Sunday, January 23, 2011

Clichés on a Movie

On Wednesday I wake up around noon (I'm working the second shift) and eat leftover pasta for whatever meal this is called. Replacement pilots are arriving on Saturday, so I'm cleared to go home on Sunday. It turns out that I can't get out of this one-horse town on a Sunday. Unless I take the horse, I suppose. I ask the boss if I should get the Monday flight, but the weather and forecast is so terrible I'm approved to leave the same day my replacement arrives, assuming he makes my flight. I'll buy a ticket on the same airplane going back south. I hope the storm of the week doesn't mess that up for me.

The chief pilot comes by my room to borrow scissors. I'm office supplies girl, always the one with tape and glue, post-it notes and scissors. I don't have a hole punch though. The scissors are for some literal paperwork thing, and I can see a metaphorical desire to use them on someone else. Oh Chief Pilot of mine, you have my respect and admiration, and scissors. There's a disagreement going on between PRM and CP, the repercussions of which I am shielded from.

And the weather is too bad to work today, so it's a TV day.

Much of the rest of this post is in the tradition of what I term "movie reviews" but which a reader pointed out is just me recounting a movie, in the form of stream of consciousness while watching it. True, but that's what I do here. I'm saving you the trouble of watching it. And I do mean trouble.

I turned on the TV and flipped to the channel the on-screen TV guide listed for Hawaii Five-O. I'm not sure I've ever seen it, but I wanted to see if they really said, "Book 'em Dano, Murder one," as people do in the cliché. The TV guide was wrong or I misread it though, because I ended up watching Rookie Blue, a new Canadian cop show that may be a comedy or a drama, it's a little hard to tell from the episode I saw, which was pretty funny, but it may have been intended for me to take more seriously. The characters certainly comprised the most attractive, well made-up and perfectly coiffed police squadron I've ever seen. I expect that in between bungling arrests and misunderstanding orders from their superior officers they will have sex with one another in the back of patrol cars. Oh and learn Important Life Lessons.

When the credits roll for that, I shower, and then return to find the television is playing a movie I could call Ants on a Plane. I won't though, because if I did it would so perfectly explain everything about the movie that it wouldn't be worth my while to explain it while half watching the movie. I've missed the opening credits, but I eventually learn from the voiceover before a commercial break that its real title is Destination Infestation.

As I come in, there a dead guy in the aisle of a passenger jet with ants crawling all over him, possibly crawling out of him: it was a quick gross-out shot. And of course there are a bunch of screaming passengers. More ants crawl over all the interior of the airplane, streaming in and out of vents. An attractive female (human), who soon identifies herself as an entomologist specializing in ants, puts on her eyeglasses to inspect and proclaim this to be an extremely dangerous ant species. She urges the bald captain (who comes out of the flight deck to see the body) to land as soon as possible, these ants being the most vicious and venomous insect known to man. They've also been genetically modified and had their mandibles reinforced. She can tell this by looking at them. The captain goes back to the cockpit and tells the FO to "get Miami tower on the line."

The FO addresses "Miami Control" and announces "Trans-South Air 603 declaring an inflight emergency." In response to the obvious question about the nature of their emergency, he responds simply, "Ants." The captain chimes in to elaborate on the ant danger, but the controllers scoff at them. The pilots do not specifically ask for a diversion or landing clearance, and neither volunteer nor are asked for their intentions.

The Captain summons the sexy entomologist to the flight deck and she explains to the controllers how dangerous the ants are, but Miami--this time they are addressed as "Miami Tower"--responds with a slightly sarcastic "are you still requesting an emergency landing?" So apparently ATC understood the original declaration of an emergency as a landing request, but landing slots are so seriously rationed in Miami that you have to convince the controllers that you have a REAL emergency before you can land there.

"Come on McCready you know how this works," says the controller who still won't issue a descent clearance. The thing is I do know how it works: a pilot declares an emergency and tells the controller what he or she needs and then the controllers move heaven and earth to make it happen. Even when you haven't declared an emergency, just indicated that you're having a bit of trouble and are returning or diverting, you're likely to hear words like "Cleared to land, any runway," "Descent your discretion, let me know if you need below flight level 200," and "Halifax is closer, 8000 feet, CAVOK do you want vectors for Halifax?" The worst interference a controller gives an emergency aircraft is pestering the crew for souls on board, fuel on board and intentions, while the crew is still managing the emergency.

But we're in a universe where airplanes are swarming with killer ants and Miami won't allow an aircraft in distress to land. I'm thinking an island diversion might be a good idea, to contain the ants. Maybe Cape Canarval. I think it's all offshore in a swamp separated from the mainland by a salt water channel with one bridge. They can put an ant-proof barrier across the bridge and confine the ants to the rocket-fuel-infested swamp, where they can bring in squadrons of government agents and no one will be the wiser. But they continue to bicker with Miami.

