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A luxury 747 carrying valuable art work is hijacked and lands in the ocean, submerged in shallow water. Will the crew and passengers make it off before the plane floods with water? Written by
Brian W Martz <B.Martz@Genie.com>
The name of private the aircraft company was the "Stevens Corporation". The make and model of the airplane was a jumbo jet Boeing 747-100. The call-name for its private flight was "Stevens' Flight 23", the flight's call sign being "Two-Three Sierra". See more »
When Gallagher and Buchek are exiting the rear cargo door of the aircraft (while it's being loaded in the hangar), the "American Airlines" logo on the 747 is clearly visible on the rear vertical stabilizer. See more »
How do you get a 747 widebody to the ocean floor without filling it completely with water? Modern jets will float for a half-hour or more, but once they start flooding, they don't stop until the cabin is uninhabitable. The intricate solution to this problem is just the first in a long series of hoops the producers had to jump through after saying, `Let's do a film about a jumbo jet that sinks in the Bermuda Triangle with the passengers still alive inside!'
Airport '77 is the gloomy response to this challenge. Art thieves hijack a specially equipped and highly luxurious private 747 to loot her expensive cargo. In the process of flying stealthily below radar, the copilot/thief (Meredith) strikes an oil drilling platform and loses control of the airplane. After a brief struggle to stay aloft, the jetliner settles onto the surface of the water, but not before a massive storage container tears loose and punches a fatal hole in the forward cargo compartment.
And therein lies the solution to the first problem. Like the customization of a conversion van from the same era, this private jet has been modified to contain a series of individually pressurized cargo holds. When the forward cargo compartment floods, the rest of the plane is left dry. Within minutes, however, the weight of the water pulls the plane to the floor of the ocean, with most of the passengers still alive and plenty of doors and windows leaking ominously.
Airport '77 starts with heavy-handed drama and never lets up. There's not much room for humor in a 747 several hundred feet under the water, but Airport '77 doesn't even attempt to lighten the mood occasionally. Better disaster movies pull the audience from one emotional extreme to another, but on this plane, the dialogue is suffocating even before the oxygen starts to run low. There isn't anyone in charge of bringing hope to the survivors (and the audience).
And despite their occasional humanitarian efforts, this group of super-rich, mostly white passengers does little to elicit sympathy from the audience. Only the head flight attendant (Vaccaro) invites compassion. Her romance with the pilot (a mustache-laden Lemmon) isn't adequately explored, particularly when he volunteers to leave the plane in a risky maneuver that might easily kill him. Meanwhile, virtually the entire support staff of the plane magically disappears so that the drama can focus on the wealthiest and presumably most interesting group aboard.
The tone of this film is gloomy right from the start, and bad cinematography doesn't help. Every room (on the plane or elsewhere) is dark, and every cast member seems to be covered with a thin layer of reflective slime even before the plane sinks! It's as though good lighting and decent makeup were dispensed with just to darken the mood.
The sun-drenched rescue operations offer the possibility of relief from the closed quarters of the plane, but instead we receive an abundance of stock Naval rescue footage. Generous thanks are paid to the men and women of the armed services who assisted in the production of this movie, and we know this to be true because the final third of the movie is so boring.
Airport '77 has the most elaborate special effects of any Airport movie, and they are enjoyable to watch. All of the external effects are clear, and the flooding inside the plane is done as well as can be expected. Aside from the abundance of dark brown furniture (and carpet, and paint, and wallpaper) it's the relentlessly dim lighting that clinches the claustrophobia. Though possibly necessitated by the depth of the plane underwater, the resultant sense of suffocation only disengages the viewer further. The cheap special effects of The Concorde: Airport '79 indicate that the lesson was learned that good effects won't save a mediocre film.
In short, Airport '77 just isn't fun enough. It's a clever premise and the producers went to great lengths to get the plane underwater in a satisfactory manner. But if it's not the weighty dialogue, it's the unengaging Naval training footage, and so the audience quickly discovers that there's really not that much to enjoy here after all. Airport '77 is fun to watch for the crash and flooding sequences (as well as Darren McGavin's dependable character acting), but seat-of-your-pants thrills are best found elsewhere.
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