Review of Amelia

Review of Amelia written by Ron Bass and directed by Mira Nair
Rating ***

Poster Art

Amelia is a solid bio picture that doesn't quite reach the same level as Martin Scorsese's The Aviator. Still, it is a movie worth seeing.

For the past few months I've been stuck in the late twenties and thirties. First there was the book The Lost City of Z, which told the story of explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest to find a lost city in the Amazon. Then there was the book Fordlandia, which also took place in the Amazon during the same period as Amelia. I've moved on now to the forties with Hunting Eichmann.

The film Amelia is about fame as much as it is about Amelia Earhart. Her story is an example of how publicity and the right slant can catapult someone into the spotlight. She was at the right place at the right time and happened to meet the right person, George Putnam. Her initial claim to fame was that she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. The fact that she was a passenger didn't seem to make much difference. She was promoted as Lady Lindy and a star was born.

Amelia was an aviator and could easily have spent time at the controls to lend the venture more authenticity. No one was more aware of the lack of credibility than Amelia. One way to alleviate her concerns was to do something spectacular. Her answer was to be the first woman to fly solo around the world. She relented on the solo part and agreed to allow navigator Fred Noonan to accompany her. The film is framed between this momentous flight. 

Part of the problem with Amelia is the lack of conflict. What conflict there is comes across as manufactured. It isn't until she sets off on her around the world flight that the film picks up steam. Knowing that she doesn't make it adds a real sense of conflict.

Hilary Swank is perfect in the role of Amelia. She makes the most of what little the script gives her to work with. Richard Gere as George Putnam also does a fine job. Everything else about the film is top notch: the sets, period costumes, cinematography, and score. The flight scenes, however, look CGI.

So what happened to Amelia Earhart? As a pilot, I have a good sense of what was going on inside the cockpit. And the filmmakers got this part wrong. More on that in a minute. But the reality is that she was betting everything on her ability to find a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. If she were off just a few degrees on her heading, which is an almost certainty, she would have been miles off course. Flying low as she was would have made it even more difficult to spot Howland island. Once they reached the distance where Howland island should have been, she started flying a north south track in hopes of finding the island. What happened next is speculation. The most likely scenario is that she simply ran out of fuel and ditched. Another possibility, that has a level of credibility, is that she was able to ditch near a deserted atoll some 300 miles south of Howland. Some artifacts found on the atoll might prove to be from Amelia and her navigator. A search for more evidence is planned. Click here for more information.

The last few minutes of the film are of Amelia searching unsuccessfully for Howland island. The filmmakers portrayed this scene with Noonan sitting in back and with no communication between the two. I can tell you that Noonan would have been up front with Amelia searching for that island. This was a missed opportunity to ratchet up the tension. There's no way that he would have been sitting in the back looking through the small window that he had.

I do give the filmmakers credit for including actual archival footage of Amelia at the end of the film. The black and white footage was an appropriate way to bring the story to conclusion.

Lastly, while Amelia's attempt to fly around the world was admirable, there happens to be another solo attempt going on right now. Sixteen-year-old Jessica Watson is attempting to become the youngest person to sail solo around the globe. You can follow her progress on her blog.

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