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Literature / The Langoliers

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"Denver Center, this is American Pride Flight 29, do you read me? Over..."

Imagine waking up on a plane and discovering that it, along with some of its passengers, had traveled... somewhere else. A place with no other people, no other living things, a place where sounds are dulled, there are no odors, nothing seems to work, and even time seems to be winding down. And you don't know if you'll be able to get home. Welcome to the past. The cleanup crew will be here soon. Pray you aren't here when they arrive...

The Langoliers is a novella by Stephen King, published in the anthology Four Past Midnight in 1990. It tells the tale of a handful of passengers on a cross-country redeye flight who wake to discover that the flight crew and most of their fellow passengers have vanished. They are unable to contact air traffic control, and they see only darkness below them. After making an emergency landing in Bangor, they soon discover the chilling truth, and must find a way to escape the approaching sounds that may spell their doom while dealing with one of their fellow passengers, who is having a psychotic breakdown.

Adapted into a two-part 1995 Mini Series on ABC, directed by Tom Holland (the one of Fright Night and Child's Play fame, not the one of MCU Spider-Man fame) and starring Patricia Wettig, Dean Stockwell, David Morse, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Frankie Faison, Baxter Harris, Kimber Riddle, Christopher Collet, with Kate Maberly, and Bronson Pinchot. Stephen King also has a cameo.

The Langoliers provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Toomy's father is strongly implied to be a violent narcissist who was living vicariously through his son. In the novella, it's also hinted that he drove his alcoholic wife to insanity. At one point, Toomy almost begins to realize what is really going on when he imagines the voice of his mother saying that the "whole world is gone except for you and the people who were on that plane", only for his father's voice to overcome that and reinforce the Langolier paranoia.
  • Accidental Child-Killer Backstory: Nick Hopewell volunteers for a certain death task that must be performed — because, as a younger man, he accidentally shot some children who were throwing potatoes painted grey that he mistook for grenades.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Played with. In the novel, Nick wears horn-rimmed glasses but they are absent from the character in the telefilm. Because of this, and Mark Lindsay Chapman's general appearance, Nick looks like even more of an expy of James Bond than he does in the novel.
  • Adaptational Hair Style Change: Laurel has dark hair in the novella, but is played by the blonde Patricia Wettig in the film. Also, Bethany is described as having short Dark hair in the novella, while Kimber Riddle's hair is much longer in the adaptation.
  • Adaptation Deviation: A rare case where pretty much all of the plot of a King novella is transferred into the film adaptation. Most of the dialogue is lifted verbatim from the source novel. That said, there are a few changes:
    • Certain lines in the novella are transferred to other characters. One example is during the Bangor take-off. Rudy Warwick is the one who loudly asks if the Langoliers got them when they taxi over the ruts in the runway. In the novella, it's Nick who says this This change in particular may have been made because, for the most part, Nick is The Stoic for most of the film and the novella, so the panic is almost out of character.
    • In addition to everything else that's wrong about Bangor, in the novella, there's also no wind movement when they get off the plane. Obviously this would have been virtually impossible to make happen for the visual setting, so they mention the wind is blowing, but then reference the fact that the cloud cover isn't moving at all to get around it and drive home the point that nothing at the Bangor airport is normal.
    • Due to the nature of the network setting, virtually all of the cursing is omitted. Also, Albert virtually destroys Craig Toomy's face with the toaster in their fight, to the point that Nick internally realizes that Toomy is eventually going to die from the injuries when he examines him. It's toned down to a heavily-bleeding scalp wound in the television film. The sequence with Dinah's stabbing and Nick's removal of the broken blade plays out fairly closely to how it does in the novella, but is slightly toned down for the network setting.
    • Also, In the novella, the Langoliers bite off Toomy's feet as he's running, but the super-heated mouths of the Langoliers cauterize the wounds so fast that Toomy loses three inches or so of height, but KEEPS RUNNING ON THE STUMPS of his ankles. He only falls after they bite his legs off at the knees. The telefilm tones this down considerably, and he's eaten off-screen.
    • In the novella, Nick says he's not going to kill his target when talking with Brian. However, after Dinah dies, in his next conversation with Brian, he seems to be back on the fence about killing the target, as the person it would affect has similarities with the deceased Craig Toomy. He later relents again before his sacrifice. The television film includes Nick's first conversation with Brian, where he says he's not going through with it, and omits the sequence where he's reconsidering, solidifying him as The Atoner and eliminating any questions the readers of the novella may have had about whether or not he was truly serious when he told Laurel he was giving up the hitman life.
