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Sometimes the stories about the story are more interesting than what makes it to the big screen, Take the disappearance of Amelia Earhart during her attempt to circmnavigate the globe. Believed to had died when she missed a scheduled landing on Howland Island in the Pacific, famed flier Wiley Post maintained that he spoke to Earhart face to face, two years after she was declared dead. Said conversation confirmed that navigator Fred Noonan died in the crash that, if you believe Post, failed to kill Earhart. Then there was the story we heard back in the 70s that Earhart's Elektra was shot down by the Japanese armed forces -- , Earhart, it was alleged, was a US Navy spy and her round the world jaunt was a covert operation designed to keep tabs on the Japanese Namy. . . There have also been numerous claims of seeing the wreckage of Earhart's Lockheed Electra E10 on or near the island of Nikumaroro, more than two hours southeast of Howland (her target). All great stories but, still, that's all they are. As for the film . . .
IN SHORT: Just like a long airplane flight. Dull with a capital Zzz. [Rated PG for some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking. 111 minutes]
Granted, some aging women in our audience seemed to like the film but that's understandable. Earhart is a true icon and boy, do we wish the film story of her life was a lot more interesting than the way it is portrayed on the big screen. Not that Amelia doesn't try to make things interesting. It does. It just does so with blistering dull-ness.
Amelia is a film that works so hard to place blame for the disappearance and death of aviatrix Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) and her navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) on everyone except that pair that the resulting product had us thinking about making comparisons to Japanese kamikaze, though that would be wrong. Amelia, the film, tries so hard that it doesn't realize that it also makes the case for a theory -- one which we've never heard expressed, ever -- that Earhart was a lousy, inexperienced pilot. Consider that possibility for a moment. We'll come back to it.
How does the film make the case for inexperience? Begin with Earhart's famed first flight across the Atlantic. Yes, first. All dolled up in flying gear, Earhart was a mere passenger in this particular adventure from 1928. We only knew of her solo flight which occurred five years later. What the film tosses off to the side is that, after Charles Lindbergh's historic flight, seventeen others attempted to duplicate the feat. Zero succeeded. That Earhart made it -- let alone that she was the first woman to do so -- was a major achievement. Make no mistake about it. Would that it carried that kind of clout in the filmed version we just watched.
While Earhart took to the air with the greatest of ease, she spends most of her time at the beck and call of her manager slash book publisher, George Putnam (Richard Gere). Putnam's campaign to make Amelia into a star has led to the creation of an entirely new field of media exploitation. It is called "Public Relations" and Putnam manages to make Earhart into a media superstar by twisting the truth as far as it can go without being a flat out lie.
For example, a year after Charles Lindbergh's solo crossing of the Atlantic, Earhart was truthfully bannered in all the newspapers of the day as "The first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air!" Earhart had a legit pilot's license and Putnam had done a fine job promoting the aviatrix, barnstorming the country in air races and expositions and autograph and picture sessions. To the American people, most of whom knew Earhart the flier only through the black and white newsreels that accompanied the weekly movies, said accomplishment was just as big a deal as Lucky Lindy. Earhart was, after all, a woman . . . Upon her return to New York Earhart was given the Key to the City; feted with a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue; wrote a best selling book about her trip and followed it up with countrywide speaking tours on the lecture and vaudeville circuits of the day, It was, simply, the whole nine yards. All for a woman who put on her leather flying gear and sat in the back of an airplane, reading poetry, as two men flew the craft from New York to Europe. So the gears begin to turn in the very first "publicity machine."
Technically, Earhart was the first woman to fly New York to Europe, so the statement is as much truth as it is blatant fraud. It would take five years before Earhart legitimized the voyage and flew across the Atlantic, solo. Putnam got a book out of the trip, and Earhart stumped the country, lecturing on the vaudeville circuit, carefully hiding details of the flying routine.
Of course early air flight was incredibly dangerous. Pilot Wilmer Stutz, who actually flew Earhart across the Atlantic in 1928, though the actor has no credit, died in a crash in 1929. But that may have connected us emotionally to someone other than Earhart, so there is no mention of it. In fact, the only place crash you see in this film comes in re-created newsreel footage and the pilot walks away without a scratch. T'ain't how it works.
Amelia isn't so much about the extraordinary and barriers breaking career of Amelia Earhart as it it a simple "I'm married but neglected and there's passion to be found elsewhere" story. While Earhart's eventual husband is busy building a brand name star with endorsements up the wazoo, there are emotional needs to be met and a very attractive man called Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) who is more than willing to provide it. Vidal has a son that just adores Amelia and a powerful position in Washington that brings our heroine to the country's inner circle. There's a little night jaunt with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Cherry Jones) and the Washington elite, just to liven things up. Eleanor Roosevelt never struck us as any kind of a party animal, but that was far before our time. All this biographical material is chopped into little pieces and scattered as flashbacks during the final, round-the-world attempt.
With all the emotional sturm und drang building on the sidelines, you'd think there is some meat to dig into here, but you would be wrong. We've left a lot of material out because said material is the most interesting and surprising stuff in the whole story. Perhaps the story on screen doesn't work for guys. Perhaps angry WASPs just don't get emotional. Perhaps the film just doesn't work.
Everything about Amelia is remarkably dull and plebian. The only surprise, to us, is the presence of a character named Elinor Smith (Mia Wasikowska). Smith, as it turns out, was the real amazing pilot. She managed to stay alive and didn't marry a man who created the public relations racket and thus is known only to those who may be fanboys of the flying set. That's too bad, too. Ms. Smith, according to a too fast Google search, is still kicking at ninety something and should get the kind of acclaim that Earhart managed by dying young.
Just our opinion, of course. It's an opinion founded on a bunch of work stimulated by the presence of the Smith character in the film. That's not what a film about Amelia Earhart is supposed to do -- get us more interested in Elinor Smith -- but that's the net result of Amelia, and thus it fails.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Amelia, he would have paid . . .
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