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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Langoliers can be found here.
The Langoliers is one of four novellas published in Four Past Midnight (1990) by American horror novelist Stephen King.
The Langoliers are fictional boogeymen of sorts from Craig Toomey (Bronson Pinchot)'s imagination. Toomey's father described them as having big teeth and eating kids who are lazy and don't get with the program. Toomey's description of the Langoliers so closely resemble the Timekeepers of Eternity, as passenger Bob Jenkins (Dean Stockwell) calls them, that the passengers take to calling them that.
Remember that this is fiction a la Stephen King. In King's story, the Langoliers eat the Past in order to keep time balanced and stable and to make room for the Future. Here's an example. Say that you have a computer with a 20 gigabyte harddrive on which the Past, the Present, and the Future each take up 10 gigabytes (which makes 30 gigabytes). You've opened a tremendous MP3 file that takes up the whole 10 gigabytes allotted for the Present. After listening to this song, it is transferred to the Past because it's been used and provides no more use to you. Now you go on to the next song, and you also have another song you want to download, but your harddrive is now full. The old song takes up the Past 10 gigs and the song currently in play takes up the Present 10 gigs, so you can't download the new song until you make space. The song you're listening to is in use in the Present, so you don't want to delete it to make space for the new song. However, the song you just listened to is over. It has served its purpose. It's in the Past. It's time to make room for the new and, thus, it is deleted so that you can download your next song. This is the function of the timekeepers aka the Langoliers. They constantly clean up an empty and useless physical spectrum of a world that can no longer be of use to anyone. They keep the time spectrum clean and continuous and make room for the Future.
After seeing the movie, some viewers have suggested that. to cross the rip and get back to the Present, all they had to do was to put the plane on an autopilot course through the rip, lower the oxygen levels so people could sleep, and set a timer so that Captain Engle [David Morse] could wake up. Then he could reset the oxygen levels and wake up Nick [Mark Lindsay Chapman] and the other passengers. Other than the pat answer that that's the way Stephen King wrote the story, this plan would probably not have worked because, with the oxygen levels as low as they were, an alarm would not have awakened the captain. He would not have been able to bring himself back to a conscious state in order to reset the oxygen levels.
That question is not answered, either in the movie or in the novella. Explanations offered by viewers include (1) experiencing the beauty of the rip was simply too much for the mind, (2) a person must be doing exactly what they were doing when they first crossed the rip, and (3) it keeps the Langoliers from entering the present because they never sleep. Stephen King also used this specific plot device before in "The Jaunt", a 1981 short story. In "The Jaunt", people could travel incredible distances through portals, but they had to be asleep (or knocked out) to survive the trip or they would suffer severe damage to themselves, physically as well as mentally.
Another question that is not answered in either the movie or the novella. There are two possible explanations: (1) They ceased to exist/died. (2) Their bodies stayed in the present, while the plane, their clothing, belongings and sleeping passengers traveled to the past, which means they plummeted to their deaths.
Dentures, watches, rings, surgical pins, and wigs of the awake passengers were left behind. The common denominator seems to be that objects containing metal cannot pass through the rip. As for the wigs, there may have been bobby pins, clips, or something metal in the weave.
The pilots had set the flight on autopilot.
The film/miniseries is actually an extremely accurate translation of the novella. Many of the sequences and dialogue are taken verbatim from the book. The only real alterations are:- The bearded man is omitted from the film. This is a character who remained unnamed throughout the book. He was found sleeping soundly near the back of the plane, likely due to being extremely hung over. He wakes up briefly, more or less completely oblivious to the situation they were in. He remains asleep on the plane during the events at the airport and only wakes up once more. So he was likely omitted because he contributed nothing to the story.- In the book, there is no wind at the airport to go along with everything else. In the film, there is clearly wind. Likely due to the film being shot at an actual airport and it's impossible to control the elements.- There's a few introduction scenes at the beginning of the film and some dialogue throughout the film that aren't in the book. Likely to give some exposition on the characters that is stated in the book but not actually discussed.- In the novel, Laurel is brunette and Bethany is blonde. In the film, Laurel is blonde and Bethany is brunette.- In the novel, Albert is 17 and it's mentioned that Laurel is in her late twenties. In the film, Laurel is in her 40's and Albert is in his mid 20's.- The dream sequences are omitted from the film, likely for pacing and production reasons.- In the book, they siphon jet fuel from another plane on the runway. In the film, they refuel their plan from the underground tanks. Which makes more sense.- The book is more violent than the film. Toomy stabbed Don in the neck in the book. In the film Don's stabbed in the back. In the novella, Albert hits Toomy over the head several times and it's mentioned that his nose was almost completely obliterated and that most of his teeth were knocked out. He likely also had a fractured skull. In the film, he's hit in the head 3 times and just has a bit of blood covering his face. There is also a fair amount of cursing in the book.- In the book, Albert comes up with the idea to lower the cabin pressure to knock them all out. In the film, Brian comes up with it.
When Brian and Nick were discussing their "secrets", Brian mentions that he and his wife got divorced and it ended badly. The thing he did that he never thought he would do was to hit his ex-wife. In the novella, Brian reflects on this moment where they were fighting about having children and his wife insulted him. In a flash of anger he slapped her across the mouth, something he was disgusted with himself for doing and immediately regretted it.
While it seems that Mr. Toomey, with his increasing mental instability and violent nature, was actually a serious problem for the passengers, Dinah insists that he's important and they need him. She never explains why, but the end of the film offers an explanation. When the passengers board the plane to escape, the Timekeepers approach, devouring the landscape. Dinah, using her psychic ability, tells the extremely battered and barely conscious Toomey to run outside, run all around the plane and then run away from the plane. When the Timekeepers finally reach the airport, Toomey sees them and screams in terror, which attracts the attention of the Timekeepers. The Timekeepers then attack Toomey and devour him. Now the Timekeepers are attracted to Toomey's essence and proceed to devour the past via his footsteps, back-tracking everywhere he went, from near the plane, back towards the terminal and all throughout the terminal. This bought the passengers time to get the plane to take off before the Timekeepers inevitably re-traced Toomey's steps towards the plane.
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