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August 22, 2006

Dogs on a Plane


As much as I love movies, I generally hate watching movies on airplanes. Not only has the act of viewing a film declined as the technology has theoretically improved, but the quality of films is wretched. I feel somewhat nostalgic about watching Treasure Island with Orson Welles on a single screen in a jumbo jet, flying from NYC to LA in 1973. My eyes water thinking about the time an airline goof put me in First Class, where I got to enjoy John Huston's Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Since those glory days, it appears that the rule of thumb in domestic flights is to show the worst film available on awkwardly placed little screens that are either too far or too close for comfortable viewing.

My one experience with European flights was only marginally better due to the choice of films. I was on SwissAir (motto: Forget the lack of leg room, we give you free chocolate). There were about eight or so films to choose from in a variety of genres and languages. Being a long flight, I saw the Hong Kong action film Full Contact followed by Woody Allen's Anything Else?. The screen, about eight inches diagonally, was on the back of the seat in front of me. This meant that the person in front of me had to sit still. I also had to adjust my viewing angle or the image would be a bunch of shadowy blobs.

Even worse have been flights on United (motto: We use to be good when we had real competition). Someone realized that passengers on an airplane truly are a captive audience. There was no way I could escape from Queen Latifah in Taxi. Last month, when I flew back from San Francisco to Miami, I had to switch planes in Denver. I ended up glancing at Eight Below twice in addition to the remake of The Shaggy Dog. For some of us, no movie for a few hours is better than being stuck in G rated movie hell. It's not that I hate the entire Disney Dog movie genre - Old Yeller was the first movie I saw in a theater, when I was six years old.

As a little act of rebellion, my partner took out her i-Pod and we watched a William Burrough's film she had downloaded from Ubu. The Cut Ups briefly distracted me. Certainly in a variety of ways this little film provided a marked contrast to what everyone else on board was viewing.

I'm concerned about the ban of personal electronic devices on future flights. Some of us may want to watch a movie while flying, just not the movie that the airline has chosen as suitable for its customers. I know I should be concerned about people with box cutters, flamable shoes or explosive sports drinks. What really scares me is being several miles in the air when I learn that I'm stuck with another movie starring Tim Allen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 22, 2006 09:41 AM