Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Fly hard

It is not my nature to think that I am one of life’s victims. So when weird things happen to me repeatedly, I tend to assume that I am doing them to myself. Like when strange unsettling things happen just before I am about to fly somewhere.

Maybe I just notice things having to do with aviation more when my own flight is in the offing. Like when I was about to fly back to California after my year of being a student in France. Days before my flight, the worst air crash ever in the world to date occurred, involving a Turkish DC-10, flying out of Paris, which more or less exploded because a cargo door had not closed properly. This was on my mind as I sat in a DC-10 that was about to take off from Paris. As the plane gathered speed for takeoff, a voice from the cockpit could be heard all through the cabin on the PA system: “The left front door is not closed.” All eyes focused anxiously on a flight attendant who gave a halfhearted tug on the door’s handle and then shrugged, as if to say, well, that’s the best I can do. Moments later the voice from the cockpit repeated: “The left front door is still not closed.” The flight attendant shrugged again. Finally, a pilot came rushing back, forced the door open—so that we could see the runway rushing by below—and then slammed it shut again. Then he went back to the cockpit, and the rest of us waited anxiously to see if the plane held together as we climbed to cruising altitude. (It did.)

Then there was the time I was flying back to California after a year as a student in Chile. I had a couple of hours to kill in Santiago before I needed to head out to the airport and, given the sweltering heat of the February day, the logical thing to do was to find a cinema to sit in for those two hours. As it happened, the only movie I could find that started and stopped at the right times was Airport ‘77. So I spent my last few hours on the ground watching a film in which a 747 (piloted by Jack Lemmon) sinks into the sea (in the Bermuda Triangle!), landing on the bottom and trapping a passenger list that included Lee Grant, Brenda Vaccaro, Joseph Cotton and Olivia de Havilland under water, while the plane’s owner (Jimmy Stewart) fretted above. Fortunately, my own flights came nowhere as near the Bermuda Triangle.

I thought something similar might be afoot a couple of weeks ago, as we prepared for our first trip back to the U.S. in nearly two years and our first actual Thanksgiving on American soil in more than four years. As I was confirming the details of our flight from Dublin to Los Angeles on the Aer Lingus web site, I spotted bright red letters highlighting a travel advisory involving Los Angeles International Airport. Lovely, I thought to myself, what will this be? A credible terrorist threat? Extra heightened security measures making the LAX experience even more of a grind than it usually is? Or was it merely about runway repairs necessitating a five-mile bus ride from the plane to the terminal? (That actually happened to us once, allowing us a fine view of our connecting flight as it took off.) I clicked on the link to see what the major alert at Los Angeles was about. Fortunately, it was only Bruce Willis.

“Airline passengers and airport workers are advised,” read the notice, “that a major motion picture production near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) may cause delays in getting to the airport beginning this week.” It seems that the long-awaited movie Live Free or Die Hard would be doing location shooting on the streets near the airport in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Some streets were scheduled to be completely or partially blocked off at various times, as well as portions of Interstate 105. This would involve the rerouting of “approximately 300 to 350 construction trucks related to LAX’s South Airfield Improvement Project onto other streets.” Lovely. And, as if that wasn’t exciting enough, the “production company stated in its letter of intent and permit applications that it will use pyrotechnics (explosives) and ‘gunfire for the entire time’ of the filming. One helicopter is scheduled to be used during weekend filming, and ‘there will be larger explosions’ with accompanying smoke early morning of Sundays, Nov. 5 and 12.” Yes, nothing like a few explosions and buzzing helicopters to sooth the nerves of the frazzled international traveler, as he makes his way though clogged streets.

Luckily, the shooting (film and otherwise) was completed before we actually landed in Los Angeles. Things were relatively quiet by the time we got there. In fact, we have had a very lucky time with our flights on this trip. When we flew out of Los Angeles for Seattle, it was an absolutely beautiful and clear (if windy) day, and we had a great view of Ventura County as it seemed to erupt in flames all over. In fact, the weather was clear up the entire west coast, and we had a grand view of Seattle as landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The weather in Seattle was pleasant—unlike the conditions that had prevailed a few days earlier, when my cousin had flown in, just as a major storm hit the area and lightning struck her plane. She spent several hours getting home from the airport in the snow.

The word from Ireland is that they are having their storms now, and a tornado even touched down in London. The weather is certainly a worry for air travelers, but perhaps not as worrying as the fact that there is definitely going to be a fourth Die Hard movie. It took only two years for the first sequel (about terrorists taking over an airport) to the original 1988 movie to appear. It took five more years for the second sequel, and the third one is slated to appear 12 years after that one. Reportedly, Len Wiseman (director of two Underworld movies) is helming the new movie, in which Willis reprises his role of New York cop John McClane (who, incidentally, has a fear of flying). This time he will be taking on terrorists who are shutting down the United States via the internet.

I actually kind of enjoy the Die Hard movies. Willis is the epitome of the working class hero who always has to save the world because the authority figures in charge won’t listen to him in the first place. Moreover, he is a rough-around-the-edges American who is taunted and tortured by effete European villains like Alan Rickman, Franco Nero and Jeremy Irons, but who always gets the better of them in the end. In the original Die Hard, Rickman mocked Willis thusly: “You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshall Dillon?” And then he asked, “Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mister Cowboy?” to which Willis famously replied, “Yippee-ki-yay, mother******.” If any movie ever presaged American-European relations in the first decade of the 21st century, that one was it.

So, yes, I guess I can handle one more Die Hard movie. Thankfully, however, as we get ready for our flight home, there is absolutely no sign of Airport ‘06.

-S.L., 7 December 2006

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