Meanwhile the air marshal is fighting the ants with a fire extinguisher. Why is the captain in the passenger cabin again? Shouldn't he be landing the airplane? The suggestion is made by someone to depressurize the cabin, certainly a common movie trope for discarding contaminants (contaminants: I'm so funny) in a pressurized aircraft. That idea is rejected as dangerous to the infant on board. There's a bit of back and forth about the good of the many versus the good of the few, then the captain gets attacked by the ants and goes into shock.

It doesn't really matter, he's been pretty ineffectual anyway. Maybe the FO will now declare an emergency for an incapacitated crew member and land the plane already. The FO--wearing a full-sized green David Clark headset--instructs the FA to "tell the passengers to strap in. I have to reboot the system."

The FA gives a panic-tinged PA explaining that "the copilot" is going to do a routine inflight procedure that may cause a momentary loss of cabin pressure. The oxygen masks may drop down, but there is no need for panic. The O2 masks do drop, and no one, including the flight attendants, puts them on.

The ants have now entered an area placarded in close-up as the Hydraulic Chamber. This has resulted in, according to the dialogue, an inability to reset the pressurization system, autopilot failure, and fuel leakage at a rate such that they have to stop it in order to make Miami. Or possible Atlanta, their original destination. And then the air traffic controller (who works alone in a darkened room) is threatened by a shadowy overlord with treason charges if he discloses what is going on.

There's a subplot about the hot scientist and her attention-starved daughter, plus romantic implications between the air marshal and scientist. Passive flight attendants--identified by orange aprons: costume budget didn't stretch to real uniforms--continue serving drinks, except to the requisite drunk passenger, who yells at them.

The ant-injured captain returns to the flight deck despite his incapacitation and the FO briefs him on the situation. "No autopilot, half the system gauges are down as are the hydraulics. We've lost fire suppression." The captain assures him that they can operate the hydraulics manually. They do not appear to be straining to operate the flight controls, so they must have it trimmed out the way they want it.

The scientist and air marshal descend through a little hatch in the galley into the cargo bay, which is illuminated by a rotating amber light. However, whether it's through lack of continuity or pity for the viewer, the bulk of the scene is lit normally, not with the flashing light.

Meanwhile, the drunk passenger goes into the lavatory and is attacked by ants. He emerges into the aisle where they use the fire extinguisher on him. I think he's dead. Scene goes back to the cockpit, where they must have finally got permission to land at Miami, because the air traffic controller calls up to tell them "Diversion to Miami has been rescinded."

"Rescinded?" There's a ten dollar word not on the aviation English vocabulary list. I guess "cancelled" wasn't cool enough for them. I think I would have "misheard" or "misunderstood" that word, then said, "Roger, we'll be on the ground in fifteen minutes," and then run the emergency descent checklist.

They don't bother to ask for landing in Nassau or Port au Prince, because "word has gotten out" and everyone knows that it's a plague plane, so there's no point. The hot scientist and the air marshal are playing chemistry set with the cargo in the hold, Apparently detergent precursor chemicals can be mixed with bottled water to produce concentrated hydrochloric acid, which--I'm just going by the movie, folks--is a potent insecticide. Upstairs, hot scientist's jailbait teenage daughter is patrolling the aisles with the fire extinguisher.

Now they're asking Port-au-Prince, but yep, they're denied by a woman with an accent more authentic than I would have expected. The FO is ex Air Force and suggests diversion to a 5000' strip of unknown status at a closed air base in Mobile, Alabama. If they're going to defy the airspace closure, I'm not sure why they aren't doing it at a well-maintained airfield with emergency services available, but hey, at least they are making a decision.

The captain goes back to the cabin (doesn't he learn) to chat with the pax about his decision. He says authorities would block the runway if they tried to land at Miami. (Aha!) A passenger suggests ditching in the water and the captain tells him that's unnecessarily risky and that he came back to tell them his intentions as a courtesy, not for discussion. Hey being bitten by ants was good for this guy.

"I paid a lot of money for my ticket," says the passenger, "and that entitles me to a vote."

"That entitles you to nothing," says the captain, and threatens him with "FAA Security." He probably should have left that one to the FAs.

Meanwhile our heroes are sloshing through a room that is a centimetre of so deep in "fuel." Following instructions from the flight deck, they're going to have to patch the wires together and reboot the pump, using a blue switch labelled "system reset". It doesn't work, but the scientist hits it with a hammer and a blue light comes on in the cockpit. All is well! Well except for the ants.

Meanwhile, the shadowy folks who threatened the air traffic controller are onto the fact that they are making a run for the Alabama military base. I don't know how, since the radar track he is shown to be extrapolating from is so wiggly thay could be aiming for anywhere, but a call goes out to the Pentagon.

The cockpit goes dark. "What just happened?"

"We lost our on board computer."

"Great, now we're flying crippled and blind."

The heroes have now found a puppy in the cargo hold.

A shadowy figure reporting to "Red Leader One" is driving to Mobile. The bad guy, presumably Red Leader One, is arguing with his subordinate because she doesn't want to kill everyone. She walks out.