    • Bob Jenkins remembers the title of one of his novels, 'The Sleeping Madonna,' as he's trying to figure out what's bugging him as they're flying towards the rip. Since Bob's thoughts can't be carried over to a visual medium, in the telefilm, Bob goes back to look at all the left behind items of the other passengers, then sees Rudy Warwick fast asleep, and this serves as Bob's trigger to realize that everyone was asleep when they first came through, and if they aren't when they go back, they'll disappear as well.
    • Nick gets his right arm broken being thrown around the cockpit when Brian pulls way from the time rip. It later serves as a mild plot point when Bob asks if Nick can put them all out with some sort of a sleeper hold (Nick mentions he'd need his right hand, which is now useless, but also makes it clear that all he could do even if the arm wasn't broken is painful hand-to-hand combat techniques, which likely would just cripple them and not knock them unconscious.) The telefilm eliminates that conversation and switches the arm that Nick gets broken to his left, and it has no bearing on the plot in the telefilm whatsoever.
    • We don't see the dream (or nightmare) Engle has shortly before Dinah's terrified screams wake him up, of Engle's deceased ex-wife putting her hand over a break in the cabin to keep the plane from losing pressure, or the vividly graphic detail of her hand being sucked out through the split.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Without the benefit of a third-person omniscient narrator, the film can't do a very good job of describing the interplay between Dinah and Toomy or the nature of the Langoliers, and the resulting story makes a lot less sense than its source material.
  • Adapted Out: The film eliminates at least two small characters from the novel. The first is Craig Toomy's mother, who is an alcoholic and is just as nasty to Craig as his father was. The second is one additional leftover passenger from the trip through the rip. He's blackout drunk, only waking up and interacting with the rest of the characters once, as they are fleeing the Bangor Airport.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Toomy. His death is just tragic and terrifying, made even more tragic that the moment he got on that plane (or, perhaps the moment he was forced into the job by his father's demands, or one could argue the moment he was born), he was doomed. Even though Toomy stabbed her, Dinah still feels pity for him when she sends him to his death.
  • All for Nothing: In universe: After flying back through the time rip and seeing L.A. seemingly just the same as it was in and around Bangor, Laurel laments that Dinah's death and Nick's sacrifice to get them back through the rip safely is this. She finds out shortly after they land that LAX is in a much better and different state than the Bangor airport was
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Toomy calls the Langoliers "purpose personified".
  • And Starring: With Kate Maberly, And Bronson Pinchot as Craig Toomy.
  • Asshole Victim: Toomy. Yes, he had an absolutely horrible childhood. But he still mortally wounded a teenage girl, murdered Don Gaffney, and tried to murder Albert when all the latter two were doing was trying to find a stretcher to move Dinah to the plane.
  • The Atoner: Nick strives to be a better person than he has been and even uses the phrase “atone”. He eventually volunteers for a task that means certain death to atone for accidentally killing children.
  • Ax-Crazy: By the time Toomy finally snaps and goes mad, he's trying to murder everyone else, assuming they are Langoliers. Best exemplified in the miniseries where he's grinning in delirium.
  • Badass Bookworm: Albert is just a music student, bespectacled, and generally isn't much to look at. He can also do a fair whack of damage with a toaster. And he wins both of the confrontations he has with Craig Toomy.
  • The Bait: The only reason Toomy's allowed to live until the end (at Dinah's request, whom he had fatally wounded after she tried to help him): so he can be Langolier-bait and save the rest from being devoured and they can escape. Rather darkly, the novella implies that not only is this the only reason he survived that long, it's the only reason he ever existed in the first place.
  • The B Grade: Part of Toomy's Freudian Excuse for flipping out over not landing in Boston as planned is the relentless pressure to succeed that shaped his childhood. His father scolded him if he got an A-, and grounded him for a week if he got a B. In the film, we see his father in a flashback roaring at him about his grade: "'B'! 'B' IS FOR BUM! DO YOU WANT TO SWEEP THE STREETS?"
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Craig Toomy and the Langoliers are this. However, both are only trouble due to their own accords- Toomy is mentally ill and thus it’s clear he’s not entirely evil, and the Langoliers are just doing their job by devouring the past- with other people there, they just assume they’re part of the past.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Our heroes return to their own dimension. However, not everyone made it back. At least four people died before the movie was resolved, Dinah and Nick among them. Nonetheless, the ending plays out cheerily as the survivors celebrate their rightful place in the timeline.
  • Black Dude Dies First: In the TV movie, the sole black man in the group of survivors is the first on-screen death we see (not counting the passengers who got vaporized off-screen at the start, and Dinah, who was mortally wounded before him but didn't die until after he did). His race was not mentioned in the novella. However, he wears a Red Shirt.
