Lynyrd Skynyrd likely need no introduction as they have been a particularly ubiquitous part of Southern rock since their inception. But tragedy struck in 1977 when the band’s airplane ran out of fuel mid-flight and crashed in the woods of Mississippi. The crash took the lives of the band’s new Guitarist Steve Gaines, his older sister and Backing Singer Cassie Gaines, and Frontman & Founder Ronnie Van Zant amongst others. The surviving members would split up into different bands before reforming in 1987.
That is the cliff notes summary of the band’s story. That in mind, on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 Cleopatra Entertainment brought Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash to DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital platforms.
Written and directed by Jared Cohn (Hold Your Breath 2012, The Horde 2016), the film follows the events of the ill-fated flight through the eyes of Skynyrd Drummer Artimus Pyle. He is played in the picture by Ian Shultis (Off Set 2017, Save Me from Love 2018). While Taylor Clift (Clinger 2015, A Nice Quiet Life 2018), Samuel Kay Forrest (The Queen of Hollywood Blvd 2017, Groove 20127) and Lelia Symington (Project Runway series, The Fight Within 2016) respectively play Van Zant, Steve, and Cassie Gaines. Pyle himself provides narration here and there, alongside some original music.
The film had previously been blocked in the production stage in 2017 by a court injunction, as other surviving band members and their families had sworn to avoid using the Lynyrd Skynyrd name to capitalize on the tragedy. But it was overturned the following year on appeal. So, Pyle could tell his story about Skynyrd and the crash. So, now that it is here, how is it as a film? Is it any good?
It certainly looks authentically ’70s from the fashion and beards down to that brown and orange color scheme that filled that decade. Sex, drugs, and Rock-n-Roll abound backstage too, right down to a TV getting defenestrated. It serves as a quick and easy introduction to Pyle’s acceptance into the band, and how they were between sets before the infamous flight starts.
One could follow the events of the film with a book on the event, or if pressed, the Wikipedia article. The ‘Street Survivors’ album had only just come out a few days before the flight, so there is a scene of the band admiring it. The plane was originally meant for Aerosmith until their manager turned it down after hearing rumors about the pilots drinking on the job, so there is a scene of the manager doing just that. Sources said a prior flight with Skynyrd had the engine catch fire, so there is a scene of the engine catching fire, etc.
It sounds faithful enough, though the issue there is that it can feel less like a cinematic experience and more like an extended recreation that escaped its tie-in documentary. Like one expects a Robert Stack-esque voice to narrate the circumstances fact by fact in between scenes. Only instead, one gets a dreamy rock soundtrack that builds up a foreboding atmosphere. It can also build up a lot of cheese as it can overpower the more emotional scenes- like Pyle’s actual search for help post-crash.
Still, cinematic cheddar aside, the acting is quite solid throughout. Clift makes for an enigmatic Van Zant, and Shiltus does well as Pyle. The rest of the cast do a convincing-enough job to carry the picture as well, almost making the audience forget the comparatively dodgy CGI plane and crash. Sometimes it looks okay, and sometimes it looks like an old PC videogame. That said, there is no faulting the aftermath, which looks harrowing enough on-camera.
So, Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash is a fairly cheesy, but earnest performed film and fair direction, bar some dodgy effects. The film might do well for Skynyrd fans, though it will do better for Pyle fans given it focuses on his perspective. It shines a particularly bright light on him compared to the other members, with Van Zant as his drinkin’, brawlin’, hard livin’ inspiration. In that respect, big Skynyrd fans might want to keep some grains of salt on hand. Yet in a bubble, just as a retelling of real-life drama, the film does fine. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash 3.5 out of 5 stars.