The story is famous. A plane carrying a team of Uruguayan soccer players vanishes in the Andes Mountains on October 13th, 1972, and it would be 72 days before two of the survivors would re-appear. After the other fourteen players were rescued, they would admit that when their food ran out, they were forced to turn to cannibalism to survive. Stranded - I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains is not a documentary so much as a testimony; director Gonzalo Arijón and the sixteen players don't want to recount the events of the incident but put the viewer in their shoes, to understand their thoughts and what they endured while they waited.
The most famous adaptation of their story up to this point is the 1993 film Alive and the book on which the movie is based. I haven't seen Alive, but there's definitely a unique gravity that comes from hearing the events recounted straight from the survivors. Their description of their carefree attitudes right before the crash (even jumping up and down, trying to make the plane rattle) has a distant haziness to it that makes it seem more like they're describing a dream than an actual event, and you can still feel the helplessness in their voices as they recall listening to a radio they found, hearing when the searches are called off, and worse, when the world simply moves on.
Most people's curiosity will likely be piqued mainly by the cannibalism aspect of their story, and while the film seems to hold off on breaching the subject for quite awhile, when it finally dives in, the stories are at their most captivating. Each person's individual justification (biological/nutritionally logical, religious, or plain survival), and their feelings about having done it upon their safe return are touched upon, and it's easy to get a sense of each person's psychological mindset through their memories of the experience. Specifically, I'd guess that people who are spiritual or religious will probably find lots to discuss in the player's range of reactions. Arijón also shows us a little of how the media blew this aspect of the survival out of proportion, which is interesting, although none of them comment on Alive.
It's things like that which make it hard to gauge how good of a job Arijón is doing of getting the most out of his subjects, and I was left wondering, despite his personal connection to the survivors (he's a childhood friend) whether a more experienced interviewer might have done a better job. The story in question seems like it would be open to any number of interesting topics and discussions, and part of the film is also devoted to several of Stranded's interviewees returning to the mountain with their children, and some of the children of those who didn't make it back, yet Stranded is padded with around 30 minutes worth of re-enactments shot by City of God cinematographer César Charlone, cut in amongst the talking-head interview segments, newscast footage, and the crash-site visitation. They're not terrible, but like most re-enactments they're a tad melodramatic, and Charlone's 16mm shooting style is also heavy-handed. At first, I also had trouble discerning if a few bits were real or re-enacted, although later genuine footage is old, severely damaged and in black and white, so I'm guessing everything that isn't is a re-creation.
I don't know if it's still on, but there was once a show on the Discovery Channel called "I Shouldn't Be Alive". I never saw an episode, but I thought that was an incredible title, and Stranded - I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains has a similarly gripping effect. Occasionally, the film lives up to that sensation, as you watch the towering mountain peaks fly past beneath a helicopter and you wonder how two men, already drained of strength and subsisting on the tiniest bits of food could possibly have struggled through it and made it to safety. Arijón includes a clip of a newscast after the rescue containing a doctor's comment on the survivors' health: "The explanation for why and how they survived is to be found elsewhere than in the medical or scientific field. If I weren't a doctor, I'd have to believe in a miracle." Stranded doesn't quite tell its story with enough force for me to agree, but it is a reasonably engaging account of survival in a place that man was never meant to live.
The DVD comes with a stunning, eye-catching cover with the shortened title Stranded on the front, in a single-width transparent plastic case. the back cover is cleanly designed, and the inside of the cover features a crash photograph with DVD production information on it. For once, there is actually a two-page booklet, with a note from the director on the inside and chapter selections on the back. The menu is basic. An all-around attractive package.
The Video and Audio
Stranded was mostly shot on digital video, and this anamorphic 1.78:1 image is indicative of its low-budget sources. Motion blur and ghosting is common, and sometimes the picture looks a little soft (especially the fuzzy closing credits). Complicated surfaces, like a stucco roof, flickered like mad as the camera panned by, and vintage-looking film, both real and staged, contains any number of hairs, scratches, jitters, softness and grain. It's acceptable, serving up a watchable image, but I'm guessing a lot of people will find it lacking. 2.0 Dolby Stereo is again unimpressive but passable, cleanly delivering the dialogue and occasional bits of music. English subtitles are automatic for the Spanish-language feature, but are not burned into the picture.
There's only one major extra, but it's phenomenal. "The Making of Stranded" (52:02) is almost better than the feature film, containing extra footage with the survivors and documenting the filming of the re-enactment footage. Scenes such as the opener, with Eduardo Strauch displaying a box of materials rescued by a hiker who had visited the crash site and found an old jacket, and another with Fernando Parrado and Adolfo Strauch describing the actual two-day rescue procedure are vital, riveting stories, and watching the players coach the actors in the re-enactment about how things occurred reveals another set of stories the main film doesn't have. It's during this featurette that I wondered if the editing of the film could have been its downfall, and whether longer, unedited takes of the players describing their personal experiences might have been more interesting. Despite my mixed feelings about it, even the making of the re-enactment is interesting to watch, especially seeing where much of it was shot (clever color timing goes a long way). In any case, nobody should see Stranded without watching this companion piece, as it enriches the main documentary and ultimately made my personal viewing experience almost twice as satisfactory.
The theatrical trailer is also included, as well as the booklet described earlier in "The DVD" section of this review.
Stranded - I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains may not be the best documentary that could have been made from the story of the Andes crash survivors, but paired with the essential, hour-long making-of documentary on the DVD, the disc comes highly recommended.
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