More than a decade ago, Fox reality guru Mike Darnell flirted with airing a TV special built around crashing an airplane in the desert. For various reasons — among them objections by aviation authorities — it never happened. Discovery Channel found a way to skin that cat by mounting the stunt in Mexico, and airing “Plane Crash” under its more prestigious “Curiosity” banner, associated with the likes of physicist Stephen Hawking. “Morbid curiosity” would be more accurate, which is where this two-hour project — unconvincingly positioned as an “audacious” experiment — hits its own patch of turbulence.
Of course, the particulars are almost incidental. Given how being aboard a wounded plane represents such a deep-seated fear, there’s a likelihood the title alone will be a potent ratings draw. Still, those who tune in for the pyrotechnics will have to wait almost as long as they would for an international flight before the main event.
That’s because the first 90 minutes of “Plane Crash” bog down in logistics and gear-head tech chatter, as eggheads rhapsodically discuss what we might learn from having cameras and wired-up crash dummies aboard to monitor what transpires inside the doomed jet. They also spend considerable time on trifles (to the viewer, if not the production team) like precisely how the pilots parachute out, and the creatives’ search for a small plane fast enough to tail and operate the vacated bird by remote control.
Fair enough, but all most folks will really want to see is the big bang, and secondarily discover if the research makes good on answering questions like that posed by narrator Josh Charles, who asks, “Can we do anything to improve our odds of survival?”
Without giving everything away, suffice to say the conclusions aren’t as explosive as one might have hoped, and it feels like there’s a lot of padding to milk the suspense.
In that respect, “Plane Crash” is about half what you’d expect: A ho-hum takeoff, yes, but by the time they finally get around to it, not much of a landing either.
Somewhere, Mike Darnell should be smiling.