There are many films that start off well and seem promising, only to let you down halfway through as they fall into the same clichés and stereotypes we know all so well. Rough Air: Danger on Flight 534 is one such movie. There are some aspects of the story that are accurate and semi-believable, but the rest is the same, recycled garbage we have seen before in a hundred other air disaster flicks.
Mike Hogan (Eric Roberts) is a pilot with AirJet Atlantic, an international carrier. After he crash landed a 737 (with no major injuries), he was suspended by the airline and has not flown since. He meets Arch Davis (Andrew Gillies) with AirJet operations at London Heathrow Airport, and is told that flight 534 has been delayed two hours, and that Arch has 132 irate passengers on his hands. On top of that, the two pilots on AirJet 534 are unable to fly Boston due to union regulations and Arch has been left without any pilots. He asks if Hogan is willing to fly 534 to Boston as First Officer, and tells him he will be flying with Jack Brooks (Kevin Jubinville), AirJet’s “Captain of the Year”.
Aboard AirJet 534, we meet flight attendants Katy Phillips (Alexandra Paul) and first-timer Tracey Nichols (Anne Openshaw). Later we learn that Katy is also Mike’s ex-girlfriend. We have, of course, the usual suspects aboard flight 534: the irate, troublesome businessman, a soccer star and his manager, the single mother and her rebellious teenage son, the airline mechanic and his wife, the convicted murderer being escorted by a detective and a group of rambunctious, pre-med college students. Mike meets Captain Brooks in the cockpit, and learns that he is a “strictly by-the-book company man” who is more than a little arrogant and self-righteous.
Meanwhile, the ground crews are loading several containers into AirJet 534’s forward hold. One baggage handler checks the inside of the baggage hold, and inspects a pile of luggage (and other things, including a German Shepard) that have been poorly fastened down. There is a problem, though. The forward cargo door refuses to latch. After several attempts, it closes but we see that the locking mechanism has not operated as it should.
AirJet 534 departs London and, soon after, makes contact with Shanwick Control. There is suddenly a loud bang, and the entire aircraft begins to shudder. Captain Brooks was standing at the time, and is thrown about in the cockpit and knocked unconscious. We see the cargo door separate, and impact the tailplane and vertical stabiliser. AirJet 534 suddenly enters a steep dive, and Mike reports that he has lost control of the aircraft. Rapidly loosing altitude and descending towards the Atlantic, Mike seems powerless to control the severely damaged aircraft. To make matters worse, the cabin is depressurising and the passengers are rapidly running out of air…
For the most part, Rough Air: Danger on Flight 534 is more accurate and believable than your average TV air disaster movie. But, as mentioned before, the clichés and stereotypes pull the whole thing down. The visual effects are what you would expect for a made-for-TV movie, but otherwise the acting and script were generally good and well done.
I give Rough Air: Danger on Flight 534 a grade of 5 out of 10. A lot of its potential is wasted, but fine performances on the part of Eric Roberts and Alexandra Paul make it all worthwhile. Not the best air disaster movie, but certainly not the worst.
Things to notice
Overall, much of what happens in Rough Air: Danger on Flight 534 is quite believable. Listed here are several interesting facts and noticeable goofs (as there are with every TV air disaster movie) that appear in the film:
- At the very beginning, we witness the crash landing of a supposed AirJet aircraft being flown by Mike Hogan. Some may recognise this as archival footage of a USAir Boeing 737 in Piedmont Airlines colors that crash landed following a landing gear wheel that did not come all the way down. (See the picture on the right)
- In most of the ground scenes and and in all the computer generated air-to-air sequences, AirJet 534 is an Airbus A300. However, when taxiing, it becomes a McDonnell-Douglas DC-9 (or MD-80 series), a Boeing 737-200 on the runway and a Boeing 767-200 in some aerial scenes and on final approach.
- The economy class cabin is the same one as in Free Fall and in the Discovery Channel/National Geographic Channel series Mayday! (Air Crash Investigation), both filmed in Toronto.
- The aircraft used to represent AirJet 534 on the ground is an ICC Air Cargo Airbus A300B4, with windows painted on the all-white fuselage. The color scheme retains ICC’s maroon fin, but with AirJet Atlantic titles similar to Atlas Air: yellow and blue.
- The cargo door separation mirrors that of United Airlines flight UA811 on February 24, 1989. On a 747 flying from Honolulu to Auckland, the cargo door unlatched in flight and separated, damaging the airframe and causing 9 casualties, but ending in a safe landing back in Honolulu.
- The last name of the Icelandic air traffic controller is misspelled as Lundattir. It should have been Lundóttir. All Icelandic last names end with either Dóttir (for women) or Son (for men).
AirJet Atlantic flight 534 is an Airbus A300B4 flying from London-Heathrow (LHR) to Boston (BOS) and diverting to Keflavik (KEF) in Iceland.
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U.S.A., 2001, Produced by Carlton Entertainment and Tele München Gruppe. Directed by Jon Cassar. Starring Eric Roberts, Alexandra Paul, Kevin Jubinville, Anne Openshaw. Rated PG. Also known as S.O.S. Vol 534 (French), Die Sturmfront – Katastrophe über den Wolken (German).