a hint. The only motivation seems to have been, “If I don’t betray my buddies and my country, then this will be a fifteen-minute movie.” This is what you might call a flaw in the plotting.

No one seems to have heard of the Buddy System. The terrorists are in the usual Haunted House scenario. “Something we can’t see is hunting us down and killing us one by one! I know: let’s split up!”

To balance that, the good guys hadn’t figured out the buddy system either.

Anyway, it was a fun machine-guns-and-exploding-planes movie. If you’re big on watching Harrison Ford get beaten up and suffering, this is the movie for you.

Comments on Air Farce One (movie review):
#1 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 08:20 AM:

C'mon... The movie has Gary Oldman in it. That's got to count for something. On the other hand, he was in The Fifth Element and I can't think of a movie I hated more than that one.

#2 ::: Manny ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 08:44 AM:

That was before we had to believe a president could have Alzheimer's or be just plain dim without a hand up his back, so our moviewatching minds told us that if the President thought of it, it was a good idea.

#3 ::: Wendy Bradley ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 08:54 AM:

Actually the message I took from this movie was that, sooner or later, you guys would get embarrassed enough about diversity issues to have a woman VP. But of course, when the crunch came, all the furious backroom activity would be about who was *really* in charge, because, you know, after all she was only a gurrrl...

#5 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 10:38 AM:

Proof that there are two kinds of crap in the slushpile. The crap that will earn out, and the crap that won't.

#6 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 10:53 AM:

Oh my god, the tagline on that poster just made me laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.

#7 ::: Darlene Marshall ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:08 AM:

I'm all out of wit today, so all I can add is I loved your review. Thanks for sharing.

#8 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Whatever else the President of the US may or may not be, almost by definition he’s one of the best politicians in the world. His talents aren’t in punching people out—they’re in talking people into donating their pants to him. He should, just by talking and turning on his charisma, get the terrorists to offer him a date with their sister.

I believe you have confused our president for Jean Luc Picard.

#9 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:30 AM:

Serge: You gotta admit elements one through four were pretty cool though.

ok, anyway. I think it would be fun to write one of these just for the parts where you get to totally fuck up what everybody knows about history and laws and all that silly stuff that people don't care about. So you could have rules like the no applesauce rule for presidential succession.

So they´re talking about the president is kidnapped and the vice president needs to take over the chief of staff says whoa hold on the president is kidnapped when did this happened and the other guy who is younger and always seems like he's gonna sweat any second now says right after he ate his applesauce and then it turns out there was a 'no applesauce' rule of presidential succession because of fear of german infiltration during World War 2 and nobody ever took that rule off the books because of typical governmental incompetence and now the president is gonna die or something.

yep that would be pretty good.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:38 AM:

bryan @ 9... True. It had wondeful designs and sets by Jean-Claude Mézières, and it had Ian Holm, but its tone rubbed me the wrong way. By the way, why did the Forces of Good wait until the last minute to send someone to Earth, even though they'd known for centuries what the Forces of Bad were up to? The result was that, when Plan A went wrong, they had to rely on Bruce Willis? I know: they waited until the last minute so that the movie could have Bruce Willis save the day.

#11 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:43 AM:

All I remember of the film is that it had Harrison Ford hanging out the back of a plane on a piece of string. Ever since then, every time there has been a film with aeroplanes or Harrison Ford and there's a scene where someone goes to check something out, we've added our own dialogue:

"What was that?"
"Just Harrison Ford hanging out the back of an aircraft on a piece of string"

#12 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:44 AM:

He should, just by talking and turning on his charisma, get the terrorists to offer him a date with their sister.

I believe you have confused our president for Jean Luc Picard.

I believe you have confused Jean Luc Picard with Captain Kirk.

#13 ::: Christopher Turkel ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:49 AM:

His talents aren’t in punching people out—they’re in talking people into donating their pants to him

This is Harrison Ford we're talking about. He needs to punch someone into submission.

#14 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 12:11 PM:

Please note that this review was written prior to the revelation of the Monica Lewinski matter.

