BEHIND THE CAMERA: ‘Con Air’ features one of Vegas’ most memorable movie moments
Shakespearean, it isn’t — but perhaps the Bard would have penned this line had he ever gotten his ya-yas out at TAO or Beacher’s Madhouse: “Buckle up, ladies, we’re going for a night out in Vegas!”
Nov. 11, 5:30 pm PST
Not quite “What happens here, stays here” but — as uttered by a convict-turned-pilot named “Swamp Thing” during a plane’s uncontrolled vertical dive into the Strip — it’s not a half-bad catchphrase.
Amid the 1997 actioner Con Air and its circus of cinematic mayhem, that climactic set piece with a plane full of grubby prisoners making a metal-twisting/glass-shattering/car-crushing/bodies-flying crash landing remains one of the most memorable Vegas movie moments.
Did ya know, though …
- Early versions of the script had the plane plowing into the White House, but producer Jerry Bruckheimer reportedly quipped that the cast and crew “would really rather crash into Las Vegas.” Awww, thanks guys!
- Remember that mangled hotel lobby that wound up as the impromptu arrival gate where the plane comes to rest? That was The Sands, which kindly helped out the producers by being scheduled for implosion just before Con Air began filming. After Bruckheimer persuaded the resort to briefly postpone the demolition to sync up with the filming schedule, a movie essentially assisted the destruction of a Strip landmark.
- With only one chance to get it right, the production teamed deployed 14 cameras to preserve the madness for the big screen.
- That moment of icon obliteration when the plane’s left wing nearly shears off the top of the famous Fender Stratocaster guitar sign at the Hard Rock Hotel? Of course it was a model. No hard feelings, though — the Hard Rock hosted the movie’s premiere.
- Several residents were clueless about the filming and, understandably unnerved when they glimpsed planes circling the Strip (hey, isn’t that what McCarran Airport is for?), called the cops.
- Planning the mega-stunt, the production gutted a C-123 military transport plane to make it as light as possible, and pulled it by cable at 40 mph on a 250-foot track in front of the soon-to-be-doomed Sands. Creativity and computers were tapped to do the rest, as a visual effects team constructed a miniature stretch of the Strip on which to stage the carnage, all woven together digitally.
- Logistical inaccuracy is rarely a hindrance in movies, so you’ll need to watch the fiery Strip spectacle while shrugging off these little annoyances:
- As the plane descends, it’s seen over the Strip. Then over downtown. Then over the Strip. Then over downtown. Then over the Strip, where it finally ends its wackadoodle flight.
- Though the plane begins its descent in desert daylight, it ends it in nighttime Vegas.
- When plane meets Sands, it pummels a white Corvette. Later in the sequence it hits the Corvette again from another angle. Then does it twice more. How does that sporty little number take such a hit while those lumbering, block-long limos emerge unscathed?
- Post-crash, the filming of the scene in which good-guy marshal John Cusack and good-guy convict Nicolas Cage chase bad-guy convicts John Malkovich and M.C. Gainey on a hijacked fire truck takes an interesting detour. It begins on Fremont Street, then actually races through the Second Street Tunnel — in downtown Los Angeles — before ending up back on Fremont Street.
- Critics were split on the impact of the crash scene. Sniffed the reviewer for Variety: “The big scene of the plane crashing into a casino is the worst in the film, with furious overcutting unable to disguise bad continuity, varying special effects techniques and inconsistent air speeds.” However, the San Francisco Chronicle adopted more of a que sera, sera ’tude: “It’s hard to know who is exploding, what is exploding or why they’re exploding. It’s all noise and fire and madness. And yet … the technique has a kind of purity. Someday soon, when movies are made up entirely of explosions, Con Air will be remembered as a great step forward.”
So buckle up, TV viewers. You’re going for a night out in Vegas.