Pilots, Alcohol, Hollywood and Farce


November 17, 2012

The new Denzel Washington movie,”Flight,” gets it wrong on multiple levels, from its over-the-top depiction of an alcoholic pilot, to highly unrealistic portrayal of airline cockpit procedures.

I went into the theater with an open mind, really I did. When it comes to airplanes and pilots, Hollywood never gets it right, and I knew this would be no exception. There’s a point, however, where you just can’t let things go.

And I’m not sure who gets the bigger screw-job here: viewers, who are being lied to, but who may or may not care; airline pilots, whose profession is unrealistically portrayed; or nervous flyers, whose fears this movie will only compound.

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14 Responses to “Pilots, Alcohol, Hollywood and Farce”
  1. Steve Van Swearingen says:

    Hey! Jimmy Stewart starting up the R2800 using the Coffman starter got it right in the original Flight of teh Phoenix

  2. Roger says:

    I work in IT and what you see related to that is far more of a stretch. I’m pretty sure people in almost any professional field will make the same observation.

    My work, as I suspect most of yours, is actually very long periods of quiet professionalism. It is the complete opposite of entertainment. Doing the various things shown are usually completely impossible, certainly impractical, and if done would take months or years.

    But of course people want to be entertained, they want to be frightened, they want frequent progress to be made, they want the complete opposite of how things actually are. And the entertainment industry delivers!

    But Pushing Tin was a documentary right :-)

  3. Beauzeaux says:

    I used to work in the New York City subways and every movie that touches on the trains gets it wrong, wrong, wrong. (The original “Taking of Pelham 1-2-3″ actually got a few things right — making it the exception that proves the rule.)

    I’m convinced that movies never get anyone’s job right. Does anyone believe that cops/lawyers/doctors/any other profession act like they do in movies? In IT now and Roger is right. Computers in the movies are AMAZING! If only real computers were that easy and fast!

  4. Tod says:

    I can handle movies getting it wrong with flying but a lot of so called documentaries are just as bad if not worse.

  5. Stacy says:

    If Hollywood made movies that were realistic, nobody would ever go. One of the American embassy staff in Teheran who escaped to the Canadian embassy went to see the movie “Argo” and said it wasn’t anything like real-life (they got out without a hitch), but the movie was very suspenseful and exciting: “I was on the edge of my seat wondering if we made it out.” I’m a lawyer and if they made a movie that depicted an actual trial, not a soul would make it out awake.

  6. Jeff Latten says:

    It appears that once again, the movie makers have assumed that the movie-going public are a bunch of morons and they might have a point there. To me, a good story is a good story and doesn’t need ridiculous violations of reality to make it gripping. By the same logic, putting in such absurd details just points to the lack of a good story. Example of a great movie with a story with few stretches: “A Simple Plan” with Bill Paxton. So I guess the movie moguls just figure that Denzel is enough and the story can be a implausible as they can make it. And I have to agree with your assessment that this will probably scare the snot out of many travelers.

  7. flymike says:

    Denzel is going for the hat trick: train wreck engineer movie first, then drunken airplane pilot, then . . . ship captain who puts his huge new cruise ship on the rocks? Oh wait, that’s already been done in real life. Still, someone will make a movie about it.

  8. Tom says:

    As a former pilot (minimal hours) I find it interesting to read these comments…… and Patrick’s critique…… and agree with it all. Only question for Patrick and other airline guys….. how do you go from a stuck elevator that has you in a dive and then invert the plane and fly level?? These big planes don’t fly very well inverted with or without jammed controls. That part of the story is beyond a stretch….. did I miss something at the NTSB hearing at the end of the movie?

  9. Ross Aimer says:

    Patrick,
    I went to see “Flight” all prepared to be disappointed. The flying parts were awful as I expected but I thought Denzel’s acting and the story of drug and alcohol addiction was great.
    I’ve done a few aviation movies as a T/A (Technical Assistant) to the Director. They paid me good money but rarely listened to my critique.
    Average folks have no idea about intricacies of aviation. Movie makers want to make things exciting and sell their movies. They really don’t care if you and I and a few pilots in the theater get upset when we see something that is technically impossible or totally unrealistic.
    The funny thing is that the average movie goer is now convinced we do our best flying after a night of wild sex, drugs and alcohol binging. I just wished some of that were true! :-)

  10. Elizabeth Matheson says:

    Realistic or not, this is a hard film to watch and not because of the subject matter. It’s an exercise in futility, especially because we all know how it’s going to end up. After an interesting, if not plausible beginning, the story slows to a crawl with scene after scene of pointless exposition, trying to paint Whip as a well-meaning guy who “just has a problem.” His problem IS the problem, giving audiences no one to root for or even in any way identify with. It feels like an after-school special, complete with “the more you know” lessons learned just in case it wasn’t obvious “that alcohol can be bad” after 138 minutes.

  11. Brett says:

    A quick google search tells you that pilots in the USA have regular random drug tests. A pilot like the one in Flight would find it hard to exist under such a testing regime.

    This is just another Hollywood movie where the movie machine insults the intelligence of the viewer. Pathetic

  12. Scott Hawthorn says:

    I finally saw this movie. I’m not a pilot but I know a few things. I almost hit ‘stop’ right when they were climbing out, the airspeed indicator read something like 360 KNOTS, fer crissakes, and the first officer was screaming, “OVERSPEED!” Hee hee, possibly the most fictional depiction ever! Whatever happened to expert consultants on movies?

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