Screen savers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

Who re­mem­bers the dark days when in­flight en­ter­tain­ment meant star­ing up, neck cricked, at a small mon­i­tor sus­pended from the ceil­ing? Such screens were hung at in­ter­vals above the air­craft’s aisles but never within easy view­ing if, like me, you were short of stature and re­quired two pairs of spec­ta­cles to ne­go­ti­ate your way through life. Long-dis­tance glasses didn’t do the trick and up-close read­ing mod­els were equally use­less.

But now there are seat­back tele­vi­sions or screens that pop from the arm-rests on most air­lines, ex­cept the bud­get car­ri­ers where, from my re­cent ex­pe­ri­ences, you’re lucky to have a seat that pushes back even an inch, let alone be treated to a free ticket to watch The Hun­dred Foot Jour­ney, which stars He­len Mir­ren, who’s re­li­ably watch­able at any alti­tude or in­cline, by the way. If you do score a telly, there’s usu­ally some­thing with Judi Dench or Maggie Smith, even if only boxed sets of se­ries 103 of As Time Goes By or Down­town Abbey: The Mu­si­cal.

On in­ter­na­tional flights of late I’ve taken to watch­ing World Movies, from post­mod­ern phan­tom ninja adventures to some­thing star­ring Idris Elba as a CIA agent set in Paris with a mix of English and seem­ingly ran­dom French sub­ti­tles and so much slid­ing down roofs and fall­ing through sky­lights that there is no way he can’t be con­sid­ered fron­trun­ner to play the next James Bond. When the pick­pocket (and pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist) he is chas­ing is fi­nally nabbed, Elba asks why he ran away, “Have you seen your­self?” the chap whim­pers. It is a good re­ply.

Watch­ing in­flight movies you can’t un­der­stand — some­thing from Iran, per­haps, with Ta­ga­log sub­ti­tles — is sleep in­duc­ing and pos­si­bly bet­ter en­ter­tain­ment than Mod­ern Fam­ily: The Re­tire­ment Years. The best air­line pack­age, in terms of va­ri­ety, from mu­sic and TV to fea­tures and doc­u­men­taries, is aboard Emirates, which has an as­ton­ish­ing 2500 chan­nels. It may want to re­think its acro­nym of ICE, though, for In­for­ma­tion, Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and En­ter­tain­ment. Just an idle thought as I see it em­bla­zoned across the screen be­fore Chi­nese Bud­dhist monk Xuan Zang sets off on his per­ilous jour­ney to In­dia in search of en­light­en­ment. The epony­mous movie, in Man­darin, is set in the sev­enth cen­tury and his quest will take 17 years, ac­cord­ing to the ICE info, which at a guess is going to feel like Syd­ney-Dubai-Heathrow and pos­si­bly back again. I have botched the English sub­ti­tle com­mand so must read the word­ing across the screen in Ger­man, a lan­guage in which I can count to 10 but that’s it.

No mat­ter. It re­minds me of watch­ing sub­ti­tled Scan­di­na­vian crime shows on telly with my hus­band and the pair of us sit­ting on the couch and going “Tak! Tak!” like a pair of batty cuckoo clocks, pre­tend­ing we can speak Dan­ish. He goes across to the kitchen, just out of sight of the screen. “Don’t worry,” he says con­fi­dently, when I sug­gest I pause the show un­til he re­turns, “I can hear it from here.” Some­times, it’s eas­ier just to re­lax with your feet up and let your imag­i­na­tion take flight, es­pe­cially when your head’s in the clouds.

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