#15 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 12:16 PM:

As a point of procedure, shouldn't "evil terrorists" be rendered "Evil Terrorists"? Just asking.

My favorite moment is when it turns out the President is Okay, and Glenn Close gets to be relieved that she doesn't really have to act like the President and stuff. Cause that would be icky. And hard.

#16 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 12:20 PM:

I was a professional tech writer when this movie came out, and my favorite thing about it was that an unseen technical writer saves the day: the President is able to figure out how to use the cell phone because he reads the manual. Why anyone would carry their cell phone instruction booklet around with them is not explained.

I also have fond memories of the Future Postmaster General fax scene.

As for the rest of the movie, you just can't stop to think about any of it or it falls apart. At least it makes more sense than the Die Hard movie where the terrorists are supposedly crashing planes by feeding incorrect information from ground control, but that's setting the bar really, really low.

#17 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 12:28 PM:

I'm waiting for someone to post the sketch of a remake updated for the President Chimpy era...

#18 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 12:44 PM:

Naomi Kritzer @16

I haven't watched a Die Hard movie since the 2nd, but... it was my understanding that pilots in airspace controlled by... ground control... do what they're told. Now, this wouldn't apply to, you know, boring a hole in the ground. But it seems reasonable to the uneducated on the topic (me) that it could lead to mid-air collisions.
Assuming, of course, that the people who are pretending to be ground control are really good at figuring out speeds and directions that will make them crash.

Which is all my way of saying, "What's wrong with Die Hard [foo], in which they make aircraft crash by feeding them false information from ground control?"

#19 ::: Vef ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 01:17 PM:

Since the false information is how far away the ground is, I would have thought one glance at the altimeter would foil this dastardly plan.

I'm sure there are a million other things wrong with this scenario, but that seems like the obvious one.

Actually, that's so obvious I'm wondering if they did answer this in the film and I forgot. Die Hard 2 wasn't much fun, I only saw it once.

#20 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 01:22 PM:

"Ground Control" sounds better than "Ground Suggestion." Ground control says things like "Cleared to land" and "watch for plane at 3 o'clock." They *may* even say things like "go to 1500 feet". Pilots actually pilot their planes, especially in complex airspace.

What're they going to do, say "Go to 0 feet"?

#21 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 01:22 PM:

If the Air Force One appears in a movie, is something likely to happen to it?

Co Pilot: What the hell happened, we got our engine back? What the hell is going on out there?
Air Force One Pilot: Fly. Just fly. We got... something. I ain't saying what it is. Just... trust me.

(from 1978's Superman)

#22 ::: Vef ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 01:24 PM:

On the other hand, don't they also arrange a collision? That at least sounds vaguely plausible (at night and during a snowstorm).

#23 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 01:53 PM:

Sandy B @20

Why is it such a high-paid and high-stress job?

Not that I expect that "Pushing Tin" was a highly accurate depiction of the job... but if Ground Control is just an extra set of eyes on radars, isn't that a monkey job?

#24 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 01:58 PM:

#20: What're they going to do, say "Go to 0 feet"?

Well, a friend of mine who is an air-traffic controller says he once told a pilot "Turn left 1440 degrees" ...

#25 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 02:15 PM:

Christopher Terkel @ 16:
His talents aren’t in punching people out—they’re in talking people into donating their pants to him.
This is Harrison Ford we're talking about. He needs to punch someone into submission.

If we're talking about Harrison Ford, I believe he would be even more qualified than any politician in persuading people to take their pants off. After all, the producers put him in the movie because they expected millions of people, male and female, would pay to see him in any kind of turkey movie.

#26 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Manny @2: That was before we had to believe a president could have Alzheimer's or be just plain dim without a hand up his back

Air Force One came out in 1997, three years after Reagan's Alzheimer's was made public knowledge.

And even well before that, everyone with any political savvy knew that Reagan was a dim bulb, a cardboard cutout in the shape of a president.

I just spent a few minutes trying (and failing) to find YouTube footage of the "puppet show" incident from Reagan's '84 reelection campaign, in which he was asked a question about arms control by a reporter, and hemmed and hawed for a few seconds before Nancy leaned over and whispered (loud enough to be picked up by the microphones) "We're doing the best we can", which he then repeated to the press.