  • Blind Seer: Dinah, who was on her way to have surgery to correct her blindness, is the first to hear Something Horrible approaching, and also uses Psychic Powers to divert a psychotic passenger into their path.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Dinah, after Toomy stabs her in the chest with a butcher knife. Justified Trope in that the knife has punctured a lung, at least in the book.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: In the miniseries, Dinah briefly affects an English accent when she repeats a hushed conversation between Nick and Brian, demonstrating her hyper-acute sense of hearing. Amusingly, it's actually Fake American Kate Maberly's native accent.
    • Toomy also mimics Nick's English accent after he's tied up by Nick.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The story appears to be this in the grand scheme of Stephen King's multiverse. Not only is it devoid of any references to his other works, but the rules it establishes regarding time travel are irrefutably contradicted by 11/22/63, a story that has much more direct ties to his other works.
  • Casting Gag: Of course Dean Stockwell would know a thing or two about time travel.
  • Character Tics: When stressed, we discover in the novella that Toomy used to buy bunches of magazines and rip them into strips in a trance. He does it again on the airplane and after they land in Bangor. The telefilm also shows him doing it but eliminates the novella's backstory.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: At the airport, Bob Jenkins asks a cigarette from Bethany, though he quit ten years ago, saying: "This seems like an excellent time to renew acquaintances with old habits." He quickly regrets the decision.
    • Bethany herself smokes a fair number of cigarettes while at the Bangor Airport, at least half of them out of a similar anxiety.
  • Clock Roaches: The eponymous Langoliers, whose job is to tidy things up.
    [Bob is watching the Langoliers eat up the entire airport]
    Bob Jenkins: Now we know, don't we?
    Laurel Stevenson: Know what? We know what?
    Bob Jenkins: We know what happens to today when it becomes yesterday. It waits for them. It waits for them, the timekeepers of eternity. Always following behind, cleaning up the mess in the most efficient way possible: by eating it!
  • Clothing Damage: Craig Toomy's expensive suit gets pretty soiled before his death. Although, he oddly keeps the tie cinched tight and the jacket buttoned correctly for the entirety of his appearance, and doesn't remove the jacket or loosen the tie like Brian Engle and Rudy Warwick do, though this makes sense for a rigid control freak like him.
  • Contrived Coincidence: A pilot being among the group; if these guys didn't have a pilot it would have been a real short story. Jenkins lampshades this but noted it’s no stranger odds than a few well known baseball records.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: If Flight 29 had continued to Boston, Toomy would likely not have gone on a rampage, thus avoiding much of the conflict. Also, since Boston is further west than Bangor, the passengers would have had longer to figure out what do about their situation.
    • Unlike many examples of this trope, there were very good reasons for the flight to divert to Bangor, as Brian, a professional pilot and familiar with the airports in question, explains to his passengers (and thus the reader). Also, Toomy was breaking down before even boarding Flight 29. There would have been something that set him off regardless.
    • Even without Toomy's rampage, they'd have still been trapped at an empty airport and still would have had to take similar steps to survive. Also, part of the reason they're able to escape Bangor in the first place is because Toomy goes nuts and Dinah then uses him as a diversion for the Langoliers.
  • Creator Cameo: In the adaptation, Stephen King briefly appears as an executive in Toomy's imaginary Boston meeting.
    • Also, director Tom Holland appears as Harker, the man who gives Nick Hopewell his "mission" at the beginning of the film.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nick Hopewell.
  • Death of a Child: Dinah is stabbed in the chest by Toomy, and eventually succumbs to her injuries.
    • Not to mention The kids who ceased to exist after the plane flew through the time rip. Bob and Albert find one unattended doll at least when they're investigating all of the items left behind in the rear sections of the plane.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After Dinah and the others desperately tell Brian they need to refuel and leave, Brian reminds her, and everyone else, that the jet fuel is as useless as the flat beer (Thankfully, they find a solution)
    • They get another one after they find the rip. Bob realizes that they all have to be asleep. As they're throwing out various ideas, Laurel reminds them that getting to sleep isn't the problem, it's someone being awake to fly the plane after. Even The Stoic Nick thinks they're fucked at that point. (They eventually find a solution to this as well.)
    • Laurel has an extreme one after Nick sacrifices himself to cross back over. She laments the fact that the world is still as dark and apparently dead as where they were, and thus Nick and Dinah seemingly died for nothing. After Brian safely lands them at LAX, she even tells him he should have pulled a Better to Die than Be Killed and crashed the plane, rather than safely landed so they could potentially face the Langoliers again.
