Back in 1918, Edgar Anscombe (Christopher Reeve) was a pilot training men to fly for the United States Army, and he was known for his patience with even the trickiest recruits, such as the one who finally caused him to leave the services. He had just coaxed the student into landing the biplane, which he had done poorly, but the young man persuaded Edgar straight after that he was keen to try again. This proved fateful, as while in the air there was trouble which resulted in the plane crashing - the tutor managed to crawl free, while the cause of the accident was killed in the resulting explosion. Go forward ten years and Edgar had withdrawn from life, dedicating himself to flying mail over isolated regions...
The Aviator was more or less forgotten about come the time Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio brought out their much lauded movie of the same name; were there any fans of the 1985 opus who thought they had a cheek using the same title? Whatever, it marked the beginning of a run of flops for star Christopher Reeve which would see his fame rest more or less completely on being the man who played Superman so successfully, though even that was a reputation slightly tarnished by one of those failures being his final attempt at the role. Tragically, he was mounting a comeback in the movies at the point he was paralysed in a riding accident, and it would have been interesting to see if he could have reclaimed his previous status.
Certainly everyone knew about him post-accident, which is a terrible way to be back in the public eye once more, but his choices in the mid-eighties were curious, as if he was keen to prove he could act and had a serious side, as much to himself as to other people. Not short of cash, one of his hobbies was flying, which was undoubtedly what attracted him to this film when he could do his own stunts, and there is a neat shot of him at the controls of his character's mail plane taking off and zooming into the sky, performed without a cut so we were in no doubt that it was the star who was soaring through the air; other shots saw director George Miller (the other one, not the Mad Max one) put a camera on Reeve as he flew above the scenery.
Yugoslavian scenery in this case, and if nothing else the landscape was well-used in The Aviator, though as an adventure it remained oddly unexciting: it's little wonder audiences got this mixed up with the Tom Selleck flop High Road to China from the same point in the era, it had little to distinguish itself, not even as the Indiana Jones imitation Selleck could lay claim to. This wasn't a one man show, however, as Edgar has to take a passenger with him on the movie's central flight, and she is grumpy heiress Tillie Hansen, played by an actress who was becoming one of the faces of the eighties as her cult following grew, Rosanna Arquette. Here she got to do what everyone else in the film did, act bad tempered and as if she wanted to be somewhere else.
Not the easiest to get on with if you were hoping for a charming throwback to the adventures of the nineteen-twenties and thirties, since it took almost the whole movie for anyone to admit they liked anyone else, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert this was not. If there had been wit and good humour in the script, then perhaps it would have performed better with audiences, something to respond to as there were not even all that many stunts, most of this seemingly made up of terse conversations. One action setpiece saw Edgar crash his plane on the mountains through no fault of his own (or Tillie's), thus triggering the real reason we're watching, to see a tale of survival against the odds, but that's none too engrossing either, Miller relying far too much on that scenery and neglecting anything that would convince us the central couple would be up for romance. There were hungry wolves wandering the wilderness, but they only showed up for a couple of scenes (The Grey did this better), leaving the impression of a production with a lot of work for a halfhearted result. Music by Dominic Frontiere.
The nineties saw him offer medical drama Lorenzo's Oil (he was once a medical student) plus curious sequel Babe: Pig in the City and in the 2000s he enjoyed the international success of the animated Happy Feet and its sequel. In 2015 he successfully revived his most celebrated franchise in Mad Max: Fury Road. Not to be confused with the other Australian director George Miller.