#27 ::: Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 05:09 PM:

The only thing I remember about watching "Air Force One" is where I saw it --- on a TV screen in the club car of an Amtrak train. I assume Amtrak has DVD's of every major movie about scary things on airplanes to show in their club cars.

#28 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 05:38 PM:

At least The Fifth Element warned you. The names translates as Boron, The Movie, and it is.

#29 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 06:03 PM:

The only airline to show Rain Man uncut was Quantas. For obvious reasons.

#30 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 06:15 PM:

If you’re big on watching Harrison Ford get beaten up and suffering, this is the movie for you.

Brad Pitt getting the snot beaten out of him was definitely one of the major draws of Spy Game, while we're at it. Watching that movie in a mixed group was interesting.

#31 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 08:14 PM:

Michael @30:

Mixed group how? male/female? black/white? American/European? drunk/sober?

#32 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 10:35 PM:

The trouble with this movie is that it caused the Iraq War.

OK, not really. But IMHO it helped, building on the groundwork laid by Independence Day.

What I mean by that is:

1) it's about Macho Sue

2) who is the President

3) and it gave us visuals of a US President as action hero.

Without movies like this, I don't think we'd have seen a President performing his own stunts. Or having his own non-satiric action figure.

Seeing is believing -- the movies made us see it, so people were ready to believe it.

#33 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:18 PM:

Serge at # writes:

> C'mon... The movie has Gary Oldman in it. That's got to count for something. On the other hand, he was in The Fifth Element and I can't think of a movie I hated more than that one.

Splutter? _The Fifth Element_ is pretty much the only SF movie ever made with a sense of style. It's like a Moebius comic (or bande desinee if you talk fancy) come to life.

I'm with you on Gary Oldman though - he raises the tone of anything he's in.

#34 ::: markdf ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:19 PM:

I saw this in the theater and in the first scenes when they show Air Force One, all the promo for the movie suddenly came crashing down and I realized I had just paid money to see Airport 97: Die, President! Die!

And where was George Kennedy? There should have been George Kennedy.

#35 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:28 PM:

Serge at #10 writes:

> By the way, why did the Forces of Good wait until the last minute to send someone to Earth, even though they'd known for centuries what the Forces of Bad were up to?

But surely that's the realistic part of the movie? They had some meetings, and time got away from them.

#36 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:39 PM:

I actually loved _Air Force One_ the first time I saw it. Every now and then I need to see a big dumb action movie where things blow up, and I'm willing to forgive almost any amount of stupidity. In fact, you could say that the stupidity's what I'm there for in the first place. But...

A couple of weeks ago my wife was out of town at a conference, and did the right thing and laid in some junk food and bad videos, as one must on these occasions.

I had a go at watching _Air Force One_, and this time I just couldn't make it all of the way through. It was the American Triumphalism that got me - the movie felt like a version of that Fry and Laurie skit where Hugh Laurie plays a grand piano and sings "America... America... America..." with a constipated look on his face. Except with explosions. I don't know if this is more ignorable if you are American, but to an Australian it can get to the point where you either have to turn off the tv or start throwing things at it.

And yeah - even the first time I saw it, I spent the whole movie waiting to hear how and why the secret service guy had turned traitor. Even Tom Clancy usually remembers to mention this kind of thing.

#37 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 11:41 PM:

I wrote:

> A couple of weeks ago my wife was out of town at a conference, and did the right thing and laid in some junk food and bad videos

Aaargh. *I* did the right thing and watched some bad videos. She doesn't watch garbage. But I love her anyway.

#38 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 12:25 AM:

Steve @36:

It was the American Triumphalism that got me - the movie felt like a version of that Fry and Laurie skit where Hugh Laurie plays a grand piano and sings "America... America... America..." with a constipated look on his face. Except with explosions.

As accurate a prediction of the run-up to the Iraq War (at least in the US) as one could ask for. I'm not saying the movie caused the war directly, but IMHO it helped.

