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The Last Flight of Noah's Ark - Disney DVD Review

The Last Flight of Noah's Ark

Theatrical Release: June 25, 1980 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Charles Jarrott

Cast: Elliott Gould (Noah Dugan), Geneviève Bujold (Bernadette Lafleur), Ricky Schroder (Bobby), Vincent Gardenia (Stoney), Tammy Lauren (Julie), John Fujioka (Cleveland), Yuki Shimoda (Hiro), John P. Ryan (Coslough), Dana Elcar (Benchley), Ruth Manning (Charlotte Braithwaite)

The opening credits for The Last Flight of Noah's Ark don't show up for nearly twenty minutes. This unusual start is one of the few things that distinguishes this 1980 Disney film, which is otherwise pretty routine and unspectacular.

The film sets up its standard money-owing premise immediately. In just over one minute, we learn that fast-living Noah Dugan (Elliott Gould), who has been betting on horse races, now has 24 hours to come up with $5,000 and a week to come up with more. Since he can't get a job anywhere due to his reputation and a general shortage of work for freelance pilots, Noah has to turn to his old friend, a greasy shyster by the name of Mr. Stoney (Vincent Gardenia).

Stoney can only offer Noah an unglamorous and risky job: to pilot a B-29 bomber plane filled with animals to an island for a new religious mission. With his debt and debtees looming over him, Noah has no choice to but to fly up. He is accompanied by Bernadette (Geneviève Bujold), a pretty, young missionary, who counters his brutishness with Bach and good manners. They are also accompanied by Bobby (Ricky Schroder) and Julie (Tammy Lauren), two orphans worried for the wellbeing of the animals, which range from ducks to an ox.

With a cigar clenched between his teeth, Noah takes off. Vincent Gardenia plays Stoney, the unscrupulous man who hires Noah.

The flight is thrown off course when a cassette player interferes with the rusty old plane's compass. With the plane running low on gas, the only hope is to land on the first island they find. They do, and stuck at sea, Noah, Bernadette and the two children are a type of Swiss Family Robinson for a new generation, though neither Swiss nor a family.

But rather than engage in fun like the Robinsons, these four merely explore the island until they come across two Japanese castaways who are convinced that World War II is still going on. Commander Hiro (Yuki Shimoda) and Cleveland (John Fujioka), former soldiers who have been on the island for thirty-five years, become the film's comic relief. Cleveland stumbles with the English language in speaking or counting. Hiro only speaks Japanese, but laughs excessively. The silly Japanese characters, while stereotypical, do lighten things up a bit.

It is Cleveland and Hiro who come up with the idea to leave the island not on a raft, but on a boat, by turning over the plane (or rather, "prane"). This sets forth the gang's efforts to be saved, a considerable portion of the film which provides the title and whatever character growth there is. With a Japanese flag as a sail, this makeshift craft sets off in search of land, or at least a shipping freight.

Bobby, Julie, Bernadette, and Noah are stranded on a desert island. Hiro and Cleveland, these two silly Japanese men, are the only other humans in sight.

Despite what it sounds like, The Last Flight could best be categorized as a light comedy, though it's rarely very funny. The film proceeds with a somewhat welcome casual tone, striving neither for laughs nor thrills. While it never gets boring or offensively bad, it does seem somewhat aimless as it meanders from point to point, as in its exploration of the relationship between Noah (with his dislike of animals) and the eternally hopeful Bobby (with his growing dislike of Noah).

In spite of scenic and potentially cinematic Hawaiian scenery, the film's simple and low-key approach undermines most of the dramatic possibilities. The shortcomings of the low budget come to fruition in the most artificial-looking scenes in which the appearance of a shark calls things into jeopardy for Noah and Bobby.

Though it lacks the familiar faces of Disney's '70s movies, Last Flight embraces formula, with the look and feel of an old-fashioned Disney film, in stark contrast to the other darker and more hip films that the studio would put out in the years ahead. There are animals, children, and a light romance, yet none of these strike a unique impression. As far as the romance, Noah and Bernadette's chemistry together at the start of the film is so strikingly bad that as they predictably start to warm to each other, it is not very believable, even if the overdramatic dated pop love ballad "Half of Me" turns up on at least three ocassions to convince us otherwise.

