Terror in the Skies – TV Review ***

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It may seem like a grim choice for an evening watch, but documentary series about plane crashes have a faithful audience. From Air Crash Investigation to Seconds to Disaster, it’s usually the wish to better understand the aviation industry – and, strangely enough, a love of flying – that attracts people to these kind of shows. In a similar line,  Terror in the Skies is a 2013 Channel 4 production of 4 episodes divided into suggestive, yet scary, themes.

Starting with the mental breakdown of a pilot (all caught on someone’s camera phone), episode 1 shows how the person behind the controls is all but too human, as we’re given a tour of “crash pads”, the squalid rooms many young pilots need to live in to make it through the required flying hours to win those wings. Episode 2 is all about technical meltdowns, as the famous cases of the Boeing 787 lithium batteries are put under the spotlight, whereas in episode 3, gloomly called Nature Strikes Back, we deal with lightning (not as safe as we are always told it is) and big fat birds like the ones that caused Captain Sullenberg (or “Sully”) to become an international hero. Final episode is all about the small mistakes that both ground and air crews do, seemingly insignificant in the grand scale of things, but that can by themselves bring a plane down with severe human life costs.

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Terror in the Skies is an anthology documentary, collecting different cases under major themes, so for those who already follow case-per-episode on similar themes, there may not be much newness to the series. However, where this production really innovates is on the emphasis in user-created content – people with smartphone cameras are always around these days – and though one wonders why the hell would someone that may be  about to die in a plane crash choose to spent their last minutes filming the whole thing, there’s no doubt that it gives a very different and personal perspective to an experience that, hopefully, none of us will ever have to go through.

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However, where the research based series like Air Crash Investigation make a point of emphasizing the new security measures put into place by aviation authorities to avoid accidents to repeat themselves, Terror in the Skies chooses a way more alarmist approach – “Planes – not that safe after all” could easily be its tagline -, and is therefore not recommended to those who already feel anxious about putting themselves in flimsy 30,000 feet high aluminum boxes at high speeds. Still, as a piece of informative, tapas-like entertainment, Terror in the Skies does not fall short of its runaway, and can be easily enjoyed by anyone who’s not flying the next day, or for those who watched Sully and feel  the need of a more realistic air disaster fix… 

Terror in the Skies was released in DVD by Simple Media on 3rd October 2016.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.