Today’s Prayer Focus

The Flight of the Phoenix

MPA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPA) for some language, action and violence.

Reviewed by: Keith Howland

Moral Rating: Average
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults
Genre: Action Thriller
Length: 1 hr. 45 min.
Year of Release: 2004
USA Release:
Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox
Featuring Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Hugh Laurie, Jared Padalecki
Director John Moore
Producer William Aldrich, Alex Blum, Wyck Godfrey, John Davis
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Trademark logo.
20th Century Studios
, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios, a division of The Walt Disney Company

“The only way out is up.”

You may know the story already, because “The Flight of the Phoenix” was filmed before in 1966, starring James Stewart and Richard Attenborough. This time, there are better visual effects, a woman in the cast, and worse language, but the story remains essentially the same: A plane carrying the crew and cargo from an abandoned outpost in Mongolia crashes during a sandstorm in the Gobi Desert, stranding all aboard with little hope of being found and less hope of survival if they are not. Food and water are in short supply, the sun is hot, and there may be murderous smugglers in the vicinity. The stranded party is at least two hundred miles from the nearest town, and the plane is too damaged to ever fly again. Or is it…?

The plot is perhaps more driven by events that befall the characters than by interactions between them, but there are interpersonal frictions nonetheless. People react differently to extreme circumstances, and these differences create conflict beyond the perils of heat, dehydration and sandstorms. Egos clash, especially among those with the greatest influence in the group: The pilot, Captain Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) and Elliot (Giovanni Ribisi), the man with the most viable plan for their continued survival.

The rest of the people represent a mixture of genders, nationalities, and rank (there is one company executive betwixt the pilot, cook, and other manual laborers), but thankfully the film does not descend to predictable clashes between any of these surface distinctions. Rather, it divides virtue and vice fairly well between them and never suggests that any sort of person has a corner on either. (This is nice, since too many films depict ruthless upper class twits in contrast with heart-of-gold working class yokels, etc.)

Most interesting, though, is how the filmmakers demonstrate that vices are most unbecoming in the people to whom we turn to be our heroes. When a plane and its passengers are in trouble, everyone expects guidance from their captain, but Towns is more reticent than anyone to give it. Then, when Elliot becomes the de facto leader as the executor of the escape plan, he shortly reveals himself to be the basest, most selfish person in the bunch. This is what lends the drama its greatest spice and elevates it above a pedestrian exercise in worst-case-scenario survival techniques.

Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox

There is much to recommend this film. It may at times veer towards hokiness, and I feared early on that it would be predictable, but it turned out not to be (except for the inevitable conclusion). The visuals are nice, with an impressive plane crash and beautiful desert scenery. The performances are all reasonably good, too. Despite a woman present amidst the stranded (Miranda Otto, best known as Eowyn in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King”), there is no time for romance in the film, which may disappoint some, but leaves no room for gratuitous sex or nudity. (There is some brief innuendo, though.)

As far as detractions go, most of the characters utter profanities or use the name of the Lord vainly. Violence is only occasionally excessive, as the filmmakers mostly do not dwell on the harsher details of the marooned party’s sufferings. There is occasional talk of jinxes regarding their predicament, but the conclusion of this talk seems to be that jinxes are unreal.

There is much in the film to engender good discussion regarding faith, theology, and other spiritual matters. To refer to them all may spoil the plot a bit, but some mention should be made here. At one point a character says, “A man needs only one thing in life: someone to love.” This emphasis on love is good. All people need love: to give and receive it. Specifically, they need the love of God. All human beings are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and God is love (I John 4:8). All humans have rebelled against God and failed to live according to His will (Romans 3:23), but God loves us so much that He has sought to redeem us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (I John 3:16); and through Christ the redeemed are able to love as they ought, “because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

At another point in the film, a character prays before eating his daily allotment of canned peaches. Someone questions his continued faith in light of their predicament, but he replies, “We’re still alive.” This man models the biblical exhortation to pray without ceasing and be thankful in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:17-18).

