Review Date: 4/25/09
Cast: Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Nicko McBrain, Janick Gers
Wow! Seeing an Iron Maiden documentary in a theater was a very surreal experience, and fulfills yet another adolescent dream of mine. Who would have thought it was even possible? "Flight 666" chronicles the first six-week leg of the band's "Somewhere Back In Time" tour, hitting twenty-two cities across the globe. In order to pull off such a demanding (and expensive) schedule, the band modified a Boeing 757 to accommodate their entire crew and massive stage show. The plane was dubbed "Ed Force One" and piloted by none other than the band's energetic and multi-talented singer, Bruce Dickinson. The film is a combination of live performance footage, interviews with the band, candid "behind the scenes" footage, and beauty shots of the colorful Ed Force One in flight. Much like "Rock In Rio" (2002), the film shows us brief glimpses of what the band does when they're not playing, with Adrian Smith fishing and playing tennis, and Nicko McBrain and Dave Murray playing golf. The contrast can be shocking, cutting from scenes of crazy heavy metal fans rushing the stage to the serenity and isolation of the golf course. But there's even drama there, as Nicko got injured with a stray golf ball and put one of their Latin American shows at risk.
A good chunk of the film is dedicated to the band's extreme and extremely loyal fans, which can be uncomfortable to watch. The intensity of fan reaction increases dramatically as the band gets deeper into South America, and the tour takes on a troubling sense of danger. Tensions reach the boiling point, and nowhere is this more evident than in Colombia, where there's a strong and oppressive military presence at the show. Everywhere the band goes, you get the sense that they're making a huge cultural impact. Seeing an international heavy metal arena performance like this is a once in a lifetime kind of event for a lot of these countries, and it carries a religious-like importance. As annoying as the fans can be, you can't deny the pure energy, excitement, ecstasy, and raw emotions that they represent. In one scene, the film spends an awkward amount of time lingering on a weeping fan who caught one of Nicko's drumsticks, completely overwhelmed by his emotions and good fortune. It's a powerful and haunting moment that makes a huge impact. On the other side of the fan spectrum is a church minister known as "Father Iron Maiden" who has 162 Iron Maiden tattoos on his body. Of course, whenever tattoos are involved, nakedness is sure to follow, and we get to see Eddie writhing about on his bare chest. Pure insanity...
Production wise, the film is a mixed bag. The video quality is inconsistent and varies wildly. Some of the concert footage is extremely good, but a lot of it is overly grainy and looks like it was shot with a consumer camcorder. The interview segments are well done for the most part, but the candid footage aboard Ed Force One is pretty terrible due to the constant droning engine noise. The biggest thrill for me was seeing Ed Force One in flight, and they managed to get some very nice beauty shots of the plane (assuming no digital trickery was involved). The editing is good and keeps the film moving along at a constant pace. There's no real continuity or narrative that strings the entire thing together, so it just feels like you're along for the ride and witnessing whatever may come up. While "Live After Death" (1985) continues to be the gold standard by which all concert videos are judged, "Flight 666" offers a fun and nostalgic journey as the band revisits their success in the 80's for a new and younger fan base. The cultural impact they've made on the entire world cannot be understated, which was even apparent in the audience that was watching the film. People clapped, cheered, sang along, and even held their lighters (and cell phones) up during the show. Middle aged parents and conservative businessmen broke out their old concert t-shirts and brought their kids to the show. Fans young and old came together, all for the love of music and the unique passion and energy that defines the Iron Maiden experience.