Airport '77 (1977)

Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Joseph Cotten and Christopher Lee star in this surprisingly enjoyable disaster film. Universal boxset release.

The Film

Philip Stevens (James Stewart) is a multi-millionaire collector, and announces that his new museum, containing all of his collected artworks, is to be opened to the public. To celebrate this, he is having his newly designed private airliner flown down from Washington, containing various artworks for the museum, along with a selection of friends and family. However, before the plane takes off, some crewmen start to tamper with the plane's air supply. Mid flight, the pilot (Jack Lemmon) is knocked out, and the knock-out gas released - the co-pilot and two crew take over the plane and fly it off radar, heading for a small island in the Carribean, however, flying low over the sea the plane strikes an oil platform and crashes into the sea, eventually sinking in the shallow waters. With the aircraft remaining pressurised, the passengers find themseves stuck under the sea, miles away from the search area, and have to think of a way to save themselves, especially when it emerges that water is leaking in...

After the sucess of Airport (1970) and the follow-up Airport 1975 (1974), a third film was rapidly on the cards. The first two films had focused around a mid-air catastrophy and the difficulty in landing the plane afterwards - much to its benefit however, for Airport '77 the writers changed this formula into something rather different. The idea of a plane crashing into the sea is relatively plausible, considering the relatively shallow water it sinks into (although not technically possible - it should really float if it somehow avoided breaking up on impact), as is the scheme to hijack the plane (these villains are not the gratuitously evil bad guys of most disaster movies, and actually don't plan to kill anyone, just steal a lot of expensive artwork).

Unlike the prototype Airport (1970) that boasted over an hour of character development before take-off, Airport '77 takes a typical disaster movie approach by not introducing the characters until after they are on the plane - fortunately, unlike Airport 1975, the characters are not simple stereotypes, comedy drunks or guitar playing nuns, but an interesting mix and surprisingly well defined - making it possible for the characterisation to become evident (a lot of scenes, including some flash-backs to life before the crash were filmed, but cut before release and these might have been simply overkill). This all helps in the final climax as the rescue attempt swings into action - and we do actually care for the fate of those on board (unlike in Airport 1975 where you end up hoping half of them will get killed off). Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your outlook), despite being promoted as a Bermuda Triangle film (very popular at the time) this mythos does not factor into the story.

Director Jerry Jameson does an effective job, boosted by an obviously sufficient budget - the model shots are kept to a minumum and the sets are good looking. The synthsised and orchestral soundtrack is effective in giving the film a strange atmosphere, and would perfectly suit a Bermuda Triangle movie, but does seem a little out of place here since there is no mystery element.

Airport '77 probably boasts the most all star cast of the Airport sequels. Jack Lemmon (Some Like it Hot (1959)) takes the lead role as the pilot and has clearly put a lot of effort in, even going as far to study flying and diving for the role. Hollywood Icon Jimmy Steward has a relatively passive role as the plane's owner Philip Stevens, but gives a typically strong performance. Cult movie fans should instantly recognise Christopher Lee in a relatively short, but very impressive performance including some rather unexpected stunt work, and he plays very well alongside Lee Grant (Damien: Omen II (1978)) as his nagging wife. Veteran actor Joseph Cotten, best known for his performance in critic's favourite The Third Man (1949) was more at home in European cult movies by the 1970s, and makes one of his last Hollywood appearances in a relatively small role, alongside another veteran Olivia de Havilland (Gone with the Wind (1939)). George Kennedy appears again as Joe Patroni, although he only gets a few scenes (most of his role ended up on the cutting room floor).

Airport '77 is the most entertaining of all the sequels and probably one of the most enjoyable disaster movies ever filmed, boasting a suitably over-the-top set-piece and an all star cast who take it all very seriously. Recommended to disaster movie fans, although most people simply won't get it... Partly recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Jack Lemmon - star of classic comedies Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960).
Jimmy Stewart - the legendary Hollywood star, best known for his work with Anthony Mann and Hitchcock.
Christopher Lee - the iconic British actor, best known recently as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings series.
Joseph Cotten - an ex-Hollywood actor who gained cult fame in the 1970s in a variety of European films.
Directed by anyone interesting? Jerry Jameson - director of a variety of television series, as well as the disasterous Raise the Titanic (1980)
Any gore or violence ? None
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? Certainly recommended to 1970s disaster movie fans, and fans of the Airport series.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is strong with good colours and only mild grain.
Audio English stereo - sounds fine.
French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian stereo dub tracks.
Subtitles English HOH, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Czeck, Hungarian, Polish and Greek.
Extras None
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Availability Only available in the Airport Terminal Pack boxset.
Other regions? There is a near-identical US boxset release, the US disc includes trailers but has no alternate language options.
Cuts? The film is believed to be uncut. The print used is English language. An extended version has played on television, including detailed flash backs for many of the characters, and more scenes involving George Kennedy - but sadly these are not included here (would have made for a very interesting bonus feature).



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 7th February 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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