Still later in the film, the plan for survival is well underway. The man who previously questioned another’s prayer is giving their airplane a new name: Phoenix, after the bird of Egyptian mythology that was consumed with fire yet arose from the ashes to live again. This man derides religion because “religion divides people.” But he goes on to say that what everyone needs is something they can hope in to unite them. This man would dismiss Christianity as a divisive religion, but he is close to the ultimate Truth: Jesus Christ, the One who died to take upon Himself the punishment for humanity’s sin (II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18) and rose from the grave that all who believe in Him might have new life (I Corinthians 15:3-4; John 3:16), is the only One in whom humanity has real hope (Acts 4:12), and the One in whom all the redeemed are united in this life and in the age to come (Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 5).

As the prophet Isaiah wrote, all those who trust in the Lord-who were once broken and stranded without hope in a barren wilderness-“will mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: None

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—I’m getting more picky about the films I spend my time on, and usually read movie reviews on first—allowing another person to spend their time on a film and let me benefit from their experience. I took a risk with this film (new) and was pleasantly surprised. If you want to spend a couple hours and not feel like your time (and money) has been totally wasted this is a decent film. There are a few words of 4 letters but generally the story is entertaining. There’s an interesting power struggle and a reaction that I wouldn’t have expected when the group finds out that the aircraft designer is not “exactly” who they think he is but I’ll leave that for you to anticipate. There are a few things I thought were a little unrealistic but I’ll let you decide on those for yourself. Although probably not in the league with Sound of Music and other such films I don’t think most will feel they’ve wasted their time (or money) if they see this movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3]
Bob, age 41
Neutral—This would be a good renter. It was an interesting story. My 12 year old son really enjoyed it. Most of the movie occurs in one stationary location. That makes for a very, very long movie and one wished it would end. However, the actors are excellent and apart from moderate swearing, it was appropriate for 10 and up.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3½]
Sarah Modisett Lee, age 39
Positive—I was impressed with the issues addressed in this film. It definitely sent you home with things to think about. The characters and their development under pressure were fascinating…
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Lee, age 41
Positive—This was a good film with a good moral behind it. Not that I condone the use of vulgarity to get the point across but it has a good message about leadership, persistence, and respect.
My Ratings: [Average/3]
Shannon H., age 23
Negative—This film contained three scenes in which I felt it necessary to close my eyes in order to shield myself from the very graphic nature of the scenes. They included one scene of a man falling to the ground from the plane and two scenes of men being shot. They were incredibly realistic and somewhat disturbing.
My Ratings: [Average]
Courtney, age 19
Positive—I viewed this film with my 16, 14 and 13 year old children. We are fans of the original 1966 film and this was even better. The visual effects were very good and the addition of new twists and turns made it fun to watch. The language was mild, there were a couple of words that made us wince, but in general it was not offensive. Giovanni Ribisi was excellent in his portrayal of Elliot. His arrogance and pride was despicable. But Miranda Otto (Kelly), during the scene where she had to humble herself to ask for Elliot’s help, was an excellent example of humility. Her example caused everyone to swallow their pride in order to survive. My children and I had a good conversation afterwards about how God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5-6).

Kelly certainly grew in stature by humbling herself. It was refreshing that they didn’t take the only woman in the film and make any sexual references or relationships out of it. She added a nice twist to the plot. Overall, this was a very enjoyable movie and will be fun to rent on DVD.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3½]
David, age 44
Negative—The original was much better. The language was offensive, and the storytelling was weak. Not to mention, the acting was horrible! Avoid this movie, whether you’re a Christian or not. It’s just a waste of time and money.
My Ratings: [Offensive/2]
Dana, age 19
Comments from young people
Positive—Wow!!! I really enjoyed this movie!! GREAT sound effects, wonderful directing; it kept you on the edge of your seat! There was a lot of profanity because they were stranded out in the desert! very intense!! It was a good movie overall… good for people over 13.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
Emily Reynolds, age 15
Positive—This was a great movie! My family members just thought it was “alright” but I liked it. Their was a moderate amount of swearing, but little foul comments. But the violence made me start twitching involuntarily. It was very intense, also. But watch it if you like intense movies with good actors! (Dennis Quaid and Hugh Laurie) *NOTE* Do not watch the extra feature on the DVD called “The Phoenix Diaries;” the director is a jerk and says the f-word every sentence!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Jake, age 12
Positive—After reading a few critical reviews that named this movie, “predictable,” I reluctantly decided to rent it myself. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised! There is plenty of language and some scenes of violence so I wouldn’t recommend this movie for youngsters, but the story is gripping and had me on the edge of my seat!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
Karisa B., age 16