Taught, well acted, creepy, and fast-paced. The “invisible aliens among us” story has been done many times before. This one focuses less on wild histrionics than continually escalating terror.
This tightly plotted thriller pits Jodie Foster against the disappearance of her character’s little daughter on a giant super-jumbo airliner in midair. Playing a jet aircraft engineer who helped design the aircraft where most of this midair plot takes place, Foster pits her innate intelligence and cunning against both the disappearance and her natural instinct to panic.
Three things elevate this film way above the typical mystery/thriller.
- Jodie Foster. You see in her face and hear in her voice the anguish as she forces her rational self to overcome the imagined horrors of what might be happening to her daughter and to take action. As a parent you can’t help but identify with this especially if you’ve ever experienced anything remotely similar to this. We even get to see the classic child-walks-away-from-mom-in-a-crowd situation at the beginning of the film as they prepare to board the plane; this is mere child’s-play considering what’s coming.
- Schwentke’s tight direction. I hope there is a detailed director-only commentary when the DVD comes out and I hope he is able to reveal his planning and thought processes. I’m imagining a guy with ferocious intelligence who is comfortable working with an intelligent actor like Foster.
- The airplane. Patterned after double-decker jumbo jets like the Airbus A380 that is currently undergoing flight testing, the massive set plus flawless CGI makes this plane seem real.
One thing I did not like about the film was the color balancing.
I am assuming that the process followed was to capture the action on film, digitize the film for editing and color balancing, then transfer back to film for creation of multiple release prints. There is a uniformity of color palette and lighting throughout the film that provides a rather soft, muted, almost gloomy appearance, even in scenes where, in theory, there is full lighting (e.g., the mortuary scenes and the airplane’s galley scenes). I’m assuming the gloom is intentional, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to communicate the appropriate mood; look at the crystal clarity and natural (and vivid) color of a film like Kubrick’s The Shining and you see how terror and scariness don’t abolutely require gloom and shadows.
Nevertheless, the whole package worked for me, even to the point where I did not expect the plot twists that occur. I enjoyed the film and was glad I saw it on a big screen in a theater.
A postscript: the end credits are worth sitting through. As the credits roll, the viewer is treated to a leisurely traversal of a three-dimensional wireframe model of the entire airliner, inside and out. We fly through walls, traverse decks, go in and out of public and private spaces, and generally we get an entire tour of this huge aircraft. I’m an airplane lover and frequent flyer, so I thoroughly enjoyed this and hope the software is included in some form on the DVD.
Interestingly, this computerized tour is accompanied by sound effects, something that is highly unusual in credits like this — we hear swooshing as we go through decks and a flop-flop-flop sound as we traverse the jet engine fans. Neat stuff!
Copyright (c) 2005 by Dennis D. McDonald