#39 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Scott @18:

it was my understanding that pilots in airspace controlled by... ground control... do what they're told.

It has been a while since I saw the movie, but the way the bad guys engineer the crash is not to cause a mid-air collision, but to cause a plane to crash into the ground by sending false information to its altimeter. Immediately after seeing the movie, I e-mailed my friend who works in aviation to ask if this was in any way possible, and he confirmed what I would have assumed, which is that a plane's altimeter does not rely on ground control for its data, and even if it did, the scenario in the movie required a completely brain-dead pilot. (Maybe Rayford Steele was in the cockpit?)

I looked up a summary just now (it's Die Hard 2, if you're curious) and this reminded me of the other thing that drove me crazy: there are all these planes in holding patterns, acting like the only thing they could possibly do is to continue to circle Dulles. Rather than diverting to -- say -- Washington National.

Many movies do not hold up well on close inspection but when the big explosions fail to distract me from the huge problems, they're doing it wrong.

#40 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 02:35 AM:

Serge, #1, I don't care about The Fifth Element's plot, but I love the costumes and the settings. When Amazon had it on sale for $5, I got it, so I could look at those closer.

Naomi, #39, planes are very rarely directed to National from Dulles. Usually if a plane has to be redirected from Dulles, it goes to BWI. This was true before 9/11. National has some of the most dangerous runways in the country for a major airport.

#41 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 03:11 AM:

Serge: I love the Fifth Element! The plot and story are excrement, but the rest of it is worth it (Visuals, dialogue, insane set pieces... plus "Multipass." OH, and aliens singing Opera.)

I admit, 90% of the time, a bad plot/story ruins a movie for me, no matter how pretty, but that one pulled everything else off. Or did it with the kind of Dreadful that has Style, and is therefore worth watching.

#42 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 04:46 AM:

Scott @ 23:

Since incompetence by Air Traffic Control can occasionally cause planes to crash into each other, there's some incentive to hire competent people, and some grounds for stress. My understanding is that pilots generally have to rely on ATC to steer them into approaches, altitudes, and landings that do not have other aircraft dangerously close, because they cannot keep track of a local airspace full of dozens of planes -- they're rather busy flying their own plane.


According to the Wikipedia article on ATC, "Ground Control" technically refers to the control of aircraft on the ground, off of the main runways, and is one part of what ATC does. Naturally, they have to coordinate with other parts of ATC to make sure that a runway is clear if they need to send an airplane across it.

Thinking nastily, I suppose the easiest ways to screw things up in a "Die Hard 2" situation would be to: a) arrange mid-air collisions between planes; and b) arrange high-speed ground collisions -- after all, the worst aviation disaster in history was a ground-based collision. Trying to get planes to fly into the ground is rather unlikely to work, for reasons people have pointed out. (Though I recall that was a plot element in an SF novel called The Adolescence of P1: the rogue AI, intending to kill one of its creators, seized control of an ATC system and fed bad altitude information into the controller's display, so that the controller told the airplane (carrying the intended victim) to keep on descending.... Another writer unfamiliar with altimeters, I guess.)

#43 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 05:35 AM:

The bad guys in Die Hard 2 cause the crash by interfering with the Instrument Landing System, setting a much steeper glideslope so as to cause the aircraft to land short. Which is at least borderline sensible as a threat.

However, the crew ought to notice a) that the VSI is showing a much faster rate of descent than on the approach plate, b) that the altitude checks are coming at the wrong DME distance readings if it's an ILS-DME approach, c) that they are too high when they intercept the ILS and too low later on, d) if they aren't using DME, that their own cross-check between time-and-distance (or GPS) and radio altimeter is wrong, e) when they reach the decision height they should be able to see the approach lights, and they will be far too low on the PAPIs, so unless they are completely hopeless, it shouldn't have been enough.

Really, the bad guys would be lucky for only one of those to go off, in which case the plane would go-around and be off to an alternate, yelling over the radio to everyone who can hear that the ILS is mysteriously untrustworthy.

