Andy's Anachronisms
Time Travel Film Reviews

Dead Aviators (1999)
Also known as: Restless Spirits

Directed by David Wellington

The Basic Plot

In an attempt to beat Lindbergh in his quest to be the first to complete a non-stop transatlantic flight from Paris to New York, two French aviators, Liteutenant Chales Nungesser (Lothaire Bluteau) and his navigator, Francois Coli (Michel Monty) set of from Paris in 1927 in their plane, L'Oiseau Blanc. Their flight ends when dense fog causes them to crash land in Porter's Pond, Newfoundland. Wounded the pilot and navigator try desperately to rescue their downed plane from the pond and complete the race.

Fast forward to the year 1999. Katie, a troubled twelve year old and her six year old brother Simon, are left in the care of their grandmother in Porter's Point, Newfoundland while their widowed mother travels to Paris to spend time with her boyfriend. Still suffering the emotional pain from the death of her father several years earlier, Katie is a rebellious pre-teen who lashes out at her grandmother and mother while alienating the local neighbourhood children who try to befriend her.

While wandering near Porter's Pond one evening, Katie encounters the aviators as they pull themselves from the pond fresh from the crash. They plead for Katie to help them. Confused and scared Katie runs off thinking to two are ghosts after she passes through one accidentally. Over the next few days Katie learns more about the legends of the ghosts of Porter's Pond and returns to talk to the two aviators. Katie learns that the two aviators are trapped in some form of time loop that causes them to relive the crash each time the fog rolls in. Each time they experience the crash as if for the first time forgetting any contact they may have had with people such as Katie during earlier crashes.

The Analysis

This Canadian made-for-TV movie aired in August of 1999 on Showtime in the USA under the title Restless Spirits. As Dead Aviators it only made its Canadian debut on CBC in October of 1999.

Whether the pair are ghosts or are temporally out of sync with their own time is uncertain. Katie reluctantly agrees to help the pair complete their mission. Her mission becomes more urgent as a group of American aviation researchers visit the area to look for the lost plane.

An entertaining family movie about loss and growing up, Dead Aviators successfully manages to incorporate elements of time travel while telling a classical ghost story. In addition to the time loop, the other element that suggested the spirits were out of time and not necessarily dead, was their inability to touch anything more recent than 1927. In one such scene, Katie asks them to join her in a raft to look for the lost plane, Lt. Nungesser steps into the raft only to plunge through the raft into the pond. An interesting time travel concept, this also reinforces the common belief that ghosts are capable of passing through solid objects such as walls.

The ending of the story lead me to believe that the aviators rejoined their own time line and that they may have completed their flight safely. While the ending was satisfying on its own, I think from a time travel standpoint it might have been more satisfying had their been some more tangible indication that the pair had survived the crash and completed their journey. Perhaps Katie and her brother could have discovered a newspaper article from the 1920's with the aviators telling their fantastic story of being helped by some small children to rescue their plane. Alternatively, Katie might have received a letter from a descendant of one of the aviators thanking them for their help.

While it is not uncommon for ghost stories to contain elements of time travel themes in them (e.g. contrasting cultures from different time periods), I felt that Dead Aviators shed new light on an old subject. The movie successfully suggested that the aviators might be out of sync with their own time and only appear to be ghosts to those living in the present.

With good performances throughout, especially by the two aviators, the movie was thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it for a family audience any day.

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