TV film review: Stephen King’s The Langoliers (1995), directed by Tom Holland
When we came across this on some obscure free movie channel, the Squeeze went “ooh, The Langoliers!” so we flicked over, and about half an hour had gone into the first (of two) parts. Wanting to see it from the beginning, equal parts because he went “ooh” and the fact it had Patricia Wettig and Bronson Pinchot, I changed channels and went back to it in time for the start on +1.
The Langoliers tell the story of an airplane. It’s a routine flight, everything seems perfectly normal, but as it’s from the mind of Stephen King, of course it’s nowhere near normal. Mid-air, a blind girl (Kate Maberly, who, funnily enough, played Mary Lennox in the ’90s adaptation of The Secret Garden) wakes up to find her auntie isn’t there. In fact, no one seems to be.
Not quite true, a few people are there, but only a handful. The rest of the people – passengers AND crew – are gone without a trace. The only things left are jewellery and things like false teeth, pacemakers and wigs. The only people left were all asleep. But where are they, and why is there no contact with ground control? Why are the radio waves completely silent?
Fortunately, one of the people on board is an airline pilot (David Morse), who was on his way to Boston because his ex wife had just died, so at least they’ve got someone to fly the plane. The rest of this motley crew include a school teacher (Patricia Wettig) on her way to meet someone she met through a lonely hearts ad, an aggressive yuppie (Bronson Pinchot), a Stephen King avatar mystery writer (Dean Stockwell, a sci-fi legend) and a British guy (Mark Lindsay Chapman) who could have been in Spooks, know-what-I-mean. There’s also a generic Young Man, a Troubled Young Woman, a Blue Collar Worker and a Hungry Old Man, but they don’t get to do or say a lot that’s terribly interesting and just feel a bit like fillers.
They manage to fly to Bangor in Maine and land at the international airport, and it’s also completely void of life. The beers are flat, the sandwiches have even less taste than normal, and the air just smells funny. Oh, and there’s that noise, that weird noise. The yuppie, who was on the brink of a massive breakdown, has a complete mental breakdown and starts having flashbacks of his childhood, where his father pushed him too hard to succeed and if he wouldn’t succeed, the Langoliers would come and get him, as they come and get all lazy children. Could the Langoliers be what’s causing the noise? Aren’t they just supposed to be something you scare children with so that they perform better at school?
The story plays out in two parts of about two hours each, so it’s a bit low key. If you’re expecting action action action, this isn’t it. There are parts where the pace goes from casually sauntering (while still being interesting to watch, mind) to running like hell, but for the main part, it’s fairly low key and more about the characters and how they interact with each other.
Overall, I enjoyed it. Not the best thing in the world, admittedly, and the characters felt rather clichéd. The Manly Man and the Womanly Woman. The Junkie on the way to rehab. The Blind Kid who turns out to have psychic powers (like you do). The Neurotic Yuppie with daddy issues. The Heroic Pilot. Yawn.
I think the story fails to explain exactly how people who weren’t asleep or unconscious managed to be wiped out of existence by, erm, certain turn of events, and what the Langoliers are and what they’re doing makes sense (in ways that make no sense at all, if you think about it – what about all the historic buildings and stuff?) but maybe I over-analyse things.
On the plus side, Mark Lindsay Chapman really isn’t ugly, Patricia Wettig is very good (but surely better than this?) and they make a good-looking couple. Kinda like, you know, her with her real-life hubby. Bronson Pinchot some might recognise as Balki from the old comedy show Perfect Strangers, but I know him better as French-Canadian beautician Jean-Luc Rieupeyroux in Step by Step. He’s a funny guy and he does the neurotic businessman character with a certain level of … insanity. You expect him to go and do something funny, and then he doesn’t (as such).
But yeah, if you have 3-4 hours to spare and nothing else to do … why not?
2.5 out of 5 airplanes.