Although films can be art, most movies are
primarily entertainment which exploit our emotions.
I saw a lot of “art” and “experimental” films during
my school years, but as I grew up into the so-called
real world, I lost interest in them as well as the
“Hollywood” variety which no linger seemed that
entertaining, much less very credible.
I also stopped watching television. The incessant
advertising became unbearable.
The internet, of course, came along and provided
an enormous choice for news, opinion, and the arts
and entertainment that might be more relevant —
and usually, but not always, minus the din of
intrusive commercial messaging.
I have now had the opportunity to rediscover some
of the few movies that, while not perfect, made a
difference to me when premiered, and still seem to
have enduring qualities.
Of course, favorite films (as distinct from “best”
films) are always chosen personally and
subjectively, and my list probably is not the same
as anyone else’s, but I think the 1997 Hollywood film
Air Force One with Harrison Ford is, under present
circumstance, worth a discussion.
A dramatic political thriller involving the hijacking
of the president’s plane employed some outstanding
acting; extraordinary, if somewhat exaggerated, plane
technology; some occasionally incredible film action
scenes; and a superb Jerry Goldsmith film score
highlighted by a very uplifting theme which
resounds through the film like a leitmotif. The film’s
hero, the president, is idealized at a time when the
presidency had taken a series of negative directions —
with the Kennedy assassination, Nixon resignation, and
Clinton impeachment. Harrison Ford plays an Air Force
combat pilot turned politician whose political views
and party are unknown, and are ignored by the film’s
preoccupation with the single event of the presidential
plane being hijacked by a rogue communist general’s
supporters who wish to free him from a post-Soviet
Russian prison where he is being held.
At the Hollywood level, it’s a melodramatic yet rather
ingenious script touching on a lot of American sensitive
emotions, while providing a fast-paced thriller screen
play. I will leave detailed judgments of this aspect of
the movie to more film-knowledgeable critics.
At the level of the film’s more enduring significance,
however, I think this film, a quarter of a century old,
merits some contemporary consideration for what it
assumes — juxtaposed to the assumptions of today.
The title and main location of the film, Air Force One,
displays the underlying themes and fundamental
assumption of the movie. The plane itself is
ultimately destroyed, but it continuity is defined by
its purpose as being the vehicle which transports a
U.S. president. Individual planes and presidents
come and go, but the institutions remain, so that
when, at the film’s end, the president is rescued
aboard a minor military plane, it becomes “Air
That continuity was the reassuring inspiration of
the movie in 1997 when the republic’s two centuries
of growth and survival seemed unquestionable and
limitless. In 2023, after 9/11, Hillary Clinton, Donald
Trump, and Joe Biden, those certainties have been
shaken, and not just by political personalities, and
the polarization of voters to one side or another, but
also by a stalemated war in Ukraine, a chronic
confrontation in the Middle East, and by the
suddenly emergent direct threat from China — all
of which has been complicated by the almost-sudden
influence of exponentially changing technologies of
computers and the internet, artificial intelligence,
smart phones and more.
For those who saw the film when it was first released
25 years ago, or those who have not yet seen it, it
might be worth seeing it now (via various venues
including DVD or internet streaming, including free
with ads) to see how the mood and values of the
nation have changed. It’s not Citizen Kaine or
Casablanca or Gone With The Wind, but I think it’s
Copyright (c) 2023 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.