Speaking of flight, my first of two films for this little project is Air Collision.
Unlike the usual Asylum fare, I don't think this one was actually intended as a ripoff film. The Asylum does do original works sometimes as well, and I think this one is one of those. "Original" might be a strong word since there have been plenty of "air disaster" movies before, but...to be fair, most story ideas have been done before these days, so it's really more about how well you do things than about whether your idea is absolutely new. Air Collision, though...no. This was just plain dumb, in so many ways.
As a warning here...I'm going to have to comment a bit more on the plot than I usually try to, so there will definitely be spoilers here.
So, here's the concept. After air traffic controllers fell asleep at the wheel a few too many times or something, the government builds a really big, expensive satellite system called the Auto-Controlled Anti-Threat (ACAT) system, and tests it on military flights, and then gives it control over a region of civilian flights, over the objections of an unspecified group of people that includes air traffic control guy Bob.
Look, movies...even I have to admit the name "Bob" is pretty generic. Can...can we start choosing better names for heroes and villains now? I appreciate that this time it isn't a name for an evil businessman, but still...
That little aside, uh...aside...something goes wrong astonishingly quickly. The system experiences a minor glitch in that large chunks of satellite, or perhaps indeed entire satellites (the movie isn't entirely clear, so let's go with the former to tone down ridiculousness a little bit), begin to rain down from the sky as flaming missiles and crash into cities, crushing cars, smashing through buildings, and killing people. Bob notices a computer error as a result of all this and calls the Pentagon, and they let him know that everything is fine and the ACAT will continue operation and flights will continue as planned, including that of Air Force One.
I repeat: satellite parts are raining down as flaming death balls causing widespread destruction across cities.
This is the first of many points where the movie starts to feel a little ridiculous. Just a tad. And this is about five minutes in.
Furthermore, we discover that the ACAT system has the ability to take control over unspecified weapons functions on Air Force One.
So, just to review what I found stupid about the opening...like...five to ten minutes:
- The Auto-Controlled Anti-Threat system (ACAT) is, judging from opening narration, in control of military air traffic before its satellite is even launched, which seems just a tad impossible.
- Can a satellite that has basically broken into pieces even SEND data anymore? I guess if you're very lucky none of the communications equipment got damaged, but in any case it seems like one of the standard messages a satellite would send in those cases would be, "Excuse me, ground control...I seem to have lost large chunks of myself which are transforming into giant flaming death balls thanks to reentry and probably causing a few impact or fire-related deaths down below, so you might want to shut me down and not try to run any important flights through me for a little while." It shouldn't be so hard for Bob to figure out what's going on.
- Apparently this thing is more than just an air traffic control system. It has some kind of control over weapons and defense systems! What...the...hell? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want a machine that was in control of public flight patterns to also be in control of military weaponry, even if we're just talking about weapons on Air Force One! That seems like a bad idea, security-wise and operations-wise! And programming that had to be just plain nuts! How do you code a system that handles national civilian flight plans perfectly and includes complicated military protocols for weapons usage? You might launch a missile during a presidential press conference by reserving someone a seat on the nonstop to Toronto!
- Satellite chunks are actually raining down all over cities--continually, I might add--and somehow this is NOT all over the news in 10.5 seconds. You know what would happen if a giant ball of fire from space took out a Wal-Mart here? The emergency vehicles would pull up, immediately followed by the news media, who would cover that crap like there's no tomorrow! There is no way that anyone would be able to act like this is a situation under control or give orders under the assumption they'll be able to hide the defects in the system! The whole "raining satellites" thing makes this utterly ridiculous. Look, if you wanted to have something go wrong with the ACAT system, fine! Computer software bugs can be really hard to detect, or maybe there's a hardware fault that can't be fixed easily because the thing is...y'know...in space. But raining flaming death ball chunks of satellite are very easy to detect and there shouldn't be this big "conspiracy" feel about this crap!
It's very difficult to get into a film when I have so many problems with the first five to ten minutes of it!
It doesn't get better. The movie follows four plots that stay mostly separate due to lack of communications equipment for the majority of the film. We've got Bob and his intern trying to figure out what's going on, a scientist who is an ally of Bob's who is told by him early on to get some communications set up at a military base, Air Force One's passengers, and a commercial airline's passengers and crew. Let me break down the gist of each story for you:
- Bob and the intern: Bob first tries to figure out what is going on, delaying actually making any kind of call until the situation is well underway because he wants to be sure that the satellite parts falling are actually part of ACAT. Y'know, to me, if satellite parts are raining all throughout the area, I don't care if they're part of the actual control system or not...I cancel air traffic just because flaming satellite death balls are a definite air safety hazard, but I'm not an air traffic controller, so what do I know? Shortly after Bob finally makes the call, a random satellite chunk actually takes out his command post, and he and his intern spend the rest of the movie trying to reestablish communications and radar by a couple different methods, one of which is interrupted by another flaming satellite death ball. (Flaming satellite death balls fall an amazing amount of times in this movie--there cannot be any satellites at all left in orbit after it is over!)
