“Blackout Effect” – Surprisingly Good Air Traffic Control Disaster Movie

In the next of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I am writing about Blackout Effect (Jeff Bleckner, 1998), also known as 747. This was one of two films that came out in 1998 that related to air traffic control. The following is a summary for Blackout Effect on IMDb about the movie:

There has been a mid-air collision involving a passenger jet and a cargo flight, killing everyone aboard the two planes. The NTSB investigator in charge, whose girlfriend died in the crash, is puzzled. On one side, the air traffic controller claims he lost radar contact with the cargo plane shortly before impact, when his screen “blacked out.” On the other side, everyone else, including the controller’s bosses and the media, put the blame on human error. The truth is soon to be uncovered, as the aging air traffic control facilities are on the verge of failing right in the middle of the busy Thanksgiving season.


While the other 1998 release, Ground Control, was a cinema-release, Blackout Effect was a TV movie. This would usually mean lower quality (due to budget restrictions, for example), but I would rate Blackout Effect quite a bit higher than Ground Control and (at the time of writing) the average is also higher (5.9 compared to 5.7). Although not primarily about air traffic control, like these two movies, another that features air traffic control is the excellent Aftermath (although this currently has a similar average of 5.6)

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, Blackout Effect has 13 out of the 17. Of the four that were missing, one was unsurprising as due to the way the story happens; there was, understandably very little opportunity for optimism. This was one of many movies where I wondered how to handle the convention of ‘Contemporary significance’. In the end, I decided that this one, despite the importance of air traffic control systems, did not have contemporary significance due to the lack of actual accidents such as this around 1998 and that the nature of the story was, seemingly, quite unique. As with previous discussions about ‘science fiction’ (see for example The Core), the boundary between what does or does not fit is not always as clear as one would like it to be.

4 Comments Add yours

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