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“Amelia”- (Chris)
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date:
Special Features:

Deleted scenes / 3 featurettes / news reels / additional trailers


"Amelia" is a perfectly adequate biopic, although I was hoping for more. Part of the problem is that it adheres to the conventions of the average historical drama, with moments of sweeping music, visually stunning landscapes, and voiceover narrations so perfectly placed that you can't help but feel a little manipulated. ***

They're all provided by the title character, aviation pioneer Amelia Earheart (Hilary Swank), who disappeared in July of 1937 over the Pacific as she attempted to circumnavigate the globe; her words give us no more or less than poetic musings about the freedom of flying, the beauty of the sky, and the joy of living a dream. These bits of dialogue are not badly written, but honestly, is there nothing left to say that's original? For a film about a fascinating woman who lived a very fascinating life, I was surprised at just how generic it all seemed. ***

But let's not sell this movie short. Swank is perfectly cast, not only because her physical appearance is stunningly similar to Earhart's, but also because she gives yet another wonderful performance. We see a brave, determined, and sometimes stubborn woman who wanted to pave the way for other female pilots. Granted, we pretty much already knew this; numerous written accounts, some written by Earhart, cemented our perceptions of her a long time ago. ***

Still, it's always a pleasure to see an actor taking someone else's qualities, mimicking them, and making the audience believe them. Swank has that kind of power, as she already demonstrated in films like "Boys Don't Cry" and "Million Dollar Baby." We see her as Earhart and invest in every smile, every laugh, and every line of dialogue. ***

The plot continuously shifts back and forth between her final flight and the events leading up to it, starting in 1928 with the introduction of George P. Putnam (Richard Gere). Putnam, a book publicist, was key in coordinating Earhart's flight across the Atlantic, which came at the heels of a similar flight taken by Charles Lindbergh a year earlier. While she was essentially a passenger, leaving the piloting to Wilmer Stultz (Joe Anderson) and Louis Gordon (Aaron Abrams), the flight was nonetheless an historic event, and even led to a ticker tape parade upon their return to New York City. ***

In fact, it wasn't until 1932 that Earhart finally flew solo across the Atlantic, starting in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and ending in Culmore, Northern Ireland. By then, she was actively involved in competitive flying, and we're shown the Santa-Monica-to-Cleveland Women's Air Derby of 1929, which involved a young, eager aviatrix named Elinor Smith (Mia Wasikowska). ***

Earhart was also already a celebrity at that point, gaining fame through a series of lecturing tours and product endorsements. She promoted everything from luggage to women's sportswear to chewing gum to Lucky Strike cigarettes, which was odd since she was a nonsmoker. While not exactly thrilled with the idea of being an advertising mascot, the money she earned did help finance future flying excursions. ***

In the midst of her professional career, she found herself romantically torn between Putnam and Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), the pioneer of the commercial aviation industry (he was also the father of Gore Vidal, seen as a child and much adored by Earhart). He's indeed dashing and a charmer, unlike Putnam, who seems awfully stiff and businesslike. He and Earhart, however, have already gotten married. ***

Granted, he was much more willing to be married than she was; historically, it's said that Putnam had to propose six times before Earhart finally agreed to marry him in 1931. Even then, her views remained liberal; in a written statement addressed to him, she said, "I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly." ***

Her 1937 world flight with aviator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) and their eventual disappearance are handled appropriately. The final communications between Earhart and the crew of the USGC ship "Itasca" are effectively tense, made better by the fact that the dialogue is virtually identical to the actual radio transmissions. What exactly did become of her and Noonan? ***

Two prevailing theories are equally plausible: Either Earhart's Electra ran out of fuel and sank after crashing into the South Pacific, or they landed on Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro) and eventually died of dehydration/starvation. There is evidence to support the second theory, including the discovery of a skeleton and a sextant box during a 1940 colonial expedition. It's circumstantial at best, but it's engrossing just the same. ***

If only the rest of the film were as effective. Much of "Amelia" is greatly romanticized, pretty much to the point where it seems condescending. Do we really need to hear lyrical odes to the sky, the ocean, and the adventure that is life? You expect this kind of treatment in melodramas like "Gone with the Wind," which naturally give license to epic production values and grandiose performances. Here, it feels like padding, a way to avoid delving deeper into character. ***

Special Features:

This DVD includes a selection of deleted scenes as well as three featurettes – “Additional Around the World Flying Montage,” “Making ‘Amelia,’” and “The Power of Amelia Earhart.” Also included are seven actual Movietone news reels of Earhart’s various flights. Finally, there are trailers to other Fox/MGM titles. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen format and features Dolby 5.1 Digital sound in English. ***

Final Words:

Amelia Earhart went through history as an icon of perseverance and strength, and the movie treats her the same way. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of more personal touches, like the very life experiences that molded Earhart into the image we know today. Were it not for Swank's performance and the beautiful imagery, "Amelia" probably would have fallen from the weight of its cargo.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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