Even if you're not familiar with the original 1965 version of this film, the title alone makes the outcome of this flight predictable. And while that may not suggest you should abort this journey completely, it just means Flight of the Phoenix must work harder to overcome its predictability. Be warned that it may not be worth the turbulent ride. Unlike the outcome of the fabled Phoenix, this story cannot resurrect itself.
This is surprising because this remake is considerably faithful to the plot of its predecessor. The story tells the plight of an eccentric group of underachieving oilrig workers who become stranded in Mongolia's Gobi Desert (the Sahara in the original) after their cargo plane crashes during a fierce sandstorm. There's very little water, and only a few cans of peaches to sustain their existence under the scorching desert summer sun. Despite their circumstances, the group decides to take their chances and, gulp, build a new plane in a desperate attempt to save themselves.
At first however, the plane's captain, Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid), strictly opposes wasting their energy on this reconstruction plan. He would rather hang out inside the plane's fuselage on the off chance rescuers will come for them. When it becomes clear that that is not going to happen, a nerdy passenger named Elliot (Giovanni Ribisi) announces that he designs airplanes, and he could show them how to assemble a new plane from wreckage of their old one. Quickly, the all-male-plus-one-female crew get busy using welders, chainsaws, and a myriad of other tools to accomplish their task. Remarkably, they have everything they need.
Other than an occasional sandstorm, or an unexpected visit from a group of desert bandits, their goal is accomplished with relative ease. It's way too easy. Despite staying true to the original concept, writers Scott Frank and Edward Burns give us little reason to care about this group of individuals. There's no shred of suspense or danger. Their encounter with the bandits misses a chance to provide what could have been the film's real conflict. In addition, the desert setting is completely underutilized. If they're indeed stranded during the hottest time in the Gobi, the crew looks relatively unaffected by their conditions. I kept waiting for fatigue to set in or sunburns to appear, but they do not.
The original was a remarkable character study that examined the behaviors of these desperate individuals. Of course it also helped having stars like Jimmy Stewart, Ernest Borgnine, and Richard Attenborough in key roles. In this version, these characters (played by mostly unknowns) are not interesting or intriguing. All of their actions are superficial and disappointingly predictable. Quaid is afforded a more rounded character, but it's Ribisi who proves to be the most captivating of the bunch. While his Elliot keeps the film watchable, it's difficult to get over the convenience of his character being on this flight.
This Phoenix does have some updated special effects, but they are not enough to overcome the less-than-engaging ensemble. Book a one-way flight on the original Phoenix instead.
15 minutes of deleted scenes and a feature commentary from director John Moore and his crew highlight the DVD, along with various other making-of vignettes.