Noah's ark sets sail. Bernadette and Noah have differing opinions several times.

Elliott Gould performs satisfactorily as a brash everyman, though his character transformation, supposedly in the film somewhere, seems either sudden or insincere. Geneviève Bujold convinces more readily as an idealistic missionary, and her role has more human interest and depth. Ricky Schroder stands out, even if the two children are standard and unspectacular characters.

The Last Flight of Noah's Ark takes a theoretically interesting plot and plays everything safe, relying on formula and treading no new ground. The result provides some simple charm, but while never terrible or uninteresting, it's short on surprises and pretty forgettable. Perhaps the most unusual and most memorable element of the film is the Japanese characters and the quirky energy they bring. Beyond that, the film settles for mediocrity, which it could have easily ascended with more creativity and a wholeheartedly earnest effort.

Buy The Last Flight of Noah's Ark from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Non-anamorphic Widescreen
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital Mono (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French
Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 7, 2004
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase


The Last Flight of Noah's Ark is just the second live action Disney catalogue to offer a choice of viewing formats. The choice that will interest most viewers, 1.85:1 widescreen, is surprisingly not enhanced for 16x9 televisions. While it seemed that non-anamorphic transfers may have been a way of the past, even for Disney, this rare unenhanced title proves otherwise.

The letterboxing ties to a greater problem, which is that the film has not been remastered well. The picture quality ranges from acceptable to rather disappointing, and at times, it looks worse than movies twice its age. Some scenes are unbearably dark, and clearly not intentional. These scenes especially lack detail and range. Other times, what should be vibrant island photography comes off as dull, because the video lacks sharpness and detail. The oddly delayed opening credits sequence is practically overwhelmed by intense grain, and the print remains quite dirty and beat up throughout, with scratches and flaws turning up regularly. Scenes in daylight do fare considerably better, but these also lack a desired digital sharpness and clarity. Even simple motion provides a lot of blurring, and sometimes, the transfer just looks oddly dark and murky.

But might they make an unlikely couple? Geneviève Bujold plays Bernadette Lafleur, an ambitious young missionary.

It's been a couple of years since I rented the Anchor Bay DVD, but I remember being neither impressed or disappointed in its picture quality. It's probably the exact same as what's here, only this time it's less excusable since the release is done by Disney, a large studio who has put out some wonderful-looking catalogue titles lately. Though the film is thankfully presented in its original aspect ratio, the transfer could and should look a lot better.

The fullscreen version doesn't look as worn as the widescreen one. It's an open-matte presentation, which loses a tiny bit from the side and displays additional picture at the top and bottom where the black mattes on the widescreen version are. While this print looks quite a bit cleaner, there are still issues with sharpness, detail, and brightness, which are all still lacking. Take note, too, if you use the "Scene Selections", the Fullscreen version will play by default.

There isn't as much to say about the Dolby Digital Mono track, but that too could use better remastering. Some dialogue is tough to decipher, and all of the recorded elements seem kind of thin, flat, and soft. The score by Maurice Jarre is nicely rendered, though.


The standard promo for live action Disney films is the only 'extra' on the DVD. As usual, this is disappointing. The basic menus offer colorful 16x9 still screens and subtle use of the film's score.

These four rule this island! Even Hiro and Cleveland are in awe.


The Last Flight of Noah's Ark offers enough fun for a viewing, but Disney's DVD is unfortunately an essential repackaging of Anchor Bay's underwhelming old disc. With a $19.99 retail price, this release only merits a rental. Those fans who did not purchase the previous DVD will be most attracted, but they will likely be disheartened by a disappointing non-anamorphic widescreen transfer and nothing in the way of extras. This DVD is in print, but that's the only thing that distinguishes it from Anchor Bay's DVD; there's no reason to 'upgrade' and only those expecting such a plain disc will be satisfied.

More on the DVD

Related Reviews
New to Disney DVD: Never Cry Wolf (1983)

Disney in the Early '80s:
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) | Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) | The Watcher in the Woods (1981)

Reviewed August 31, 2004.

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Live Action (1980-Present) Films Page | September 2004 Catalogue Releases

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