The disused airstrip has lights, and the view from the cockpit suggests that they are descending at about a 30 degree angle. "Initiating landing gear," says the FO, while they are over the runway lights. The gear comes down instantly and they land normally. I wish I had a manual extension system that fast and easy.

Now they are on the ground and soldiers are surrounding the plane, preparing to kill all witnesses -- except that a live TV news crew shows up and they "stand down." Passengers, ants and fuel are all escaping from the airplane. When the passengers are all off, the scientist pulls a flare gun out of her purse and explodes the whole plane and the ants. The bad government guy reports the situation contained.

They all go off happily to quarantine, where I'm sure scientist and air marshal and scientist and teenage daughter will get quality time together, but not in the same way. And then we cut back to the ants ... some of which have survived! Dun DUN DUN DUNH!

If there are any airplane disaster movie clichés missing from here, it's probably because I forgot to record them, not that they weren't in the movie.


Unknown said...

That's awesome! I was laughing so hard I had tears running down my face... I think my fellow passengers (in KMCO waiting on AC back to YYZ) think I've finally lost it!

Thanks for that, just spent a week in the sim and a laugh is welcome.



Jim said...

Well, that pegs the tacky meter.

Once in a while, blindly flipping the channels, one gets lucky. Sort of.

amulbunny's random thoughts said...

Oh boy. Can't wait till ScyFy makes that the Saturday night movie. It has to be better than Behemoth, which was the monster inhabiting the entire earth who got po'ed at a little town outside Vancouver (subbing for WA state as usual).

You wonder if people make these movies to pay for their alimony or child support?

The plane was coming back from Colombia BTW....and it was filmed in BC? Now my kid just got back from Colombia and no way on God's green earth does Colombia resemble BC.

Ah the joy of movies!

J said...

I cannot wait to see this movie.

A Squared said...

"The thing is I do know how it works: a pilot declares an emergency and tells the controller what he or she needs and then the controllers move heaven and earth to make it happen."

Ehh, not always. Sometimes a the crew of a plane full of passengers which is believed by the pilots to be so critically low on fuel that they aren't certain that it can even make it to the airport is talked into accepting vectors for an opposite direction runway, for the exclusive convenience of the controller. What's more astonishing, the crew complied.

Aviatrix said...

But the Avianca Flight 52 pilots didn't say "We have an emergency!" or "Ants!" And they didn't have an attractive female expert on their situation in the cockpit, to lend credence to their claims.

A Squared said...

I wasn't thinking of Avianca 52. This was a lot more recent. I'm having trouble coming up with a link. It was sometime in the last 4-5 years. It wasn't the American Airlines deal at JFK in 2010. Seems like it was in the South Western US. It generated a lot of discussion on pilot forums at the time. Anyway, the cliff's notes version was an airliner departed and not long after departure, the crew had reason to beleive that they had very little fuel, they requested an immediate return to the airport and landing on the runway aligned with their flight path. Controller refused because that was not the landing runway, and he'd be inconvenienced. I'll see if I can fins a better description of the incident.

A Squared said...

It was American Airlines flt 489 at DFW, Aug 30, 2007. Most of the news links are dead, so I haven't been able to come up with a good article.

Chris said...

I can only surmise you must be in a place that has too many channels and not enough stuff to put on them.

Wayne Conrad said...

Like I said. Watching anything on TV that you know something about is either a form of torture, or a source of mirth, or both.

Sarah said...

I'm glad you were able to find such a funny movie. By the way, I did follow up on your other recommendations. "The Life of David Gale" was an excellent movie I'd been meaning to watch. That other one, the one set in a small airplane cabin - I actually did get it from Netflix and watched it but can't recall a thing about it.

AA: Here is a short summary, didn't look further. The link in this one is stale as well. AA B757 at DFW, August 30 2006

GPS_Direct said...

Thank you for saving me from being "lured" into watching this "movie." Although, a quick search shows it as a made-for-TV film on Lifetime. Aside from weepy, made-for-female audience films, I didn't know they made anything else. Trying to branch out, I suppose...

As usual, your prose and humorous insights are well worth the read. And better than this "film" by no doubt!

Can we expect a review of Flying Wild Alaska? (Fabricated, I suupect) melodrama aside, it seems reasonably accurate so far.

Brandon said...

ABC report on American Flight 489's fuel emergency

Cirrocumulus said...

How about "Ten Worst Aircraft Disaster Flicks Ever"?

Thanks for your synopsis, it was funny.

Aviatrix said...

JetAviator7, I removed your perfectly good comment because I object to your appending a paragraph of advertising with a link. That's not acceptable here. Advertise your sunglasses on your own blog.

coreydotcom said...

that description was for sure better than the movie - thanks for saving me 2 hours if ever I see that on the tv guide.

Michael5000 said...

Are you sure that was a "movie" and not a "hallucination"?