Last month, I finally got around to watching “Flight,” the Robert Zemeckis film starring Denzel Washington as the pilot who amazingly (and drunkenly) flips an airliner upside down to stop an uncontrolled dive and save nearly everyone on board.
The computer-generated crash is harrowing, but not as compelling as the second plane disaster movie I saw that week: “Charlie Victor Romeo,” which recreates six plane crashes from the past 30 years.
In the movie, engines blow due to bird strikes. Hydraulics fail. Planes crash into the ocean and into mountains.
For a movie presenting such spectacular events, it’s remarkably simple. There are no special effects (it is shot in 3D; more on that in a minute). Actors play multiple roles. All you see is the interior of the cockpit, populated by pilots and crew members (plus the occasional shot of the mouth of an air traffic controller).
The dialogue is pulled directly from Cockpit Voice Recorders (thus the film’s name, pilot speak for C-V-R), edited slightly for clarity.
The idea, the filmmakers Robert Berger and Patrick Daniels told Business Insider, was to depict real drama. What you’re watching, Daniels said, is people dealing with incredibly difficult situations.
“The simplicity of the film serves the content,” Berger said, adding that fancy special effects would distract from the human experience of watching people struggle with dangerous situations.
That goes for the dialogue, too. Terms and abbreviations familiar to pilots will go right over the heads of the audience. Berger and Daniels aren’t worried about their refusal to dumb down the content. “There’s a lot to learn from context,” Berger said, adding that the public is smarter than most films give them credit for.
Daniels compared the experience to watching an opera in Italian. “Even if you don’t understand every term, there’s a poetry and musicality to the text.” Viewers pick up what’s happening from the tone and faces of the actors. “People don’t need things explained to them all the time,” Daniels said.
The choice to film in 3D, they said, was not a “gimmick,” but an affordable way to make the audience feel closer to the actors. I didn’t think it added much, partly because in the small theatre, I was already quite close to the screen.
While “Charlie Victor Romeo” will appeal more to aviation geeks and professionals than the average movie-goer, Berger and Daniels have made an absorbing film. They prove you don’t need simplified dialogue, bombastic special effects, or star actors to engage the audience.
The drama — made all the more real by the knowledge that the dialogue is accurate — is in watching people try to save their lives and those of their passengers.
“Charlie Victor Romeo” is playing at Film Forum in New York City until February 11.
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