Have a fear of flying? You might want to avoid this stark, ultimately tedious 3-D feature—adapted from an award-winning 1999 play—that dramatizes six actual airline disasters from the pilots’ perspective. Using transcripts of the planes’ cockpit voice recorders (these black boxes are referred to by the code name Charlie Victor Romeo), the theater group Collective: Unconscious crafted a work that seems like it was unbearably tense onstage. Each segment is preceded by a series of technical slides describing the aircraft and giving the number of souls on board. Then the scene switches to a sparsely designed cabin where we watch the pilots deal with emergencies in real time, until a full blackout signifies that the worst has occurred.
In the early going, the suggestiveness of the scenario makes the pulse race, though boredom quickly sets in once it becomes evident that each segment will follow the same sobering structure. Clinical factoids. Ebbing and flowing levels of panic. More clinical factoids. Rinse, wash, repeat. There’s validity to such rigorousness, but the filmmakers, many of whom were involved in the original theater production, rarely rethink things cinematically.
The performances are universally pitched at a to-the-rafters level that comes off poorly on camera, while the stereoscopic photography is more distracting than immersive, as if codirectors Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels and Karlyn Michelson are trying to divert viewer attention from the all-too-apparent “filmed play” qualities. (The most interesting visual conceit, cribbed from Walter Hill’s The Warriors, is the decision to photograph the air-traffic ground controllers as impersonally calm, mouth-only entities.) There’s also something profoundly off-putting about the way the dead and injured are reduced to faceless statistics, at least when viewed in a communal cinema context. Charlie Victor Romeo would probably work best as a training tool for commercial airline pilots (the play, interestingly, has already been used in this fashion by the Pentagon). In a movie theater for a paying crowd, it’s little more than minimalist snuff.
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