#44 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 05:56 AM:

Dr Science @32 The trouble with this movie is that it caused the Iraq War... Seeing is believing -- the movies made us see it, so people were ready to believe it.

I think you may be right! Initially I was going to say the fault lies with the choice of movie our leaders chose to emulate, but then I had a quick glance at a list of popular films from 1997.

Of note: LA Confidential - themes of corruption and brutality
Men in Black - To keep the public safe we have to keep them ignorant
Tommorrow Never Dies - The right story in the news can start wars
Titanic

(Liar, Liar would do equally well as the last entry, but the actual plot doesn't fit. The only thing we can be thankful for is that there's no attempt to recreate Starship Troopers)

#45 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 06:07 AM:

Whatever else the President of the US may or may not be, almost by definition he’s one of the best politicians in the world. His talents aren’t in punching people out — they’re in talking people into donating their pants to him.

Much better film idea. (OLDMAN: "My pants! Where are they? What just happened?")

I would love to see an action movie in which the hero triumphs because of his super-persuasive arguing skills. (Actually, I think this is basically the plot of "The Warrior's Apprentice".)

42: the Bashkirian/DHL midair collision was partly caused by ATC. Basically what happened was that the two aircraft were on converging courses at close but different flight levels, too close for the ATC to tell which was higher. Onboard collision-avoidance radar told the DHL pilot to climb, which he did, and also told the Bashkirian pilot to descend; but at the same time, ATC came on and told DHL to descend and Bashkirian to climb. The DHL pilot was Western trained, and thus followed his own instruments over ATC directions. The Bashkirian pilot was Russian trained, and trained to trust ATC over his own instruments. Both aircraft climbed - and collided.

So "causing collisions by taking over ATC" would work - if you were dealing with Russian pilots.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 06:38 AM:

Lenora Rose @ 41... I love the Fifth Element! The plot and story are excrement.

And let's not forget Chris Tucker's contribution to the experience.

Marilee @ 40... Great costumes and sets indeed. Still, I found myself wondering if the film's French director was testing the stupid American audiences, to see how much crap they'd put up with before they decided to storm the studio and burn it to the ground.

That being said, The Fifth Element is a betetr movie than Ishtar.

#47 ::: Nanglator ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 07:23 AM:

My problem with the terrorists' plan in Die Hard 2 was that it depended upon a horrible snowstorm. Don't follow a plan that requires weather be perfect for it!

Trying to cause mid-air collisions would be fun, but despite all our fears, I think what you'd end up with is a lot of near misses, and a lot of pilots confused by your frantic vectoring.

And the altimeters wouldn't necessarily give away the ILS landing trick, if they updated the automated broadcast to include incorrect altimeter settings. But when a pilot got to decision height, as has been discussed, he makes an appropriate decision.

He doesn't wait until he sees the ground and then cover his face with his arms and start screaming. You don't pass your first check ride if you ever do the cover-the-face-and-start-screaming thing.

#48 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 07:38 AM:

Steve Taylor @ 36:

that Fry and Laurie skit where Hugh Laurie plays a grand piano and sings "America... America... America..." with a constipated look on his face. Except with explosions.

So of course I had to look it up on Youtube. I was pleased at Fry's reaction in his three seconds of screen time. Nicely pragmatic.

#49 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 08:22 AM:

You bastard! You caused me to reread the review of V*nn* B*nt*'s Fl*ght again!

#50 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 08:43 AM:

#44 (... The only thing we can be thankful for is that there's no attempt to recreate Starship Troopers)

You'll be happy to hear that Starship Troopers 3 just hit the Direct To DVD racks.

#51 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 09:42 AM:

"Now this is where it really falls apart. Whatever else the President of the US may or may not be, almost by definition he’s one of the best politicians in the world. His talents aren’t in punching people out—they’re in talking people into donating their pants to him. He should, just by talking and turning on his charisma, get the terrorists to offer him a date with their sister. That would have been a better movie, IMHO, but we didn’t go that way. "

Well, the president is good at persuading gullible Americans to do things, and to make bargains with richer, better-informed Americans (e.g., donate $100K's, and get $100millions back). Trying to persuade foreign terrorists who start off with serious hatred would be a Vorkosigan-level trick.

