George Miller’s The Aviator (not the Mad Max George Miller, before you ask) is a fantastic piece of melancholic escapism, a simple and resonant story set during the formative decades of human flight, when planes were a lot more picturesque, and ironically far more flimsily built. This one is very special because it showcases Christopher Reeve cast way against type; he’s the guy I remember as Superman from my childhood, a sterling beacon of heroism, but here he plays a moody, haunted Air Mail pilot who is damaged both physically and emotionally from a tragedy years before. This is the only time I’ve seen him take on a role like this and let me tell you he rocks it uncannily well, from the anguished blue eyes glowering out past that crop of windswept hair to the introverted stasis he grounds his mood in. He’s tasked by his US air mail boss (Jack Warden, a pillar of well spoken gravity) to transport a wayward teenage girl (Roseanna Arquette) across the mountains to live with her aunt. When the aircraft develops mechanical failure, they make a forced crash landing in a vast, remote mountain canyon and must rely on each other for survival. I don’t mean that lightly either, he later on tells her that if it wouldn’t have been for her with him, he probably would have gave up and surrendered to the elements the first night. This is fascinating because at first they can’t really stand each other, he has shut himself off from human connection and she is young, still learning how to properly engage, and the arc they embark on together is really affecting. Arquette plays the role like a lost puppy with a fragility under all that snappy talk. There is of course a gradual romance between the two, but it’s treated with far more restraint, subtlety and realism than Hollywood can usually muster up. Their only hope for rescue lies with Reeve’s fellow pilot (Scott Wilson), who flies high above them on Warden’s orders, trying to spot the wreck. I really like how de-glamorized this is as far as survival stories go, the whimsy and adrenaline you’d often find here is replaced by a straightforward, almost downbeat mood. The script is character based, thoughtful and full of well written human interaction instead of an action sequence every few minutes. Set in the American Northwest but filmed in lush, rugged Yugoslavia to give the landscape a beautiful look that’s speckled with golden deciduous trees and craggy, snow dusted mountain walls. A fitting combination of elements that make for a wonderful film.