- Bob's ally is told early in the movie to get to a military base and reestablish communication. Her role for the rest of the movie is driving her car, then riding a bike, and finally running towards the base, until at long last she finally reaches her destination, and after a short bit of dialogue, plugs in some wires. Somehow the movie manages to spend actual time on this very, very simple story and pretend it is actually interesting.
- The folks aboard Air Force One have a lot of trouble, because the plane is controlled by ACAT entirely. It locks everyone in their rooms, engages security systems, treats anything that approaches as hostile, and even prevents the pilots from flying the plane. The good news is that's a bunch of pretty interesting problems. The bad news is that for the majority of the film none of the characters have an idea of how to deal with them, so they're limited to repeatedly saying, "It's [insert horrible thing the computer is doing here] and there's nothing we can do!" They also repeatedly note that they themselves have been marked as hostiles. It appears ACAT actually has control over Air Force One's onboard laser security systems which can stun (and maybe kill? It isn't clear) targets in the halls, but it doesn't use those (for unclear reasons) until very late in the film. Oh, and additionally, apparently you can kill people by delivering supercharged electricity through a biometric hand scanner. That's...new... Oh! And I can't forget...Air Force One has missiles! ACAT uses them to destroy some fighters the military sends up to try to guide Air Force One down, and it also later shoots the passenger airliner with one (the missile doesn't actually detonate for some reason, so the passengers push it out of the plane and it blows up a gas station).
- The passengers on the commercial airliner go through an amazing streak of bad luck, basically suffering every possible airline disaster movie cliche they can all on one flight. Engine cutouts, breaches leading to decompression (twice), passenger fatal heart attacks and disease attacks (twice), a crazy passenger fighting staff, a fight between passengers...all that and they're somehow on a direct collision course with Air Force One. How they can be on a direct collision course with Air Force One, take a hit from a missile from Air Force One and lose pressure and go wild in the sky for a while, and then end up on a collision course with Air Force One again after that's over is beyond me, but I guess the pilot is really, really great at keeping a terrible path and perfect altitude.
Here's the thing...the two "flight" plotlines do have a lot going on, but...to be honest, it's very clear that these are just attempts to extend the plot of the film beyond what really is a pretty basic concept that wouldn't have lasted long: two planes are on a collision course and traffic controllers can't get in communication for some reason. All the problems that come up have this innate feel of "we needed to make the story longer," and as a result it seems like the characters just undergo these amazing sequences of terrible luck that aren't believable at all. Most notable, I think, is the destruction of the traffic control center Bob works at. Because Bob would be able to solve the problem pretty quickly from the traffic control center, the movie needed to get him out of the way for a while, so it does so by means of a flaming death ball from space that somehow manages to precision hit the exact place that the characters would've been using to solve the problem early. It just feels contrived. It's a heavily artificial way of adding problems to the story, and that's pretty much the whole movie: an event of unbelievable bad luck, followed by another event of unbelievable bad luck, followed by another, and another, and another.
Note to filmmakers: It is just as bad to have unbelievable bad coincidences and bad luck in your films as it is to have unbelievable good coincidences and good luck. The "Deus Ex Machina" problem applies whether the effect is good or bad for the heroes.
I mean...I hate to belabor the point, but let's outline this again as I haven't even mentioned some of the bad stuff yet:
- The nation's new air traffic control / military weapons system is literally falling to pieces, while
- Someone at the Pentagon is trying to cover it up and pretend everything is fine, while
- Flaming death balls are raining down on cities and killing people, while
- An amazingly active storm is going on and lighting blasts are hitting planes and shorting out systems, and
- The air traffic control system is getting inaccurate readings and marking innocent targets as hostile, and
- It controls weapons systems on board Air Force One, and
- It controls Air Force One itself so they don't have speed control, making extracting the president difficult to impossible, and
- A flaming death ball hit the traffic control center that could have been used to resolve this whole mess, and
- The military tried to extract the president anyway, but the high speed put too much stress on the system and it broke while they were extracting the first lady, and
- The president tried to pull the first lady and the soldier with her back on board, but it was too heavy, so
- The soldier bravely sacrificed himself so the president could pull the first lady back on board, but
- His body hit and engine of the C130 he had arrived on and the engine exploded, so the C130 crashed, and meanwhile
- A civilian plane lost engines and lost its navigation, and
- When recovering engines and navigation, got an inaccurate reading and ended up on collision course with Air Force One, and
- It got hit by a missile from Air Force One, and somehow survived and remained on collision course, and
- A couple passengers had severe medical distress and died, and
- Landing gear won't function...of course.