#52 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 10:32 AM:

Jim #50: You'll be happy to hear that Starship Troopers 3 just hit the Direct To DVD racks.

And it's currently on top of my Netflix queueueueue. I still say that the first one is one of the five best movies of the 90s.

#53 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 10:41 AM:

At least some aircraft use radar altimeters. Might be a bit difficult to fudge the readign on one of those. (I had a job, many years ago, building microwave delay lines that were used in radar altimeters: 2000 foot delay line = 2000 feet out and 2000 feet back, or 4.064 microsecond delay.)

#54 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 10:54 AM:

Starship Troopers 3 isn't out here in the UK until September, so obviously I haven't seen it, but I can assure everyone it's better than Starship Troopers 2, if only because of singing sky marshal Omar Anoke.

#55 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 10:58 AM:

54: "Starship Troopers - The Musical"? Well, I suppose Neil Patrick Harris was in the first one, so he's ready to go...

#56 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:02 AM:

P J Evans:
4000 foot microwave delay lines? I assume there is some trick you can use other than coiling up a very long tuned tube of precise cross section. Ive seen the optical equivalent for optical time-delay-reflectometers -- a carefully measured coil of fiberoptic as a delay line to induce enough of a phase difference so that small lengths could be measured. I'm assuming that your delay line was for a similar purpose?

*A time-delay-reflectometer sends a signal down a wire or fiber and finds where the break (or other flaw) is by measuring how long it takes for the reflected signal to arrive. It's really expensive to directly measure that short of a delay, so they actually use phase comparison to do the measurement.

#57 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:04 AM:

Naomi Kritzer @16:

I have my cell phone manual in my backpack. It goes everywhere with me, so if the phone starts acting up I can check the troubleshooting section of the manual.

I guess I must be weird, I thought everyone did that...

#58 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:08 AM:

they’re in talking people into donating their pants to him

Didn't Air Force One come out when l'Affaire Lewinsky was... ah... exposed?

#59 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Neil Wilcox:
A cheerful upbeat pop anthem about being a "good day to die"?
Is there a way to selectively kill the neurons that were exposed to that song?

#60 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:13 AM:

Didn't Air Force One come out when l'Affaire Lewinsky was... ah... exposed?

It came out a couple of months before.

#61 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:36 AM:

John @ 56

Something like that, yes. These were bulk acoustic lines: the signal went in through a transducer, became physical waves running through a carefully cut crystal (usually grown sapphire), and went out through another transducer.

The most quirky order I remember was the one for a large batch of single-frequency one-microsecond delay lines, to be used as oscillators in goose-collar radio transmitters 'because geese can't carry the big packages that alligators can'.

#62 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 01:55 PM:

All I can say is, if you watched Air Force One for plot cohesiveness, you were watching it for entirely the wrong reasons.

#63 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 06:38 PM:

John Houghton @59

Why did I follow that link? Somebody pass me a can of extra strength crystal Brāno®.

Remember, once a week, Brāno® in every brain . . .

#64 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 07:26 PM:

The only thing that could save Starship Troopers 3 is full-frontal female nudity.

#65 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 09:37 PM:

Marilee @ 40: Q: What's the shortest flight in America?

A: National to the 14th Street Bridge.

Thanks! I'll be here all week! Don't forget to tip your dead baby waitresses!

#66 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 10:05 PM:

Jim, the shower scene was a highlight of the first movie, but it didn't save the movie (I was amused at the time that most of the authentic references to the novel were not necessary to the plot. What makes you think that more explicit nudity might save #3? It would take more that eye candy to save it if the song is any indication of the merits of the movie as a whole.
Besides, one whole side in the war is pretty much naked all of the time, and it doesn't seem to do much to excite the earthling audience.

#67 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:00 PM:

Enough gratuitous nudity will save almost any movie. (There are exceptions: Angel of H.E.A.T. still stank even though it featured Marilyn Chambers running around starkers for most of it.)

