When Bonnie Tyler recorded Holding Out For A Hero for the film Footloose in 1984 it’s certain that she had no idea that her song would epitomize the sentiments of the American people as we prepare to elect Obama’s successor to the presidency. A “hero” is just what the U.S. needs. However, none of the candidates in the running quite fit the romanticized description of the song. Luckily we are fortunate that an answer to Bonnie Tyler’s song and our needs as a nation does exist in the cinema in the form of Harrison Ford.
Air Force One (1997) trades on the image of Harrison Ford in our culture as no other movie has. His character, President James Marshall, exists in name only; his character is simply the accumulation of Ford’s career in the movies up to that point. President James Marshall is capable of the charm of Jack Trainer, David Holloran and Linus Larrabee, the resourcefulness of Indiana Jones and Allie Fox, the traditional family values of Jack Ryan, Henry Turner and Dr. Richard Walker, the determination of Dr. Richard Kimble, Rick Deckard and Det. John Book, and the sarcasm of Han Solo. President James Marshall is the idealized white heterosexual male of three generations of film goers primed to defend the American dream to the last breath.
And who better to helm a fantasy film of American politics and nail-biting action than Wolfgang Petersen? Air Force One could easily be described as In The Line Of Fire (1993) reset within the world of The NeverEnding Story (1984). A German, Petersen’s view of America and it’s fetishization of actors and Hollywood symbols is akin to that of Sirk and Fassbinder in that this plastic brand of the American Dream is as preposterous as it is frightening. In many ways Petersen’s Air Force One revels ironically (consider the choice of music cues for one) in its own ability to offer Americans a unique wish fulfilled in seeing Harrison Ford as our Commander and Chief; a president who perfectly represents an amalgamation of JFK for the post-Vietnam America. It was never anyone’s wish to see Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen or John Travolta as our president anyway.
The passage of time has also helped to further fetishize Harrison Ford as the U.S. President. Not only are Americans nostalgic for the wealth and power we enjoyed as a nation in the 1990s, but our feelings toward terrorism have also drastically changed. In 1997 the World Trade Center still stood. Today, however, Ford’s policy of literally going toe to toe against terrorists would seem too good to be true for most Americans. Obama certainly hasn’t thrown any “bad guys” off of Air Force One lately (and I’m afraid Donald Trump might throw the whole country from a plane).
Air Force One is so heavy-handed in its own self-awareness and desire to fulfill its audience that it escapes reality altogether. If I were to compare it to Petersen’s The NeverEnding Story I would have to say that Air Force One is more representative of fantasy. Yet I do not mean this negatively. Air Force One is a tremendous fantasy that engaged a nation in 1997, representing desires en masse. This is the power of the cinema and the ultimate goal of any Hollywood feature. Yet, if one should ever find themselves too immersed in the fantastic escape of Air Force One, remember Harrison Ford’s words to Donald Trump, “Donald, it was a movie.”