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Takes a while to fly but sprouts wings in the end
on 18 June 2009
On the face of it this is very promising - disparate group of men stranded in desert, water running out, ingenious scientist to the rescue. Add in James Stewart and Richard Attenborough at the joystick, backed up by some familiar faces, and all seems set fair for an enjoyably bumpy ride leading to a smooth landing.
The movie turns out to be something along those lines, though there is sufficient turbulence for the plane to shed some vital parts on the home run. For a start, the storyline struggles to fill the over-generous 2 hrs 15 mins, and two or three of the sub-plot strands seem dragged in as make weights rather than organic offshoots of character-driven action. Thus Peter Finch's (very good) army captain tries too hard to kill himself in fairly dumb ways, and Ernest Borgnine, one of the worst and most annoying actors ever to stand before a camera (though Ian Bannen as a mouthy Scotsman tries hard to grab from him the acting wooden spoon on this occasion), wastes no time in going mad and predictably coming to a sticky though mercifully early end.
There seems an awfully long stretch of time to fill between crash and rebirth, and the script is never either snappy or thoughtful enough to encourage the inevitable fallings-out to have much resonance. The role of Hardy Kruger's single-minded designer verges too closely upon the realms of the mad scientist to be really credible, though Kruger tries very hard.
But the desert scenes and crashed aircraft set are very well done, and the climax, albeit telegraphed from a long way out, is exciting. If James Stewart as the fraying-at-the-edges pilot never seems altogether comfortable with the part, the great Richard Attenborough overcomes a slow start to pull the throttle out from halfway and ultimately steal the acting honours; look out for his mute reaction just short of the 2 hr mark as the status of the aircraft designer dawns upon him.