NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by P.D. Chamblisswho says... "For those who haven't seen the original, Flight of the Phoenix (2004) offers a suspense-filled tale which will keep you guessing, on the edge of your seat, and cheering for every person who boarded the plane."
Flight of the Phoenix (2004) is a remake of the 1965 film by the same name. The movie stars Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Tyrese Gibson, and a few fresh new faces. Dennis Quaid is Captain Frank Towns, a no-nonsense pilot who is assigned to retrieve a team of workers from a remote oil rig. Captain Towns is accompanied on the mission by Co-pilot A.J. (Tyrese Gibson). Apparently, one of the oil company's bean counters decided the oil rig had diminished in productivity, thus the decision to close the facility down. This decision infuriates Kelly (Miranda Otto), team leader at the rig who reluctantly follows Towns' orders to pack up and board the plane quickly with her crew.
Just as the cargo doors are about to be closed, a mysterious person named Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi) appears. Since Elliott is not a member of the crew (and not on the flight list of passengers to board), Towns and A.J. want to leave Elliott behind. Kelly says Elliott "just kinda showed up one day" (important later) and Kelly doesn't see any problems with dropping Elliott off in Beijing. A.J. lets Elliott board the plane...
Towns and A.J. go through the pre-flight checklist (hilarious scene filled with suggestive, double meanings) and the plane takes off. Things go well at first with the passengers chatting with one another.
However, after a few minutes of flying, the plane encounters turbulence and an enormous sandstorm (great special effects). Towns tries to fly over and around the sandstorm but cannot. Elliott tells other passengers "we won't make it...the plane is too heavy". Sure enough, the plane begins to go down. One passenger is sucked out of the plane (important later) and two passengers are killed in the crash. The rest of the passengers endure a bumpy landing in the Mongolian desert but survive due to Frank and A.J.'s flying skills.
Trouble begins as soon as the plane hits the ground. One passenger panics and begins to head for the door. Towns restrains the passenger telling him "there are 100 mph sandstorm winds outside that will strip the skin off your face in 10 minutes". The passengers have no choice but to wait out the sandstorm overnight. The passengers awake the next morning, bury the dead passengers, and assess their situation. They discover there is a 30 day supply of water, canned peaches, and some other canned products so supplies must be rationed.
Other conflicts surface as well. Some of the passengers think they should try to hike to Beijing but others passengers say the plan won't work . Blinding sandstorms, limited water, and compasses which won't work eliminate the hope of hiking (one passenger gets lost in the middle of the night and gets buried chest high in shifting sands). Furthermore, the plane gets buried in sand each night and the passengers must re-dig the plane out during the day (under intense heat).
All of these dilemmas finally take their toll on the passengers and a fight erupts. In the midst of the chaos, Elliott steps forward. Elliott tells the passengers he "designs planes" (very important) and can show everyone how to build a new plane out of the old one (thus, the name Phoenix - a mythological bird destroyed by fire but resurrected). The passengers are ticked and relieved at the same time saying Elliott should have mentioned this fact sooner. Towns doesn't believe the plan to build a new plane can work and says "no". Kelly and the others hope Elliott is right because they want to leave the desert. This dispute divides the passengers and one passenger runs off in the middle of the night in a desperate attempt to leave the desert. Towns goes after the passenger and finds him. Both are horrified at what they find in a local valley - the bullet riddled body of the passenger who was sucked out of the plane as the plane was crashing. Apparently, the passenger was found and used as target practice by the locals. Furthermore, the passenger was robbed of his gold watch (important later). Towns and the other guy go back to camp knowing they are in dangerous territory.
In another incident, A.J. and two other passengers attempt to negotiate for water with some of the local desert people. When one of the passengers spots the gold watch on the local man's arm, the passengers realize these "locals" are WARLORDS who will kill everyone, steal the plane and the plane's cargo. One passenger gets shot and whispers something in Towns' ear as he's rushed back to camp and dying.
Meanwhile back at camp, Elliott's true nature begins to surface. Although Elliott knows how to build a plane from the leftover parts, Elliott also insists on being the LEADER of the passengers instead of Towns (Elliott is a powerhungry little nerd). Towns reluctantly agrees for the good of everyone.
Following Elliott's orders (with Towns in the background), the passengers work day and night with limited water to build a new plane. One day, an electrical storm occurs and Towns freaks out. Since the plane hasn't been grounded, there is a high probability the plane will be struck by lightning and blown to bits because the plane is filled with fuel. Towns resumes leadership of the passengers and tells everyone what to do in order to ground the plane. Elliott stares in disbelief (very important later) while Towns says "if Elliott designs planes...he should have known this". The plane survives the electrical storm because of Towns' quick thinking. Finally, the new plane is ready and Elliott checks the plane over one last time...
While Elliott is examining the plane, Towns asks Elliott for something and Elliott replies "it's in my bag". Towns goes to retrieve the item from Elliott's bag and stumbles across a catalog for (surprise!) Model AIRPLANES! It turns out Elliott appears to be nuts and doesn't see much difference between toy planes and real ones capable of carrying people. When Elliott said he "designed planes", he failed to mention that he worked for a TOY AIRPLANE COMPANY! Towns, A.J. and the rest of the passengers are ready to KILL Elliott because he has no experience working with REAL planes. The crew is ticked because they spent days building a plane based on models (that's why Elliott didn't know anything about grounding planes in an electrical storm...toy planes don't need to be grounded!)
Towns pulls out a gun while Elliott pleads for his life saying "it can fly...it can fly...believe me...it can fly". Just as Towns is about to pull the trigger, a gust of sandstorm wind comes along and miraculously lifts the planes off the ground (although still weighed down at the wheels). Towns and the others realize there's a chance the plane can fly and they spare Elliott's life...Towns also remembers what the dying man told him "DON'T CRASH"!!!!
Elliott tells Towns he has 5 attempts at starting the plane. Towns gets in the cockpit and tries to start the plane four times and fails. The plane's engines starts on the 5th attempt and not too soon - dozens of local warlords had gathered on a distant ridge. The warlords charge the plane but the plane soars high above the ground to freedom.The movie ends with pictures of everyone and discloses what each person did upon returning home. While some passengers started families and opened restaurants, Towns and A.J. opened their own airline!
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