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What's that noise?
on 25 August 2011
Time travel is usually depicted as big, adventurous trips to the past or the future, usually with convenient historical figures.
But there's nothing so glamorous about the time travel in "The Langoliers," an eerie Stephen King miniseries about a plane that lands in a strange deserted world. The beginning, buildup and the climax are brilliantly spooky, but there are long stretches of people just standing around talking, and the aforementioned climax is way too early.
A plane is en route from L.A. to Boston, when almost all the passengers vanish. The only remaining people are a pair of teenagers, a bereaved pilot, a blind child, a schoolteacher, a mystery writer, an engineer, a businessman, and a psychotic yuppie. They manage to land the plane in a Maine airport (OF COURSE!), but find it similarly deserted.
But something is terribly wrong with the place -- clocks have stopped, food tastes flat, and all their surroundings look dull. Even worse, there's a faint roaring in the distance that is growing louder. As the passengers struggle to figure out how to return to normal, the "langoliers" (as Psycho-Yuppie Craig Toomey calls them) are approaching the airport. If they don't escape soon, they'll be devoured alive...
"The Langoliers" is a story that probably could have benefited from at least a third of its bulk being chopped off -- the beginning is wonderfully spooky, the climactic clash with the langoliers is pretty freaky (even if they do look like giant raisins with sandworm mouths), and King's depiction of time travel is chillingly nightmarish even WITHOUT the langoliers.
But a lot of the middle section is just the characters wandering around the airport, speculating about what they can/can't do. It feels saggy and boring, and even Toomey's periodic violent attacks on the other passengers doesn't spice things up. And the last half hour is... well, kind of anticlimactic. Dramatic, but after the sudden appearance of the langoliers, it feels kind of letdownish.
Additionally, there are some basic continuity errors (so, guns don't work but knives do?), and the idea of the mystery writer being able to unravel the EXACT NATURE of everything that's going on stretches credibility to the shattering point. I know he's a stand-in for King, but COME ON.
As for the acting, it's a mixed bag. David Morse gives a good understated performance as the beleagured pilot, Mark Lindsay Chapman has a lot of charisma as a British hit-man with a heart of gold, and Bronson Pinchot gives a freakily over-the-top performance as a businessman who tumbles over the edge of insanity. Most of the others are either underused (Frankie Faison, Dean Stockwell) or downright annoying (everyone else).
"The Langoliers" is an interesting idea handled rather clumsily, especially since it has a rather soggy middle section. But you gotta admit, parts of it was delightfully effective.