You can almost create two genres from plane disaster movies. Pre and post 9/11. Sometimes you forget just how open and free air travel used to be and ‘Nowhere to Land’ reminds you of just that. Made for TV in 2000, its whole premise would probably not be able to take place today. It still makes a passable TV movie though with some decent acting and a campy-tense final act. That’s exactly what I expected since the plot follows closely to The Concorde: Airport 79!
The disasters faced
Jealous mad husbands, planes in distress, terror attacks, having to squeeze everyone into first class (the horror!) and then trying to squeeze most of the cast into the cockpit for phone calls.
Phillip is angry. His wife has left him and moved on to a new beau, enjoying a quiet break in Australia to get away from years of terror that Phillip has caused her. Claire boards the flight home, not really wanting to leave and return back home but in doing so is hopeful of a new peaceful life. Phillip has other ideas. He too boards the plane, leaves a device onboard and then feigns illness to get back off the plane. He then phones the authorities to tell them that a device is onboard, ready to blow midflight.
Onboard is Captain John Prescott and Officer Kim McGee in the cockpit. Upon hearing this they start to take precautions, working with lead cabin crew Maggie and retired pilot George, who they all know as he is only recently retired. Between the four of them they must locate the device and see what is actually going on. Helping them from the ground is bomb expert Danny, who spends the entire movie sat at his desk. Cheapest set per minute ever!
Once the device is located, Captain John is instructed by Danny on how to open it and reveal its contents whilst Kim and George manage turbulence up ahead. It is here where the kicker sets in. It isn’t a bomb – its full of a deadly nerve gas! All plans for trying to tactically survive the bomb are off and whilst they can work on keeping it from going off by a timer, they can’t stop the air pressure sensor from inevitably setting it off anyway.
This does not bode well for the passengers. These include Claire and her new man Tony. Claire feels responsible and is in a justifiable state of emotional panic. Then we have a new romance blossoming between Olympian Chad and happy girl Natalie. Token Australian Jenny ensures not everyone is American on this long flight. As the passengers all hunker down and Maggie tries to keep them calm – attention turns to the ground.
Phillip of course is on the loose. Whilst there is a race against time on the plane, there is a race to catch Phillip below. As he constructed the bomb and has all the layouts with him, the plan is to catch up and his intel. Can the agents catch him in time and will he be willing to comply? If the nerve gas is going to set off when the plane lands anyway – does it matter? The passengers and crew likely have a couple of minutes max to get everyone off the plane when it does go off. Who will survive?
Why is it worth watching?
Nowhere To Land feels like a 70’s disaster movie made in the year 2000. It has all the campy and dramatic hallmarks of an emotional drama that the Airport series would have. In many ways I feel like this film was inspired by Airport 79 but thankfully cuts out the loop-de-loops. Characters are well fleshed out – well the main ones are – and you want them to survive against all the things being thrown their way.
The thing with aeroplane based disaster movies is that most of the time you know the craft will need to stay intact until the end of the movie so a lot of the early drama always feels a little tacked on. Nowhere To Land doesn’t escape that issue but it does throw a few curve-balls in to make sure you are staying awake for the finale.
Bomb disposals can be tense and drawn out when actors are in the moment and thankfully the acting is decent across the board. What is slightly less great is the action on the ground. The two agents chasing down Phillip seem quite inept and spend most of the film semi-jogging after him. Thankfully the showdown between them at the end is satisfying enough to make up for some of the lacking aspects earlier.
It must be said that effects are not really on show here. There are a few plane exterior shots, a few shaky cam moments during turbulence and that is about it. The main sequence at the end is around the emergency landing and that is where all the passengers and crew are bundling for the exit. It is nice to see crowd shots and plenty of people in panic mode but this is a film that uses its budget on the acting rather than needless effect shots.
This is where Nowhere to Land shines best. Most characters are likeable. John, Kim, George and Maggie as the main flight crew we follow all have decent banter and chemistry albeit a friendly professional one. John’s wife Anne is an emotional wreck and somehow manages to get onto the flight radio to have a breakdown at John. As if he doesn’t have enough going on, he now has to keep her spirits up too! It should be the other way around Anne…
The acting star belongs to James Sikking who plays Phillip though. From his opening dream sequence where he shoots Claire dead to the emotional phone call he has with her as a last ditch effort to talk him into turning the bomb off – he is on it. The sweat, the tears, the twitching – its full on mental breakdown in motion. It is cliche villain material but he does it well.
What happens if we have turbulence?
That’d make for a bad day!An exchange between kim and john as they attempt to open the device during a storm
Three memorable moments
- The phone call between Claire and Phillip as she tries to talk him out of it all.
- The end sequence as everyone tries to escape the plane in time.
- The final shot of Phillip for being very artistic.
The obligatory weird moment
Whilst the fact that George is able and willing to take the flight controls quite happily despite not being in active service is a bit weird, I found how some of the passengers acted bizarre. There is an old guy who seems so infuriated that everyone is moved to the front of the plane that I was expecting some kind of passenger mutiny that his first class seats were no longer exclusive. Also, spot the fact that all the external plane shots are taken from Executive Decision – the 1996 big budget action movie. On that note – Oceanic – if a real company opened up called that I simply wouldn’t board.
The drinking game
Is Claire crying or looking like she is about to? DRINK!
Harking back to a simpler time with a straight forward plane disaster movie is refreshing. Nowhere to Land is well put together, well acted and doesn’t try to be anything else above its station. You’ll get no frills here but its a decent enough movie with characters to cheer on. The plane may be full of nerve gas but Nowhere to Land doesn’t choke.
Rating: 2.5 / 5 – OK
If you liked Nowhere to Land then you may like…
- Airport 75 – The second in the series sees a flight attendant take the controls.
- Freefall Flight 174 – True story of a plane out of fuel forced into gliding home.
- Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232 – Another true story using real footage of the tragedy.