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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, April 16

Gapers Block

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Our intrepid columnist filed the following report from London:

Airports are strange. If you'll pardon my use of an overwrought phrase: they exist outside our normal conception of time and place. Though terminal 5 at O'Hare is vast and silent at 9:00 PM on a Wednesday, it's not truly dead -- it's just resting.

Aircraft are similarly removed from our frame of reference, albeit in their own fashion. A packed Boeing 777 at 37,000 feet over the Atlantic is a compressed capsule of humanity, with customised rules and a strict societal structure (try getting past that thin curtain that separates the chickens and swine from first class). It'd undoubtedly develop into an William Golding style orgy of gore and violence were it not for a great and ever present pacifier: the seat-back personal entertainment center.

After an instructional safety video wherein the elderly and infirm calmly prepare for impact with a smile, eight movies begin playing simultaneously on various channels. Passengers choose one and commence to watch.

I'd meant to keep a list of what was proffered, but was remiss. I remember two films other than that which I selected, but this should be enough to give you a flavor for the in-flight fare of British Airways: Freaky Friday the recent remake starring Jamie Lee Curtis, and Radio wherein Cuba Gooding Jr. does his best Tom Hanks circa Forrest Gump impersonation.

Assuming the goal is to keep passengers complacent and passive, these are not appropriate selections.

But they redeemed themselves. On channel four, a closed circuit station dedicated to classic cinema, was a 3 x 5 inch screening of The Philadelphia Story with a young Jimmy Stuart, Cary Grant and an angular Katherine Hepburn.

I slouched (insofar as was possible) into my seat and relaxed. No rending of flesh necessary for this flier, I was docile and pleasant. All thanks to the program director for in-flight channel four.

Or perhaps it was the booze. Did you know that they'll give you as many vodka tonics as you want?

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Joseph J. Finn / January 16, 2004 12:57 PM

Took a flight from Dublin to Chicago once. I swear, I watched "U-571" three times and "Held Up" with Jamie Foxx and Nia Long twice. It says a lot that "Held Up" was the better movie - but I still wanted to freaking kill the Aer Lingus entertainment staff. If it hadn't been for the Waterford handball team partying to entertain me...

Ben / January 17, 2004 11:58 AM

For a while on American Airlines domestic flights I hit an unfortunate streak of Kevin Spacey flicks, making me wonder if he was a major shareholder. Worst I've ever submitted to: "Like Mike." (Massive tie for second.) Anyone see anything interesting playing on a row-mate's laptop?

Onid / January 17, 2004 2:31 PM

The last time I went to Cyprus I saw Entrapment (Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones) twice on the way there. When I was coming back to the U.S. I looked at the in-flight magazine and Joy of Joys it listed a different movie. Once in the air they put on....Entrapment. I saw ended up seeing Entrapment four and a half times. I refused to watch it mid way through the second time through the start of the third. I broke down because I had read all my books on the beach and I had read the in-flight magazine twice. The half comes in because we were about an hour or so from O'Hare and somehow the Everybody loves Raymond tape was damaged and they put in "Entrapment"...again.

tony / January 17, 2004 7:37 PM

Japan Airlines has a decent collection of movies available, but the best choice by far is the Japanese movie. I don't know why, but it's always infinitely better than whatever Hollywood-fare they offer.

Alex / January 19, 2004 1:06 AM

I assure you that watching U-571 twice in a row is not nearly as trying as an LA - Manilla - Singapore - Port Moresby flight featuring endless repeats of 'Only You' dubbed in Tagalog.

Just kidding. It wasn't in Tagalog. And yes, transpacific flights usually have lots more options - Phillipines Air is nice because they have white boy movies along with filipino movies that are sort of interesting. Since there's such a large traffic of workers from the Phillipines and South Asia to the Middle East (Air Bahrain flies to Singapore) there's often a Bollywood flick as well.

Pete / January 19, 2004 7:51 AM

The only time I ever saw "Twister" was on a flight to Denver. I didn't even bother getting the headphones. Even without sound, I could tell the plot was brutally implausible.


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