The Airport series spawned four titles and for me, this is my favourite of the bunch by quite a long way. Suspense from the beginning, a whole host of characters, including one of the biggest bitches in disaster history, and a great finale escape plan. Airport 77 has it all and is a massively underrated gem.
Released : 1977 (thankfully)
Run time : 114 minutes
A land carrying a collection of family, friends and critics of a rich art museum developer board a plane which is then hijacked and taken into the Bermuda Triangle where it then crashes into the seabed and settles underwater. There’s a plan that went wrong! Cue the water and hysteria…now!
The Disasters Faced
Plane crash, plane rescue, a submerged sinking plane, a lot of knockout gas and Lee Grant’s razor sharp tongue!
Airport 77 follows the big budget formulae down to the dotted line. A host of various stars are along for the ride including Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Brenda Vaccaro, Christopher Lee and Lee Grant. After a short set up of the characters, we’re off on an all singing and dancing plane that is quickly hijacked and then crashes off radar in the Bermuda Triangle. Slowly the plane is filling up with water and after a few ill fated rescue attempts eventually the Navy arrive to save the day, guided by none other than George Kennedy, back as the ever changing role of Joe Petroni! Quite how he stays the same character and poor Monica Lewis is an air stewardess here and then two years later is a swinging jazz girl in the same series is beyond me!
However its the gripping finale that causes all the havoc as while some of the characters do blur into each other, the strong ones shine through as first a tidal wave of water and then a daring water rescue is performed to try to save as many as possible. It really is quite gripping, and Airport 77 has more casualties and deaths in it than probably all the other three combined. Some big stars bite the dust in typical 70’s fashion which is always a pleasure to watch! This combined with good pacing, tight effects and a very well versed cast makes this my favourite of the quartet by miles.
The plane crash itself is only shown up by some dubious superimposed effects on it but even then its miles better than its 79 sibling. The actual sets filling up with water look great, as does the tidal wave and final rescue on the waterline itself. Furthermore, while you can tell miniatures are used for the external shots, they are more passable than a lot of cheap CGI of today and I’d rather see them than computerised stuff. One thing I did like was how the set at the end is completed submerged pretty much on screen. It looks great.
Why It’s Worth Watching
I actually think that Airport 77 is one of the best examples of a 70’s disaster movie. It’s not perfect, there’s too many characters and not enough screen time given to them all (although I have read a three hour version of the film is available somewhere so this may well address the problem) and Joe Patroni is a bit underused and feels a bit “inserted” into the film just for the sake of it but apart from that its slick, well polished and the actors mostly look like they are having a riot on set!
It has to be the bitch queen of disaster movies, Lee Grant’s character “Karen Wallace”. She’s drinking the entire movie, is having an affair to bribe someone, is selfish and vindictive and then when she decides she’s had enough tries to kill everyone and gets a well deserved punch in the mouth from Brenda Vaccaro in one of the best “WOO!” moments in disaster movie history!
While I found poor Dorothy’s to be the saddest (imagine surviving all that and then conking out) the best death by far goes to Christopher Lee, who in trying to save everyone gets killed by the cargo door flying off into his head and then to add insult to injury his dead body floats up passed all the onlooking passengers and his horrified wife!
Apart from Dorothy playing Pong with the kids, the really random sub plot of the blind piano player and Julie is the winner here. In the space of just two scenes it appears they meet, fall in love, declare love, and then Mr piano kicks the bucket. It’s really not made clear if they knew each other before the flight which is what makes the entire drama of it so bizarre! Julie then spends the rest of the movie either sobbing or screaming with nothing else to do. Strange!
Well I’ve raved about it all review. In my opinion, its possibly the best plane disaster film I’ve seen to date, and probably nestles a place in my top 10 for pure entertainment fun alone!