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Thursday, May 17, 2018

DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: The Concorde... Aiport '79 (1979)

1979 was the year the disaster movie truly died. The once mega-popular genre had been in a tailspin for a while. Films like “The Cassandra Crossing” or “Avalanche” had underperformed. With the failure of Irwin Allen's last two epics, the genre truly entered its death throes. The final nail in the coffin was “The Concorde... Airport '79.” The latest film in Universal's blockbuster franchise, the film attempted to capitalize on the hype surrounding the Concorde hyper-sonic jet. Instead, test screenings went so badly that the studio considered selling the movie as a comedy. The film would end the “Airport” franchise's dominance of the box office, flopping badly. Critics, who had always disliked this series, gave it utterly damning reviews. The seventies were practically over and the decade-defining cinematic fad was going out with it.

In a mission of good will, the Concorde super-jet flies from Paris to Washington, D.C., with plans of returning soon the next day. Among the crew is reporter Maggie Whelan. She has recently uncovered that arms dealer Kevin Harrison has been selling weapons to the Russians. Determined to make sure the story never sees the light of day, Harrison makes several attempts to sabotage the plane. He fires heat-seeking missiles at the Concorde, attempts to sic several fighter jets after it, and plants a device on the plane that will vibrate it apart. It's up to the heroic crew, including Joe Patroni, to keep the passengers safe.

The “Airport” series had flirted with camp before. “Airport 1975” contained several moments of goofy bullshit. “The Concorde,” however, has the series sliding completely into unintentional hysterics. The special effects in the film are terrible, absolutely laughable. The shots of missiles sailing through the air, in pursuit of various targets, are not convincing. Equally bad digital shots are used to depict the Concorde dodging the same missiles. Unimpressive models are used for a deeply ridiculous scene where the jet goes into a nosedive. Accompanying these sequences are hilarious shots of the passengers rolling upside down, which the film repeats over and over again. The climatic disaster, when the plane nearly tears itself apart, is no less goofy. I don't think a device exist that is capable of doing that, nor is there a plane capable of surviving such damage.

While the “Airport” movies have always been packed with disposable subplots, their general premises were simple. “Man hides bomb on plane.” “Passenger jet collides with smaller aircraft.” “Jet crashes underwater.” “The Concorde,” meanwhile, has a deeply ridiculous set-up. The idea of an evil arms dealer trying to destroy the jet is silly. It probably would've been a lot easier for him just to send a hitman to kill the reporter but, by movie logic, I can buy it. The schemes he employ, however, push the movie fully into comic book foolishness. This results in a number of very silly moments. Like a plane cracking up and no one really noticing. Or the other passengers grabbing someone as they literally fall through the floor. Or George Kennedy shooting a flare gun out a window at a fighter jet. The movie's plot is completely meaningless.

The cast of characters are sillier than ever before. After being a chief mechanic, a vice president of operations, and a consultant in previous films, George Kennedy's Joe Patroni is now a pilot. No, I don't understand that career path either. Kennedy is in high spirits, laughing and joking through the film, like a jovial grandpa. Joe's wife died between movies but, don't worry, he receives new girlfriend, in the form of Bibi Andersson's Francine. Kennedy even gets a love scene, which is not something I'm sure I needed to see. Alain Delon is ostensibly the film's hero but contributes almost nothing. More entertaining are the ridiculous supporting roles. Such as Jimmie Walker as a saxophone player who repeatedly tokes up in the bathroom, Martha Raye as an old lady with diarrhea, or Charo as a woman smuggling a chihuahua on-board. Also keep an eye open for David Warner, Mercedes McCambridge, Sybil Danning, and softcore goddess Sylvia Kristel.

Some of the blame for “The Concorde” can be laid at the feet of director David Lowell Rich, who had mostly done TV movies up to this point. (Including two other airplane crisis films, “SST: Death Flight” and “The Horror at 37,000 Feet.”) Amazingly, the movie would spawn an Italian rip-off, in the form of Ruggero Deodatto's “Concorde Affaire '79.” Maybe I'll cover that for the next Disaster Movies Month. As for this “Concorde,” it's a derisory film that I should give a negative rating to. Yet how can I, when the film entertained me so much? “Airport '79” shows the popular series dying an inglorious death but, good lord, if it isn't a spectacular crash. [7/10]

[X] Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[] Group In-Fighting
[] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast

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