|Last Flight of Noah's Ark, The|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 29 June 1999|
When Ron Miller, Walt Disney's son in law, took over the company, he began making movies with bigger stars than his uncle had usually employed (except for the stars created by Disney itself). Elliott Gould in this movie, for example, instead of Dean Jones. He wanted the movies to have more edge, more adult appeal, and to a slight degree, he succeeded, but mostly he failed. THE LAST FLIGHT OF NOAH'S ARK is more watchable than most Disney movies released during Miller's reign, but it's not as lively and ingratiating as the (even) more kid-oriented movies that preceded it, and certainly not as adult as the movies the studio made when Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over some years later.
LAST FLIGHT is pleasant enough to while away a lazy afternoon, but it really isn't about much of anything, and mostly seems cobbled from elements of better, earlier films. A little touch of AFRICAN QUEEN, some ideas from FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, with two little kids thrown in for the Disney franchise. The Anchor Bay DVD is notably lacking in extras -- there isn't even a trailer. But that's okay; it's not going to be a major purchase for anyone other than Disney, Gould or Geneviève Bujold completists. If there are any.
This was made well after Gould's brief stay at the top of stardom, when he made so many indifferent movies one after the other than he blew out his own star's fire. In a lot of these films (anyone watched MOVE lately?), Gould displayed a kind of smirky, knowing, ain't-I-cute attitude that became extremely irritating; by 1973, he was close to being washed up. But he did retain some star flavor, so Miller cast him in this (and THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN, too). He's dropped the smartass style, but at this point hadn't yet found the acting chops to replace it. Nowadays, he can be a fine supporting player when he has the right material.
He's Noah Dugan who, in a very long pre-credits sequence, we learn is a down-on-his-luck pilot hounded by leg-breakers intent on collecting gambling debts. He's forced into taking whatever job he can, which means he agrees to fly a planeload of animals from Southern California to a South Pacific island on behalf of a missionary group. (The flight itself seems highly unlikely: he doesn't have a copilot or any evident flight plan, and they don't have to refuel.)
Bujold is Bernadette Lafleur, a missionary who's hoping to use the animals -- chickens, a Brahma bull, some ducks, etc. -- to help the islanders improve their economy. I wasn't clear on why there was a group of young orphans at the plane to see the animals off; their orphanage was probably run by the same religious group.
Anyway, two of these kids, Bobby (Ricky Schroder) and Julie (Tammy Lauren), who are especially fond of certain of the animals, stow away as the plane takes off just ahead of Dugan's creditors.
Bernadette is a hands-off, prickly near-spinster, while Dugan is a scruffy rascal. Naturally, having seen THE AFRICAN QUEEN, we know they will fall in love with each other, but at first this doesn't seem to likely. Bernadette is familiar enough with planes to fly them, but unfamiliar enough to know that her portable radio, hung on the dashboard, will deflect their autopilot's compass. The plane goes way off course; it runs out of fuel, and Dugan has to put down on a presumably uninhabited tropical island.
This doesn't seem to trouble any of them as much as you'd expect; the kids are happy to play in the surf, and Dugan and Bernadette don't even worry enough to describe their attitude as resigned to their fate. Maybe they read the script.
As seems to be the case with most such islands in movies, it was held by the Japanese during World War II; Japanese soldiers Hiro (Yuki Shimoda) and the cutely-named Cleveland (John Fujioka) have been living there ever since, unaware the war is long over. But this is a Disney movie, so soon everyone is getting along just fine. And the two Japanese, who are somewhat stereotyped, suggest that by turning the plane over, caulking the cracks and removing the wings and engines, it can be converted into a boat that can take them to civilization.
The two children, of course, insist that the animals be brought along as well; otherwise, the title wouldn't be fulfilled.
Director Charles Jarrott maintains a smooth, flowing pace; it's never dull, but it's also rarely exciting. Even the launching of the plane-into-boat doesn't carry any charge. Only an encounter with a shark later on injects some zest into the proceedings, particularly when the shark looms up in the window of the cockpit, now upside down and underwater.
The original story is credited to aviation novelist Ernest K. Gann, while the screenplay was by Steven W. Carabatsos and George Arthur Bloom & Sandy Glass. The script falls far too neatly into three acts: before the landing, after the landing, and after the launch of the converted plane. This rigid three-act structure has damaged better movies than THE LAST FLIGHT OF NOAH'S ARK, and doesn't help this one at all. This rigid division will be noticeable even to children, especially when what promises to be the most thrilling section, the boat ride back to civilization (represented by Waikiki Beach, which is too civilized), is the most boring part of the movie. Even when the supposedly lovable Brahma bull falls ill kids will be wondering what's on regular TV.
Much of the movie was shot at the gorgeous Allerton Gardens on the island of Kauai, but the production doesn't take sufficient advantage of the location, sticking mostly to the attractive beach area. This, however, is typical of this unexceptional but harmless adventure: it never gets around to living up to its potential. It's a polite, tidy adventure; even Dugan isn't particularly colorful, except for his addiction to cigars. His by-the-book arguments with Bernadette carry no more impact than their abrupt realization that they are in love.
For a go-along-to-get-along movie, THE LAST FLIGHT OF NOAH'S ARK is harmless enough, but the budget was high enough, and the potential rich enough, for a far more interesting movie, even by 1980 Disney standards.