Turbulent Skies
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Turbulent Skies

The disaster flick is a perennial fan favorite. You get to see regular people subjected to circumstances far beyond the realm of normal experience rising to the challenge to survivor against seemingly insurmountable odds. This allows people in the audience the opportunity to live vicariously live out these deadly perils from the safety of a comfortable seat. One perspective that occasionally is taken regarding these films is that they are not so much disaster flick, they are stories of survival. The difference is subtle but will alter what you can expect from a particular film. As a movie strongly conforming to the tenents of s disaster flick, It typical depicts both the events that precede the cataclysm as well as the immediate aftermath, but the focal point of the movie is the main event. This is in contrast to the survivor film. There the main action occurs after the catastrophe as one or two individual rises above the others to take charge and lead the majority safely through the devastation. In most cases, this is the more interesting of the two since it permits a greater potential for classical literary archetypes. This changes the story from little more than an action vehicle to a morality play were the extreme circumstances bring out the worse and best in those affected. An example of the later that perfectly exemplifies the point although it falls flat cinematically is ‘Turbulent Skies.’ It is about on the level of a lower ranked original flick shown Saturday nights on the SyFy Channel. However, it does provide a means to contrast an abject coward with a man who discovers his inner hero. Tales like this date back as long as men gathered around swapping stories in the evening. Ultimately the film is exceptionally predictable employing standard situations and character trope established in the seventies whenever few years with the release, of another film in the ‘Airport’ franchise. ‘Turbulent Skies’ makes for a reasonably enjoyable popcorn flick especially if you happen to work with computers and have unreasonable users. The effects are almost laudable but thankfully are held to a minimum. The main aspect of this production to focus on is the interaction of the characters and how the tension inherent in the situation is driven more by the human beings than the central mechanical failures.

Fred Olen Ray directed this movie, and along with Peter Sullivan wrote the screenplay. There is a rather scholarly dissertation that enumerates some nine elements that must be present in a film to make a successful movie. The odd thing to note here is this movie exhibits most of these factors although in the final analysis the flick falls short; falling to gel properly. Among the plot devices included in this script are defined villain and hero, Sword of Damocles, the ticking time bomb and a mixture of comedy, drama, and romance. Unfortunately despite what appears to be an honest effort to make the best low budget film little could be done to elevate this flick above the mild entertainment value it provides. One reason that is evident in this quarter is the undeniable use of situations already covered decades ago in one or more of the ‘Airport’ series. The requisite motivators for the dramatic drive of the narrative are the result of the death of the pilot and incapacitation of his co-pilot. This justifies an intense mid-air transfer of someone able to save the day. In this instance instead of Charlton Heston and Karen Black, we get Casper Van Dien as Tom. He is the computer programmer who designed the artificially intelligent computer designed to fly the plane without that accident prone human at the control. Winding up in the pilot’s seat is his with Samantha portrayed by former Baywatch alumnus Nicole Eggert, who is Vice President of Research and Development for Devlin Industries. Richard Devlin owns the company a role taken on by one of my favorite character actors, Brad Dourif. To cash in on the publicity generated by a tragic plane crash, Richard allows his son Charles (Patrick Muldoon) to take passengers on the computer’s maiden flight. This is where the dichotomy between male leads takes place. Tom and Sam are having marital problems mostly due to the stress induced by long hours at work, but it is made abundantly clear that Tom loves their young son and wants to make the marriage work again. Let’s face it Van Dien is perfect for the look needed here, tall, squared jawed and ruggedly handsome. In contrast to him, Muldoon is the polar opposite as the heir apparent son. Charles consistently has to remind people that he’s in charge, perhaps a little tongue in cheek nod to Eggert’s first big TV break, ‘Charles in Charge.’ He hits on every female in sight except for his belabored personal assistant who is the target of unending verbal abuse. At one point after being slighted by a young woman he has her take a memo, ‘I don’t like her.’ Chuck cares more about his image, including the status of his hair than the safety of the passengers. He is extremely quick to try to pass blame to Sam even though it was his unauthorized addition to the complicated code that infected the computer with a virus. He had some hack technician add a verbal welcome to the computer bypassing all safety precautions. You couldn’t ask for men more opposite on the morality scale than these two.

Okay, despite the clarity to the characterization of the opposites the plot is far too derivative to hold up. You know that the bad weather to the north was going to have lightning strike the plane and that the human pilot was ill-fated from the start. When Tom is placed in a stealth bomber in the last-ditch effort to get him on board the doomed plane keeping from laughing is going to be difficult. The unsung heroes here are the two programmers back at the base trying to resolve the problem by dissecting a prototype. He knows what he is doing; he has pens in his pocket and an Australian accent. His assistant is blond and cute, so you know they are going to find something to text Tom at the last second. This is fun but don’t let expectations run too high.

Posted 07/18/11            Posted   03/13/2018

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