Fred Ford (Peter Boyle) is the head of security at Pan Am, unfortunately a security system that is a mess of public relations, union rules, and corporate profit concerns. It is the setting for a disaster, and of course, this being the story of Pan Am Flight 103, that is where this obscure HBO TV movie is heading.
However, Ford is fired relatively early into the movie, and every character developed up to that point is lost. Tragedy of Flight 103 switches gears to foreign soil, including Islamic terrorists who live in apartments with only a table, chair, and a fan conveniently placed for maximum lighting effect. British employees of the airline are never fully developed, or even identified at times despite the movie focusing squarely on their efforts to stop the impending attack.
Tragedy loses its momentum, most of which carried because of the events, not necessarily the direction or performances. The profit-minded attitude of Pan Am’s owners is blunt and frustrating, even if condensed in terms of dialogue.
Tragedy is a relic of the ‘80s, a final gasp of the decade with its digitally created music and lackluster sets despite being made in 1990. A narrator is necessary to the story, yet gives the film the feel of a TV show with a cheesy re-enactment segment.
Oddly though, given the circumstances of the doomed Pan Am flight, Tragedy still carries some weight behind it. Scenes of terrorist training grounds could be present in any modern film and work as intended.
Of course, any film on airline hijackings will have to resonate, and Tragedy’s final, silent shot of the actual airliner cockpit lying in a field is somber. The cover art (released on laserdic and VHS) for this film shows a plane exploding in its final moments, while Peter Boyle and Ned Beatty look on with stern stares. Misleading for sure (the actual explosion is not represented in the film), but a sad reminder this type of threat is still out there.
There is still a purpose and message to Flight 103, and that keeps it from completely becoming the dated, flat, and mundane film it otherwise is.