Home DVD DVD Reviews DVD Review: ALTITUDE Never Takes Flight
DVD Review: ALTITUDE Never Takes Flight
Written by US Townhall staff   
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 02:01

Altitude-resizeAccording to director Kaare Andrews, he takes his inspiration for this film from classic television series like The Twilight Zone, and one can easily make the connection that he's likely referring to the episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" that starred William Shatner as a passenger who swears he sees some sort of monster tampering with the wings of the airplane he's nervously flying on.  However, that episode, an admitted television classic, was executed with skill, suspense, and good acting (yes, by Shatner!) that kept the audience on the edge of its seats.  None of that is evident in the production we are discussing here.

Clocking in at a mere 82 minutes, sans the extra long 8 minute end credits crawl, Altitude feels about three times that.  For a suspense thriller, it's astonishing how often we were looking at the clock mentally calculating just how much longer this was going to last.  This movie was neither suspenseful nor thrilling.

The setup is perfunctory: a group of five obnoxious teenagers decide to go to a rock concert of some sort by flying there in a small, twin-engine plane.  As bad luck would have it, just as the pilot needs to gain altitude (hence the title) to fly above some storm clouds, a loose bolt gets lodged in the "elevator" on the plane's tail preventing it from leveling off.  The plane keeps climbing up-up-up with no end in sight.  That's actually a pretty harrowing predicament, and by itself, might have made for a decent nailbiter, but with about an hour of running time left, where do you go from there?  Well, you introduce a giant flying octopus, of course.  Take note: this is where things start to get a little sketchy in the willing-suspension-of-disbelief department.  There actually is a reason for the giant flying octopus – sorry, that's "reason" as sarcastic quotation marks must be included – and while this story may have made for a decent episode of an old anthology series, this EC Comics inspired tale is a series of misfires in the clumsy hands of director Andrews and his team.

Much of the fault lies at the basic script level.  Beyond the barely-there plot, the characters are all unlikeable to one degree or another, and it gets to the point where you will be rooting for the octopus.  Yes, teenage characters in horror or suspense movies are almost always annoying and obnoxious, but these characters go above and beyond the call of duty.  The problem is that, because this movie takes place almost exclusively in the space of a narrow tube that makes up the body of the plane, there is no change of locale or passage of time that could be used to develop a story and characters – or at least give us something interesting to look at.  The actors don't get to play fully fleshed out characters here, just one-dimensional character types.  We have the Spunky Heroine who flies the plane (90210's Jessica Lowndes), her Troubled Friend who has a secret crush on her (Degrassi's Landon Liboiron), the Loudmouthed Jock (played by Jake Weary, the son of soap actress Kim Zimmer), the more Sensitive Guitar Guy (Ryan Donowho), and the Artsy AV Chick with camcorder in hand (Julianna Guill).  Their dialogue starts out as a string of not-clever banter among the group and devolves into shrill screeching once the plane's troubles begin (you know the drill: "Oh my God! We're gonna die!!!" and the ever-popular, "This is all your fault!!!).  With five characters in such a confined space, it was a mistake to make a movie where they are just sitting there yelling at each other for extended periods of time.  They get on each other's nerves, and ours, in record time.

This is director Kaare Andrews' first feature, and his lack of true vision or artistic flair shows.  To comic book fans, he is known as an artist for Marvel Comics – perhaps his most high profile project that he oversaw was his second-rate Dark Knight Returns knockoff, Spider-Man: Reign – and his background is evident here as he puts visuals over story depth.  We agree with Mr. Andrews who says, in the quite good making-of feature  included on the disc, that this was a difficult film to direct.  Actually, if they just included the documentary special features and left off the actual film itself, we probably could have given this DVD a positive review.  However, we can see where it becomes increasingly harder to make shooting the interior of a plane visually interesting after awhile when all you can do is have the characters change seating positions in order to achieve some shot variety.  Further, the octopus is seen all too infrequently here to make us feel the threat to the characters.  If it gets even a minute of total screen time, we'd be surprised.  We understand that this was a low budget film, but the Big Bad never achieves the same sense of menace that the less-is-more shark did in Jaws.

Finally, some scenes just don't work.  The characters seem to take the presence of a giant flying octopus a little too in stride.  Yes, they are scared by it, but they don't really spend any significant amount of time questioning how such a thing could exist in the first place.  Other pull-you-out-of-the-story moments include the finale where Spunky Heroine gives Troubled Friend an extended you-can-do-it speech as she's hanging on the outside of the plane because the octopus has its tentacle wrapped around her leg and is pulling her into its enormous gaping sphincter-like maw.  Overall, a more skillful team would have realized that a great way to turn the restrictive premise of this plot into something resembling entertainment would be to change the tone of the story.

In the world of comic books, a tale involving a plane being attacked by a giant flying octopus could be presented as-is and would have been accepted without a problem because that audience is already conditioned to be onboard with such outlandish plot devices – in fact, an EC-type comic (designed by Mr. Andrews himself) does actually play a pivotal role in the plot here.  However, those comics, and the television shows and films that were inspired by it – Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, Freddy's Nightmares, Creepshow, etc. – handled the material with a sense of wit, black humor, and camp.  Andrews, directing off a script by Paul A. Birkett, plays it straight, and Altitude, which mistakenly begs the more discerning moviegoing audience to take it sober-as-a-judge seriously, crash lands with a hollow thud.  On a positive note, the green screen storm effects that were outsourced to a Chinese SFX company are plentiful considering the film's budget and work quite nicely.  Too bad they didn't outsource the writing, directing, and acting as well.




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