“Ground Control” – A Plane Disaster Movie That Had Potential But Descends into Predictability

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 Ground Control (Richard Howard, 1998). This was one of two films that came out in 1998 that related to air traffic control – the other being Blackout Effect. The following is a summary for Ground Control on IMDb about the movie:

Chicago air traffic controller Jack Harris is a wreck with guilt nightmares after a major airplane crash that killed all 174 aboard. He gives up the job and designs air traffic control games in Phoenix. Five years later, his ex-colleague T.C. Bryant, also transferred to Phoenix, desperately asks him to help out short-term, given desperate staff shortage on New Year’s Eve with a bad storm predicted. A power outage hits, and the storm has caused their workload to multiply. Colleagues welcome him in very different states of mind but he quickly proves his capabilities, alas then the fatal memories start creeping up again: will his lack of self-confidence cause another drama? 


As I discussed in relation to United 93, there were many movies that apparently dealt with plane crashes that didn’t ultimately into my study as there was no actual plane crash in the end. Ground Control is somewhat unusual in that much of the movie fits with those other plane crash disaster movies in that the thrust is about how disaster is avoided. However, Ground Control is different as its starting point is a plane crash. How the protagonist responds to this has the potential for a great movie – sadly, in my view, the movie doesn’t deliver as it descends into other ‘plane crash’ movie clichés.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, Ground Control has only 10 out of the 17. A large reason for this is due to the book-ending of the film with the actual disaster and the non-disaster. By not showing the build up to the first disaster, it misses the chance to cover many of the usual conventions. But not having the second disaster, the possibility of those conventions being considered has to be taken away.

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