Airport (1970)

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Airport (1970) is a melodrama depicting the various stories and problems of people affected by a plane bomber.

It’s interesting to note what a commercial success Airport was back then. Despite receiving mixed reviews, it actually went on to spawn 3 other films: Airport 1975, Airport ’77 and Airport ’79. Wow. Talk about a lack of creativity in coming up with names. Still, I highly doubt I’ll be watching any of these films, especially after reading the synopsis for Airport ’77.

“Art thieves hijack a 747, hit fog and crash into the ocean, trapping them and passengers under 100 feet of water.”

DAFUQ?! What on EARTH is that plane made of? How does it withstand the water pressure like a submarine? And most importantly, how did they manage to get big names like Lee Grant, Brenda Vaccaro and JACK LEMMON to star in these films??

I guess it’s clear that Airport is easily the best film out of the lot, garnering TEN Oscar nominations including best picture. And yet, I find Airport a far from stellar film.

The movie opens with a very cheesy 70s theme that is probably aimed at creating suspense and tension, with the words AIRPORT flying out at you as illustrated in the poster. From then on, you are treated to a film that attempts to balance itself as a disaster flick and human drama. And yet, that’s where the problem of the film lies: it tries to hard to bring out both aspects, but the whole thing just doesn’t gel together.

As a human drama, Airport is surprisingly simplistic in its portrayal of characters. None, and I mean NONE of the characters are the most original, and they all fit into some sort of mould or cliche. You have Mel Bakersfeld, the workaholic and overly dedicated airport manager with an unbelievably selfish wife (Oooo original). Then you have Vernon Demerest, Mel’s brother in law and a pilot who has an affair with his flight stewardess Gwen (Oooo exciting). Tanya Livingston is one character whose purpose I’m still trying to figure out other than being Mel’s love interest. Then you have Guererro, the bomber and his wife Inez, both whom could have been the most sympathetic characters on the film, but were hardly touched upon except during their introduction. And finally, there’s Mrs Ada Quonsett, the only character I actually cared about (thanks to Helen Hayes’ great performance) even though she’s there for purely comic relief.

Predictability aside, the film tries to explore the situation of these various characters but at the end of the day I couldn’t care less about any of them. I feel that all of them remained the same as they were right from the start, or at least the change in them is not very well handled. Sure, I guess you can say that Mel became a slightly more flexible person rather than being the overly frigid individual that he originally was. Or that Vernon became a more “mature” man after Gwen was seriously injured from the explosion. But none of these developments are very well shown or addressed.

The storyline could also have been a bit more focused, because the film starts off VERY slowly. The actual crisis is only shown about halfway into the film, with the first half focused on building up the characters. But for what? How has the crisis changed them? Why should I care about these characters and their marital woes? There was also a substantial segment focused on another plane that was stuck on a runway, mainly to add to the suspense in the later scenes when the damaged plane is landing but I feel that they could have done away with this part. Other redundant details included a scene where Mel was whining on and on about the need to redesign and rebuild the airport after he was ordered to close it down, which was pretty pointless, but sure.

The disaster aspect is something that I am more forgiving towards, since the film is supposedly the first of its kind. I kinda guessed that the ending is going to be a happy one, so there wasn’t really any suspense. Some scenes were quite well done though, such as the bomb going off and the rapid decompression in the plane, as well as the constantly widening gap in the damaged plane’s ceiling afterwards. I just thought that the suspense in not knowing when Guerrero was going to set off the bomb could have been more well handled, but instead the focus was primarily on the irrelevant human drama. Sighs.

Other than that, there’s this noticeable lack of subtlety that is obviously very dated but amusing anyway. A particular scene involving a quarrel between Mel and his annoyingly selfish wife over the phone was interspersed with clips portraying the couple’s falling marriage, because…I don’t know, in case it wasn’t clear enough?

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And other instances of split screens…

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…in case you need a visual of whom they were speaking to on the ground. Ominous face floating between the two pilots.

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Combined with some pretty cheesy lines, like…

“But I have a cab waiting downstairs and we can make the airport in fifteen minutes. Now the driver doesn’t mind waiting. His meter’s running and so is mine.”

“But I’ve got to finish packing.”

“You get me up to full throttle then throw me into reverse. You could damage my engine that way.”

And you get Airport, a film that is nothing more than cheesy, campy entertainment. I may have sounded too critical about it, but for the most part I was entertained. At least I was not tearing my hair out in frustration. 3/5. Burt Lancaster, the actor who played Mel Bakersfeld, even declared that the film was trash but I think he was a little harsh.

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