Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Miracle Landing (1990)

MIRACLE LANDING is a 1990 CBS TV-movie depicting the true story of Aloha Airlines Flight 243. I watched the film when it first aired and found it very engrossing, and when I stumbled across it on YouTube today I was glad to have the opportunity to watch it again.

Although the airline's name was changed for the movie from Aloha to Paradise and some details were dramatized, for the most part this is a straightforward, factual account of the disaster which occurred aboard a Boeing 737 island hopping from Hilo to Honolulu. A section of the fuselage tore off when the plane was at 10,000 feet, instantly killing one flight attendant.

As the film's title implies, the plane was miraculously able to land in Maui due to the skill of pilot Bob Schornstheimer, played by Wayne Rogers, and copilot Mimi Tompkins, portrayed by Connie Sellecca. I really enjoyed watching Rogers' and Sellecca's depiction of a pair of amazing professionals who managed to keep their wits under the most bizarre conditions imaginable, moving through checklists and trouble-shooting as they work the situation.

Equally gripping is the story of flight attendant Michelle Honda (Ana-Alicia). The only one of the cabin crew uninjured in the disaster, she was forced to put aside the trauma of the loss of her coworker C.B. Lansing (Nancy Kwan) to help the passengers and injured flight attendant. She performed heroically at great personal risk, crawling through the plane with its exposed ceiling in order to calm the passengers, helping them to put on life jackets and follow safety procedures to the extent they could.

Looking at the plane after it landed, with its roof torn off, it's hard to believe all of the passengers exposed to the elements during the flight survived. A personal note: My dad happened to travel to Hawaii shortly after the incident and saw the damaged plane when it was still parked at the airport.

The excellent primary cast is rounded off by Jay Thomas as the Maui flight controller and James Cromwell, who has two scenes as a flight simulator instructor.

A couple of minor characters, including an obnoxious FBI man at the end of the film, are overdone caricatures, but the lead actors are all low-key and feel much more authentic.

I've always particularly enjoyed the lead actresses in the film, Connie Sellecca and Ana-Alicia. Sellecca starred in THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO and HOTEL, while Ana-Alicia played the most fascinating character in the great cast of the '80s show FALCON CREST. I had the opportunity to meet her briefly early in that show's run and found her very nice and friendly, nothing at all like FALCON CREST's calculating Melissa! Sellecca still acts occasionally -- the upcoming ALL ABOUT CHRISTMAS EVE (2012) is her first film in three years -- while Ana-Alicia retired to raise her children. I came across an interview she gave a couple years ago; she looks great and at that time indicated she might resume acting.

MIRACLE LANDING was directed by Dick Lowry, who continues to direct today, most recently the JESSE STONE entry INNOCENTS LOST (2011). He also directed the very good Hallmark Christmas film SILVER BELLS (2005). He had previously directed Ana-Alicia in COWARD OF THE COUNTY (1981), a TV-movie I recall enjoying; I was amazed to discover that one is available on DVD and look forward to seeing it again. COWARD OF THE COUNTY is available via Netflix.

The MIRACLE LANDING print currently on YouTube was for the most part quite watchable, although long shots in particular lacked sharpness.

Another review of this film can be found AirOdyssey.net.

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