A 747 nearly causes a massive disaster when it crashes to ground, with heroic pilot Robert Powell managing to save countless lives on the ground, even though the resulting explosion leaves no chance of survivors on board the plane. Except Powell himself, though he has lost all memory of the disaster. Powell’s friend Peter Sumner and several other men lead an investigation into the disaster, taking apart the black box flight recorder, whilst poor Powell is plagued by guilt and many questions due to his lost memory. Why was he spared when countless others perished? What caused the incident in the first place? Is Powell an unbreakable Superhero in search of a Supervillain? And what did he have for breakfast that morning? OK, so those last two questions aren’t really relevant here, sorry. Jenny Agutter turns up as an eye-witness who also happens to be a psychic medium, who tries to help Powell get some answers. Joseph Cotten turns up now and then as a priest.
Despite being directed by British actor David Hemmings (Of “Blowup” and “Barbarella” fame), despite having a solid cast full of local (Sumner, Angela Punch-McGregor) and international talent (including Powell, Agutter, and the last big screen performance by one of Hollywood’s finest, Cotten), despite being the first Australian film to have a budget of more than $1 Million, and despite being based on a novel by well-known schlock writer James Herbert, this 1981 Aussie supernatural story (set and filmed in Adelaide) has remained little-known. That’s a shame, because this “Twilight Zone”-like film has its moments (though some of it is awfully “Omen”-esque), and hey, you could do a lot worse if you ask me (“Turkey Shoot” anyone?).
Powell is excellent, and well-chosen in the lead role, a sort of British version of Michael Keaton or Jeff Goldblum (a dark intensity is shared between the three), with just a hint of Christopher Lee’s untrustworthiness. Also well-cast is Agutter, though the film is a shameful waste of one of cinema’s most versatile actors, Cotten, who was hopefully not paid by the word in this pointless role. Strange to see the normally wonderfully hammy Sumner in such a serious, low-key role, but I suppose he’s OK for what he is asked to do.
The cinematography by Oscar-nominee John Seale (“Rain Man”, “Gallipoli”, “The Hitcher”, “Gorillas in the Mist”) is a major plus, too, even in the darker scenes it looks superb. The crash scene itself is pretty good, and was probably a big deal in the Australian film industry at the time, I’m sure this scene alone took a fair amount of time, money, and effort. The score by the usually irritating synth-heavy Brian May (no, not that Brian May. This is the guy who scored “Mad Max”, “Thirst” and “Gallipoli”) sounds more orchestral this time, though the synth does kick in after a while, unfortunately and it’s annoying.
There’s a nice throat slashing here, but it seems oddly placed in what is otherwise a supernatural, ESP thriller. But anyway, of all the Aussie genre films from the late 70s and early 80s, this is one of the more intriguing from a pretty crappy period. Powell and Agutter play very interesting, “X-Files”-ish roles, and the story itself is a quite fascinating one. It deserved more than the flat treatment Hemmings gives it. Agutter’s role is worth singling out because it’s surprising that given her role is mostly made up of reaction shots (to events either real, imagined, or psychically ‘sensed’), she manages to make it entirely watchable and not dull. Where’d she go to anyway? I remember her in “Child’s Play 2” and “Darkman” in 1990, but that’s the last I saw of her until a cameo in John Landis’ “Burke and Hare” in 2011. Produced by Anthony I. Ginnane (“Harlequin”, “Thirst”, “Race to the Yankee Zephyr”), this was one of several Aussie genre films that generally involved either Hemmings (directing this and “Race to the Yankee Zephyr”, producing “Turkey Shoot” and the kiwi flick “Dead Kids”/“Strange Behaviour”, and acting gigs in “Harlequin”, and “Thirst”), or Powell (this, “Harlequin”) in some capacity. With a screenplay by David Ambrose (“Amityville 3-D”, “D.A.R.Y.L.”), it’s clear that one M. Night Shyamalan must’ve been aware of Herbert’s story (if not the film) when making his rather similar “Unbreakable”. I refuse to believe otherwise.