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You Won't be Seeing These in the Friendly Skies : Movies: Airlines routinely edit (censor) films that have 'anything to do with planes exploding or catching fire.' That's why some popular works never see the fuzzy flicker of the in-flight screen.

October 29, 1994|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At least a few viewers of the action hit "Speed" are being denied a big payoff: seeing the film's climactic explosion between the runaway bus and a cargo plane being towed on a runway at LAX.

The film, which is being shown on American Airlines' current transcontinental in-flight movie from Los Angeles to New York, now skips confusingly from a shot of the bus careening as it speeds down the runway to what seems to be an instantaneous fireball--with no plane in sight.

"We always edit out anything to do with planes exploding or catching fire, whether they're on the ground or in the air," says Joni Herman, American's analyst for in-flight entertainment, who was responsible for the cut. "Consider that some passengers have a terrible fear of flying and they're stuck on this flight for 5 1/2 hours. The last thing they want to see is a plane explode and think about it for the remainder of the trip."

That's why other movies, like "Passenger 57," "Airport" and "Fearless"--last summer's movie about the aftermath of surviving a plane crash--never saw the fuzzy flicker of the in-flight screen.

And why a current film may find itself omitted from in-flight viewing altogether. "Love Affair," starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, features an emergency plane landing onto a South Pacific island. "Emergency landings aren't usually a problem," adds Herman. "But I haven't seen the film yet to make that call."

Other scenes not involving plane crashes have been trimmed. In 1988's "Rain Man," Dustin Hoffman's character, the autistic savant Raymond, rattles off Qantas Airlines' no-crash record as he and his brother prepare to take a plane flight. But that little speech was nowhere to be heard on the in-flight version.

"Any reference to any other airline is always cut," says Herman. "All the airlines do it."

"You know what's funny about these arbitrary cuts?" muses "Speed" producer Mark Gordon. "Do you suppose the (airline personnel) ever ask themselves, how many people saw the movie before? Odds are, a good percentage have. In the case of 'Speed,' (the airline passengers) missed one of the biggest and best action sequences in the film. So I guess the audience was just left figuring, geez I guess the bus must have crashed into . . . something."

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