Movies



David Whitley takes a look at why standards plummet the moment you start watching a film on a plane 

A totally different set of standards applies when you’re in the air. You’ll sit cramped into a seat that you’d not allow near your living room. You’ll scoop iffy-looking food from a tray that’s far too low down, inevitably spilling it all over your clothes. You’ll end up reading any scrap of paper that happens to be in the seat pocket in order to stave off boredom.

Nowhere is this deviation of standards more true than in-flight entertainment. Standards in films and television shows will generally plummet when you’re on a plane.

As a general rule, I’m pretty fussy about what films I’ll watch. I don’t like wasting two hours of my life on something crushingly mediocre. If I’m going to the cinema or putting a DVD on, I want to be watching something great or damn near great. I usually like thinky films with sweeping narrative arcs, crackling dialogue and enough inventive twists to keep me gripped.

Put me on a plane, however, and I’ll sit and watch any old crap. Planes really don’t lend themselves to involved, thinky films – often the dialogue is drowned out by the sound of the engines, and being on a plane offers a rare chance to park the brain and switch off.

Therefore, instead of ploughing headway into some complicated German thriller, I’ll end up watching the sort of explosion-filled, mindless nonsense that I usually hate. Or, even worse, a by-numbers romantic comedy. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I ended up quite enjoying Friends With Benefits starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis on a recent flight. That’s surely unforgivable.

It’s the same with TV shows. The best in-flight entertainment programmes these days will have half a dozen episodes of the same show, and I’ll often find myself just sitting through whichever series has the most episodes available. Sometimes this leads to wonderful discoveries – I found 30 
Rock this way, and Modern Family is reasonably good too. Sometimes it’s just awful – hello New Girl or Big Bang Theory – but I’ll just sit there watching it anyway, simply because it’s there and it’ll take more effort to change over and work out what else to watch.

I suspect this phenomenon is almost entirely responsible for the enduring popularity of Mr Bean – a programme that has surely never been watched outside of an aeroplane environment. It also makes me think that Hollywood studios could make good profits solely by concentrating on utterly undemanding films that are designed to be watched on planes. 

Or maybe they already are?