Posts Tagged ‘Wolfgang Petersen’

Air Force One (1997)

06/14/2011 1 comment

Air Force One is the official air traffic call sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. The two jets to which this title is officially assigned are the most technologically advanced and most secure aircraft in the world, designed to protect the President from any threat. You practically have to give a kidney and your firstborn to get the clearance to board. However, little do bad guys know that the real threat to intruders is not the hordes of Secret Service agents and countermeasures that populate the plane during Presidential excursions – at least not when the President is Indiana Jones.

Air Force One is an action film directed and co-produced by Wolfgang Petersen, and written by Andrew W. Marlowe. It stars Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, Gary Oldman, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, and Paul Guilfoyle.

It is 1993. A crack team of elite Spetsnaz and Delta Force commandos have just captured General Ivan Radek, the leader of a terrorist regime in Kazakhstan. Three weeks later, American President James Marshall gives a speech in Moscow, rejecting the idea that he should be congratulated for this victory, instead expressing dismay that it took the United States this long to act. He vows to take a hard line against terrorism, political self-interest be damned. Of course, this is certain to get up somebody’s nose. As he, his wife and daughter, and most of his political posse of advisors and cabinet members board Air Force One to head back to the States, a group of terrorists loyal to Radek board the plane under the guise of a Russian news crew. In the middle of the flight, they seize control of Air Force One and take its passengers hostage with the goal of forcing the President to call Moscow and have Radek released. Meanwhile Secret Service agents hustle Marshall to the escape pod to keep him out of harm’s way. Marshall has other ideas, though; these people are threatening his family and national security, and he is not going to let this stand. It isn’t long before the terrorists realize that they are trapped aboard a highly advanced aircraft with a very angry ex-military Battle President, who is willing to do anything to get them the hell off his plane.

It is clear from the premise itself that this is a pre-9-11 movie. Petersen himself said that with the tightening of national security protocols both civilian and presidential, it would be nigh-impossible for anyone to get the level of access to (and inside) Air Force One, let alone highjack it. As it was, at the time film crews were not even allowed inside either of the Air Force One jets, forcing the filmmakers to make educated guesses about the interior. However, the fact that the setup is dated and the immediate setting for the bulk of the movie was pretty much made up does not make this an uninteresting movie. The idea that terrorists would manage to get this far into the U.S. government’s inner sanctum is thrilling and terrifying, considering that they would be able to wipe out the top tiers of American political authority with frightening ease. While it is still an extremely difficult plan to execute in today’s political climate, this is the scenario that all the security-tightening is designed to prevent, and all it would take is a single hole to render everything moot.

Of course, while this is an action movie, it largely depends on a skilled cast to execute properly. Harrison Ford is excellent as James Marshall, an ex-military man trying to outwit some very dangerous people aboard a relatively tiny space. While he has come a long way since his Indiana Jones/Han Solo roots, he is resourceful and clever, using the resources he has at hand to foil the enemy forces swarming his jet. Glenn Close, playing his Vice President, is a protective and helpful voice on the ground, doing her best to negotiate with dangerous terrorists and guide Marshall to the knowledge he needs while working to prevent the Presidency from being usurped by well-meaning cabinet members. On the other side of the coin, Gary Oldman is a terrifying villain, willingly threatening women and children in pursuit of goals that could throw the civilized world into chaos, in ways that seem a far cry from his villainous role as Zorg in The Fifth Element, released the same year. He is ruthless. He is fanatical. He is unquestioningly loyal to Radek. He will eat your children. (And off-camera, he’s apparently a fun guy to be around.)

If you enjoy gripping, claustrophobic action movies and you’re a fan of Harrison Ford, I highly recommend Air Force One. While the premise may be nearly impossible today, it still plays on modern terrorism fears and keeps you hooked the whole way through.


Outbreak (2005)

How do you catch a killer? How far to you go to end the violence, agony, and death? How hard do you push to do your job and save countless lives, against insurmountable odds? What if the killer is only a billionth your size?

Outbreak is a disaster thriller film directed by Wolfgang Petersen, centering around the Center for Disease Control and how it handles an outbreak of a deadly virus. It stars Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Cube Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey, and Morgan Freeman.

In 1967, a deadly outbreak of hemorrhagic fever called Motaba is discovered in a mercenary camp in Zaire. The camp is bombed and the disease is kept secret from the public. Thirty years later, the virus resurfaces, and the USAMRIID is sent to investigate. Led by Colonerl Sam Daniels, the investigators gather information and, fearing a second outbreak, recommend that his superior, Brigadier General Billy Ford, put out an alert, but Ford says it’s an unlikely scenario. And you know it would be, if a capuchin monkey carrying the virus were not captured for the illegal pet trade in the States. unfortunate monkey-thief is infected when the monkey scratches him, but when he can’t sell it to his buyer, he sets it free locally. It is not long before those who have come into contact with the infected monkey start to succumb to Motaba, and the CDC moves in, locking down Cedar Creek to contain the virus. Daniels investigates, trying to determine a cure for the deadly virus, but he soon learns that Motaba is not as new as he thought, and he finds himself battling against interested parties who want to insure that Motaba is not completely destroyed…

Movies about infectious diseases are nothing new. The Andromeda Strain played with this type of storyline from the CDC’s point of view before, but here the scenario is frighteningly plausible. Viruses are sneaky. They can wait until the conditions are just right before they come out and mess you up, and they can mutate in some ingenious and scary ways. This movie is especially relevant today, with the various outbreaks of bird flu, swine flu, and super-resistant viruses and bacteria. Let’s face it – if nature wants to kill us, it will find a way. And to really hammer the point home, only a few months after Outbreak was released, there was a real-life outbreak of Ebola in Zaire. Kind of makes you want to stock up on hand sanitizer, huh?

The casting here was nice and tight. Dustin Hoffman, and exemplary veteran actor, is spot on as Daniels, barely keeping it together in a crisis that could wipe out the United States if it got loose, alongside Rene Russo as his ex-wife caught in the same boat. Cuba Gooding, Jr., as CDC newcomer Salt, lends a degree of an outsider’s perpective in the opening scenes, and his initiation into the wonderful world of super-cooties seems natural, rather than a device to allow the more experienced investigators to explain the basic concepts to the audience. Donald Sutherland is effective as the Curt Military Asshole Major General McClintock, and Morgan Freeman as General Ford is, well, Morgan Freeman. Each character has his own agenda: the CDC want to eradicate Motaba. Their higher-ups want to preserve Motaba. Most of the civilians just want to survive Motaba. Families are torn apart. People panic. All over a tiny little critter only visible in an electron microscope than can nonetheless kill you horribly. Good times.

If you like your diseases deadly and your thrillers grounded in reality, absolutely watch Outbreak. Just remember to wash your hands afterwards.