Seriously...I haven't even listed all the bad stuff that happens up there, and that looks like a pretty stunning string of bad events, doesn't it?
The worse part is that the good events are no more believable! Did you know airplane wings can easily survive multiple contacts with buildings and other structures at high velocity, leaving planes easily capable of flight? Did you know that if your airplane gets a giant hole in the side and air is getting sucked out rapidly enough to pull people through the giant hole, you can plug said giant hole with a collection of baggage? Did you know that you can survive being blasted by a "laser" security system that can vaporize bracelets and jewelry? Yeah, apparently all these things are true, according to this movie.
To make matters even worse, we're asked to care about the passengers on the commercial flight, but we don't really get any names or details for any of them. We get a few guys that are helpful, and a couple guys that are jerks, and one lady who just spends the entire time whining so much you want to slap her, but no names and no background traits that might help explain why they do what they do. It would've been nice, for instance, even to have something as simple as one passenger saying "I'm a doctor, I'll help!" when the one passenger had a heart attack. Instead, this guy kind of stands up and tries to help and fails, and then this other guy also gets up and helps move the body, and then everyone sits down again and there's no more development until the next crisis. That's the problem, I think...we don't actually see any of the characters on the flight outside of a crisis, so there's no character story arcs or changes or anything...we've just got the "nice guy" pieces and the "mean guy" pieces that are moved around the board from time to time, and none of them can be interesting because they're never given time to become actual characters. Heck, the guy who is given at least a little buildup as a nice and brave guy is unceremoniously slain by the missile strike, so they chuck the little character development they did do right out the window.
It just feels like the entire movie is really still in its very basic storyboarding stage, to be honest. What we have here isn't an actual story--it's an outline of events. We have a list of events that happen, but no feeling of connection, characters, or reasons behind things. There isn't a real plot...just "this happens, then this happens, then this happens, and be sure to cut back to that lady on her bicycle and the traffic control people once in a while so it seems more like we wrote a real story." It's like...it's like if someone had a game of Monopoly and decided to write a story by just pulling ten "Chance" cards and writing them down exactly, and then making up a few external characters to kind of look and things and say "if only we could help!" You can actually make a fairly coherent outline of events, but the story doesn't flow and you don't get any character development or anything to really pull you in.
The film tries to get a little deeper at one point, wherein a lady is dying without her medication but the medication is in one of the bags used to plug the hole, so when a good passenger goes to try to get it two bad passengers stop him (and no one else takes a side, but they all shake their heads disapprovingly at the bad passengers--if you disapprove, take action!). So the woman dies, but there's no consequence for this later...the bad passengers pretty much show up just for that scene and then fade back into the background, never to be noticed again. In another subplot that doesn't matter, one of the secret service agents on Air Force One comes up with a plan to get out of the room he's stuck in by using a spoon to chisel his way past the...sealant, or whatever...on the door, but he does nothing at all relevant to the plot (he's mentioned as "trying to disable the system" at one point, but is never shown, and he doesn't actually show up again until the very end of the movie).
I'd love to be able to point at one thing and say "that's the film's main problem," but the film just has far too many separate issues to do that. Undeveloped characters, unbelievable premise, events that shatter suspension of disbelief, a couple stories that consist almost entirely of characters saying "we have to go here!" and nothing else, a story that consists almost entirely of "there's nothing we can do," and some kind of low-quality special effects (the planes are pretty decent, but the various explosions and other danger effects are pretty badly blended in) combine to make Air Collision pretty tough to get through. It's not that it's dull...things do happen, frequently. It's just that nothing feels connected or important in any way.
I feel like you could get a decent film out of this. Develop some of the characters some more and focus on the right stories, and you might get something. I'd probably focus either on Air Force One itself or on the commercial airliner (likely the latter) and try for more of a drama--focus on relationships and what people do as they feel powerless, if you want to keep them powerless. That might make an interesting character study. As it is...Air Collision is an unfocused jumble of events, many of which clearly exist only to extend the runtime, and that just isn't something very watchable. Not recommended for any viewing.