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'Amelia' film snubs Hawaii despite her time here


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POSTED: Saturday, November 21, 2009

Amelia Earhart taxied her Lockheed Electra to the north end of the airstrip on Ford Island on March 20, 1937. Aboard were Fred Noonan and Harry Manning, acting as co-pilot and navigator, respectively. It was the second leg of her around-the-world flight, and the twin-engine plane was laden with fuel. The field was slick with rain.

What happened next has always been open to conjecture, and a pivotal scene in the biopic “;Amelia,”; starring Hilary Swank.

Earhart gunned the engines, and partway down the runway, the aircraft ground-looped and collapsed upon its gear. Some witnesses say a tire blew; Earhart thought the gear had given way. Some pilots — including Earhart advisor Paul Mantz — think she overcontrolled the dual throttles.

It's an exciting scene in the movie, with the plane screeching and spinning down the runway, and Earhart, played by Hilary Swank, is given credit for cutting the engines before the final collapse, saving the aircraft from certain fire. One of the mysteries of the crash is that despite the presence of dozens of still and film cameras, there is not one picture or clip of the actual crash.

In the movie “;Amelia,”; however, the scene clearly does not take place on Ford Island, in the middle of Pearl Harbor. It's atop some mountaintop dirt field, with pine trees lining the site.

In real life, Earhart left abruptly aboard the steamer Malolo, and the Electra returned to California for repairs. It was souped up, and some months later she tried again to circle the world. She almost made it. On the last leg, before a rendezvous with Hawaii, she vanished near Howland Island, a speck on the equator manned by Kamehameha School students.

The movie also gives short shrift to Earhart's spectacular solo flight from Hawaii to the mainland in 1935. You simply see a headline announcing it. She was the first person to do it, not just the first woman.

That's too bad. Earhart had quite a colorful time in Hawaii, hobnobbing with local celebrities, surfing with Duke Kahanamoku, planting a tree in Hilo (where it still stands). The filmmakers missed a chance to show some real Hawaii instead of a Los Angeles back lot.

On the other hand, “;The Informant!”; actually filmed scenes in Hawaii that look like they were shot on a back lot. So it goes — in Hollyweird.