#68 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 02:12 AM:

hamletta, #65, Ow. I still remember that. Although the runway length was not the only problem.

#69 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 04:48 AM:

I've hinted at what my review of Starship Troopers 3 would be in the footnotes of a review of Labyrinth and a sci-fi film meme I got tagged with under my bad sci-fi reviewing pseudonym. I've only hinted as I can't have watched it legally and anyway I saw it at a friend's after we'd been to the Great British Beer Festival so it's a little hazy. There's certainly some breasts (I think 6) and bums in it.

#70 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 04:48 AM:

Besides, one whole side in the war is pretty much naked all of the time, and it doesn't seem to do much to excite the earthling audience.

What, no one else thought the Tank Bug was hott?

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 10:28 AM:

James McDonald @ 67... Enough gratuitous nudity will save almost any movie.

Even 2001's Swordfish?

#72 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 11:32 AM:

Even 2001's Swordfish?

There wasn't enough.

#73 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 11:41 AM:

Jim #72: Maybe there wasn't enough, but I'm sure that what little there was set some kind of a record for gratui...gratuity? Gratuitousness? I'm not talking about tips here.

#74 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 12:40 PM:

Even 2001's Swordfish?

There wasn't enough.

I agree--Hugh Jackman had his shirt on for far too much of that movie.

:)

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 12:41 PM:

On the other hand, Jackman's buns were revealed in Someone Like You.

#76 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 01:02 PM:

So Jim, you're saying that there are movies that would only be saved by 100% nudity? May I present Bo Derek's Bolero as a possible counter example?

Perhaps 100% nudity and no sound...

#77 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 01:27 PM:

Air Force One came out when I was just shy of 15, so of course I saw it on the big screen. All I really remember about it is that I had ("Had." Ha. Still have.) a crush on Gary Oldman and that it was the first movie I remember seeing where it was pretty damn obvious that Harrison Ford was slowing down too much for action movies. Also, there was a bit with some parachutes.

I tried to watch it on TV a couple of years ago, when I flipped it on in the middle. I think I managed about 10 minutes, despite Gary Oldman.

(Also, Carrie S. @74: Word. Every movie would be improved by shirtless Hugh Jackman. Even Casablanca.)

#78 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 01:32 PM:

Suzanne M @ 77... Every movie would be improved by shirtless Hugh Jackman

You'll get your heart's desire, if one is to believe the Wolverine theatrical ad.

#79 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 09:33 PM:

Serge, I am unreasonably excited about that movie. While it's partially because I like the X-Men, I have to admit it's mostly because of the eye candy.

#80 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 10:35 PM:

Suzanne M @ 79... I am unreasonably excited about that movie

Suzanne, please meet Sue, my wife, who could also be described as unreasonably excited about Wolverine.

Eye candy?
What eye candy?
Oh, you mean Liev Schreiber as Sabertooth.

#81 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 11:32 PM:

Yes, Serge, him too.

#82 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 02:06 AM:

I missed the howlers. What I got from the movie is "The Most Powerful Man in the World finds himself reduced to the status of some schlub in a bank filled with armed robbers. And still manages to save the day." In that context, it made perfect sense to me that the Prez was a bit slow and a bit stiff.

#83 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 02:06 AM:

I missed the howlers. What I got from the movie is "The Most Powerful Man in the World finds himself reduced to the status of some schlub in a bank filled with armed robbers. And still manages to save the day." In that context, it made perfect sense to me that the Prez was a bit slow and a bit stiff.

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 09:12 AM:

TexAnne @ 81... Him too? Who else is there? Oh, that guy from Australia. By the way, I'm quite perplexed as to why paperback hero hasn't been released on DVD. I mean, Hugh Jackman as an Outback trucker who also secretly writes romance novels?

#85 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 12:37 PM:

Despite much reading about the film industry, and talking to more than one film director, I still don't understand it at all. For example, in an hour or two, musing about a movie most of us had seen years before, this crowd (admittedly not a representative audience, but still...) was able to come up with three easy-to-make fixes that would have been cheap to do, and made the movie solidly better.

