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The High and the Mighty (July 30/05)

Due to issues with John Wayne's estate, this is the first time The High and the Mighty has ever been released on any kind of home video format. And while the film's arrival on DVD will undoubtedly thrill its fans, the reality is that The High and the Mighty just isn't very good. Bloated and overlong, the movie emphasizes artificial, needlessly drawn-out speeches for its characters that sound like Oscar-baiting monologues more than anything else.

And though The High and the Mighty is generally credited as setting the template for the modern disaster movie (ie lots of familiar faces trapped in a dangerous situation), the film doesn't really succeed on that level simply because it's just not exciting enough. It's not until about an hour into the movie that things start to go wrong, with everything before that devoted to talky sequences in which every single character is introduced (we watch as the various passengers arrive at the airport, for crying out loud!)

Starring John Wayne as washed-out pilot Dan Roman, The High and the Mighty revolves around a commercial airplane that loses one of its engines in mid-flight and things only get worse from there. Along with Captain John Sullivan (Robert Stack), Roman attempts to head for the plane's destination - despite the fact that they're rapidly running out of fuel. Meanwhile, the many passengers attempt to cope with the traumatic situation.

The High and the Mighty is ostensibly a disaster movie, but given that the film spends the majority of its time delving into the personal lives of its characters, it would be far more accurate to refer to this as a typically overblown, Hollywood-style melodrama. It certainly doesn't help that the film features many, many sequences in which the characters discuss their personal lives with one another, something that generally serves only to pad out the running time (and is exacerbated by the countless flashbacks and pointless anecdotes). And while there's no denying that we really get to know these people before the bad stuff starts to go down, the problem is that nobody here is terribly interesting - with most cliched variations on broad stereotypes (ie the aging starlet, the grizzled doomsayer, the naive foreigner, etc).

And while the acting is expectedly effective (Wayne and Stack are particularly good), The High and the Mighty just hasn't aged all that well - forcing one to speculate that perhaps there's a reason the film's been unavailable all these years.

out of

About the DVD: Paramount Pictures has gone all out with this two-disc special edition, which - aside from presenting the film in a crystal-clear widescreen transfer - contains an astounding amount of bonus features (including a commentary track, several in-depth featurettes, footage from the film's premiere, promotional materials, and much more).