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October 28, 2009 - Rick Chatenever
Some people think it’s eccentric that I use the road by the airport runway whenever I drive between town and my home Upcountry.
They’re probably right that it adds a minute or two to the trip. But even when running late, it’s worth it. Two lanes are always better than four. And snaking through a cane field beats the creeping urban sensation you get approaching Kahului on Hana Highway.
Best of all are the planes.
The far end the runway is like an infinity pool, catapulting the shiny aircraft toward the curved ocean horizon, which sometimes at this time of year is sharp as a knife edge.
At the near end of the runway, you’re directly under the flight path. Those lucky occasions when a plane roars directly over your roof, landing gear down, wing lights blinking, are like scoring points or making a goal. For regular drivers of the road, that’s our version of a touchdown. Then the landing continues outside your side window as you and the plane hurdle forward, side by side.
Frequent flyers long ago outgrew this sort of excitement. But for infrequent flyers — some of us, anyway — just being this close to a plane is all it takes to feel like a kid.
From this end of the runway, the airport is like a watering hole for exotic avian life, and you are the photographer for National Geographic. The shiny tails held high are not unlike aluminum peacock feathers, emblazoned with such hopeful concepts as American, United or Hawaiian.
Airplanes are pure potential, adventures about to happen, full of promise, even when just sitting at the terminal, waiting to load.
Unless you’re a bird, flying is still an unnatural act. Despite all the technology involved, it still seems like a form of magic.
For some, the childish wonder never leaves. Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger opens his new best-seller, “Highest Duty,” not with his miraculous landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River early this year, but with a recollection of a young boy in Texas, falling in love with airplanes and knowing he had to fly.
Something similar happens in “Amelia.”
As a young girl in Kansas, Amelia Earhart’s first sight of a biplane produced the identical feeling. By the next scene in director Mira Nair’s biopic of the legendary flyer, she’s doing figure-eights in the sky.
The problem is, it didn’t exactly happen that way. Amelia may have been born in Kansas, but she didn’t start flying lessons until her dysfunctional family had moved to California years later.
I know this because I Googled it. Seeing this movie does that to you. Hilary Swank does look — and talk and walk — the part of the iconic pioneering pilot perfectly, and Richard Gere does add a curious romantic dimension to the story as her publicist/ showman — and old-enough-to-be-her-father husband — George Putnam.
But the more this glossy, staid, old-fashioned movie shows, the more it leaves you wondering about everything it’s leaving out.
Virginia Madsen, for openers. Two years ago, when she was honored at the Maui Film Festival at Wailea, the intriguing actress was in the midst of filming “Amelia.” But she’s nowhere to be found in the final cut, or the credits. She’s certainly not the first Oscar nominee to be left on a cutting-room floor, but her absence isn’t the only thing missing here.
“Amelia” flashes back from Earhart’s attempt to fly around the globe in 1937, which, the audience knows, will end in her disappearance with navigator Fred Noonan near Howland Island in the South Pacific.
While the final minutes of the flight provide the most dramatic moments in the film, the mystery of her disappearance pales in comparison to the mystery the film leaves unanswered: Who was this woman?
The portrayal never fleshes out the person behind the legend. Despite a brief affair with another flying pioneer (Ewan McGregor), she seems devoid of anything resembling passion or personality. Charm and poise, yes — but little else.
While her looks and demeanor were tailor-made for her opportunistic husband to mold into an assortment of products the new field of public relations, Nair’s direction and Ron Bass’ script leave the audience wondering if Swank missed something … or if there was no one there to play.
For all the reverence “Amelia” showers on its subject, it can’t match the zest Amy Adams brought to a totally fictional Amelia Earhart in the otherwise lame “Night at the Museum” sequel recently.
Now there was someone worth making a movie about.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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