They have test audiences; they have industry audiences (beta readers?) -- why do so many movies have such glaring plot holes?

#86 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 01:11 PM:

Coming this Saturday night on the Skiffy Channel, Flu Bird Horror.

At least the title has the quality of saying exactly what it's about. What's next? Chicken on a Plane?

#87 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Chicken on a Plane?

Better than Chicken on a Möbius Strip, no?

#88 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 01:54 PM:

sherrold: The short answer, becuase people, by and large, don't care.

I used to work test screenings. The questions were, "what moved you", "what excited you", "what bored you", "when X did Y did it scare/thrill/exite/bore you", none of it (at the level the surveys were built) was about, "what bits of it blew you out of the illusion?"

Most people don't think (as I did; at 13) the good guys ought to hole up in the command area and keep a 24/7 watch for the Alien.

What they comment on is the squick value of someone not being completely dead when they see the hanging body (that's from my mother, who was in a test audience for Alien, and mentions that as one of the changes).

The don't like Glenn Close, "Getting Away With It" in Fatal Attraction, and demand the wife do her in.

What they talk about are the big emotional swings.

When all is said and done, Air Force One made money, so the plot holes don't matter (I can solve,Die Hard II; even if we accept the McGuffin of the Final Approach Machine (which didn't take over the planes, just reprogrammed the Glide Slope indicators, in forty-five minutes real time. I can do that because the airport they used is on the Eastern Seaboard, but what cranked me was the scene at the beginning where they go from blanks to live ammo in fully automatice weapons: It doesn't work that way).

By the time they get to the test audience phase, correcting the plot holes is too expensive. If movies failed because of that, they would fix it at the scripting stage.

But they don't, so they don't.

#89 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 02:05 PM:

The bottom line is that movies don't have to work as hard in the storytelling dept because, unlike novels, they set the pace at which you experience them. Only much later do you go waitaminnit and start asking yourself the obvious question of why James Mason used a cropduster to try to eliminate Cary Grant. Only later do you ask yourself how come people knew Charles Foster Kane's last whispered word when there was nobody else in his room.

#90 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 03:42 PM:

Serge (89): how come people knew Charles Foster Kane's last whispered word when there was nobody else in his room.

Surveillance cameras. Duh.

(Not invented yet? That's what They want you to think. Mwahaha.)

#91 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 05:59 PM:

Mary Aileen, 90: Surveillance, aka "the servants," who were fired if they weren't inconspicuous enough. I've always assumed it was some little tweeny who then made her fortune by selling the sad tale to one of Hearst's^H^H^H Kane's own newspapers.

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 06:03 PM:

TexAnne @ 91... Apparently, when a fan approached Orson Wells and asked about this, Welles made it quite clear that the fan wasn't to bring this up again with anybody. Obviously, Charlton Heston didn't feel bound to a vow of secrecy. since his 1993's autobiography is where I first read about this.

#93 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 06:06 PM:

About the Wolverine movie, if you go to YouTube and type in "wolverine origin", you'll come across an entry titled "origin". After the first minute, you'll see something that'll please fans of eye candy.

#94 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2008, 06:26 PM:

Just watched the Singing Sky Marshal Omar Anoke.

Good lord.

Aaaand ST3 goes straight onto the rental list.

#95 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2008, 12:24 PM:

re Citizen Kane

Kane dies in a series of very tight close-ups. I don't think the script ever specifies that he's alone in the room. Morever, as he whispers "Rosebud," he drops the snowglobe he's been clutching and it shatters; reflected in the convex glass we can clearly see someone (a nurse IIRC) entering the room. I assume she had pretty good hearing. She is never seen again, and the reporter winds up talking to the butler, who had overheard Kane say "Rosebud" *earlier,* also with regards to the snowglobe - so even if the nurse had only half-made out the word, the butler could probably have confirmed it for her.

#96 ::: Julia Jones sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2010, 02:40 PM:

More spam @97.

#97 ::: Serge sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2010, 02:41 PM:

bedbug infestation?

#98 ::: Dave Crisp sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2011, 05:56 AM:

Old thread, link in username looks sus.

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