Dennis Quaid as Frank Towns in Flight of the Phoenix

Quaid tries Phoenix Flights

The original "Flight of the Phoenix" starring James Stewart and Richard Attenborough was a brilliant movie which combined the adventure of a group of men trying to get out of the desert by building a plane with the tension that comes from facing death in the face. The 2004 remake by director John Moore manages to capture the adventure side of things as the action is ramped up but then fails to really embrace the atmosphere which arises from such a hopeless situation. It sort of works in the fact it manages to keep the essence of the storyline whilst presenting it in a format which will appeal to cinema goers now who prefer action over atmosphere. But then it's by no means as good as the original and despite a solid cast which includes Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi and Hugh Laurie lacks the power that the likes of James Stewart, Ernest Borgnine, Hardy Krüger and Richard Attenborough brought in the original.

Having been called in to pick up workers from a recent terminated oil well, pilot Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid - The Day After Tomorrow) finds himself forced to crash land when they end up flying into a sand storm. With little chance of rescue and it being impossible to walk to get help the survivors of the crash must wait and hope for a miracle, that someone will spot them. But one of the survivors Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi - Boiler Room) comes up with a plan to use the wreckage of the plane to build a new one and fly to safety, something which Frank disagrees with but eventually agrees to in order to give everyone some hope.

Giovanni Ribisi as Elliott in Flight of the Phoenix

Now here is the good thing about the "Flight of the Phoenix" remake and that is at its heart it is the same story which has been expanded upon just slightly so that it's not just a carbon copy. There is a bit more back story to the drama as we have an oil well being closed down in the desert and we have the addition of a female character to add a different feel to what is otherwise an all male cast. It also plays about with some of the troubles, from there being smugglers who the group encounter in the desert to the fact that there are also different characters. But it keeps the essence of the original story intact that of the group trying to build a new plane out of the wreckage of their plane in order to fly to safety.

But this version of "Flight of the Phoenix" is different to the original when it comes to its focus because this is very much an adventure movie for modern movie lovers. Director John Moore racks up the action side of things with a more spectacular plane crash as they hit a sand storm and the various encounters in the desert are more action packed. Even the building of the new plane seems to be more dramatic whilst still keeping the pivotal bits of the original such as the limited number of attempts they have to start the new plane.

But because this is very much an action movie the atmosphere in the camp is for the most missing. There is still the tension which forms between Frank and Elliott who seems to be suffering from small persons syndrome as he tries to take control of things but it's not as powerful as in the original. And that sense of being in a hopeless situation which becomes more desperate as every day passes is also missing. It means that whilst working through what is basically the same story this 2004 version of "Flight of the Phoenix" feels very different to the tense original version.

Now you have to say that anyone who attempts to take on a role which James Stewart played is on to a loser straight away and so in many ways Dennis Quaid had a thankless task as Frank Towns. But in a way Quaid does a decent job especially with the focus being more on action and adventure as he makes Frank a reasonable hero figure. Giovanni Ribisi does just as good a job in basically the same character which Hardy Krüger played and he is helped again by the change in focus. What is interesting as where as in the original the tensions came from Frank having to take orders from a German here we have Elliot being more of a character with what you could call small person syndrome, enjoying the fact that he has the knowledge to Lord it over everyone else.

The rest of the cast which includes Tyrese Gibson, Miranda Otto, Hugh Laurie and Scott Michael Campbell all manage to deliver reasonably interesting characters despite being mainly background noise. But they are underserved by poorly written characters that seem to drift along appearing when required but never adding to the movie unlike with the original where the supporting cast were all crucial to delivering the atmosphere of the camp.

What this all boils down to is that John Moore's remake of "Flight of the Phoenix" is not as bad as I feared it was going to be and manages to keep the essence of the original movie whilst updating it for a modern audience. The element of tension and hopelessness is missing but in it's place is more action and whilst there are times when it's all to manufactured it will certainly appeal to a more modern audience who enjoy big action and drama. For those who enjoy the original will find this remake at times cheesy but again it sort of works as it delivers what modern audiences appear to want.