  • Disability Superpower: Dinah is able to hear the approaching Langoliers before anyone else does, leading to Not Now, Kiddo, below. She is also able to psychically "see" through the eyes of others, and use a sort of blind-sense to be aware of the presence or absence of others around her. Later, she becomes a full-body apparition projection to Craig Toomy when she's urging him out onto the runway to distract the approaching Langoliers.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Played with. To stop Toomy's ranting after finding the plane empty, Nick puts Toomy in a brutal nose hold that gets him under control. Later on in the novella, when Toomy starts having a fresh outburst, Nick holds up his fingers in the same position they were when he gave Toomy his initial nose hold, and Toomy immediately shuts back up.
  • Dress-Coded for Your Convenience: Asshole executive Craig Toomy gets an upgrade from the crew-neck jersey he's describes as wearing in the novella to a double-breasted suit and an expensive dress shirt with cuff link sleeve closures in the telefilm to make him stand out against the other, more casually dressed characters, and to make him look more befitting of a man traveling to meet the executive board. Neither Bob's sport coat or Rudy Warwick's off-the-rack suit are as distinctive as Toomy's expensive duds.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: A strange version: the disappeared passengers from the plane leave behind watches, glasses, jewels, even surgical pins — but not clothes. Bob Jenkins lampshades this, saying: "What was taken and what was left behind [...] doesn't seem to have a lot of rhyme or reason to it."
  • "Eureka!" Moment: As the plane prepares to return through a time rift, Bob can't shake the feeling something is wrong. He mulls over it, thinking of his past works, including a book with the word "sleeping" in the title and how it got good reviews and...then it hits him how the one thing every one of the passengers left behind had in common was that they were all asleep when the plane hit the rift the first time.
    • The film has a similar moment. Instead of remembering the book title, Bob is looking at all of the piles of left behind items, then seeing and hearing the sleeping Rudy Warwick and Bob realizes they were all asleep.
    • Albert gets one too. He's the one that notices the plane is whiter and brighter than everything else at the airport, and guesses correctly that the plane contains their own time stream, and thus the seemingly useless fuel at the Bangor Airport will be useful to them after all.
  • Exposition Intuition: The Author Avatar character, played by Dean Stockwell, manages to guess exactly what's happening just by a deserted airport with stale food. Oh, did we mention this guessing includes that they've traveled into the past by going through a circular rainbow, that traveling into the past melts everyone who's not asleep, and that as soon as a time period becomes the past it's devoured by a swarm of temporal monsters? And that they can use the bit of time-space inside their jet to fly back through the circular rainbow to get back to the future? And it works.
  • Extreme Omnivore: The Langoliers eat the past. Can't get much more extreme than that. In the process they also eat a hillside, an airport, a runway, and Craig Toomy.
  • Facial Horror: In the novella, Albert's toaster attack on Toomy leaves the latter's face pretty well obliterated, to the point that it's a wonder he lived.
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Albert fantasizes about being a gunslinger in the Old West who is called "the fastest Hebrew west of the Mississippi".
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: When they're looking for the stretcher in the office, Albert sees a pile of the paper Toomy has ripped into strips which warns him Toomy is hiding in the office. It's not soon enough to prevent Toomy from fatally stabbing Don Gaffney.
  • Foreshadowing: When Craig describes the Langoliers, he says that "THEY WILL EAT YOU ALIVE! ALIVE AND SCREAMING!" They do just that to him when they show up.
  • Freudian Excuse: Toomy's childhood. As mentioned, his father was cruel and demanding. After he died, things didn't get better, because Toomy's mother was an alcoholic, who, for example, on his tenth birthday put a kitchen match between two of his toes and lit it while singing "Happy Birthday to You". She considered this good fun.
  • Funny Background Event: In the novella, Albert forgets to bring his violin back on board the plane, thus letting it get eaten. In the miniseries, Laurel brings it back on board for him, but then he leaves it on the plane when they get back to Los Angeles. However, he has a much better chance of getting it back from the plane.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Discussed. As a mystery writer, Bob Jenkins provides a plausible analysis to Albert to explain how they all ended up on a seemingly abandoned plane in mid-flight by pitching a conspiracy scenario about a black ops social experiment. When Albert suggests that they take over the plane, Jenkins admits that his scenario can only explain the state of the plane; he can't think of any way an outside agency could suppress any sign of life on the ground, which should be covered in electric lights visible through any possible cloud cover. The fact that the entire world can be demonstrated to be out of whack takes things beyond the pale, meaning rational deduction is meaningless;
      Jenkins: I'm the wrong person to ask, I'm afraid. It's too bad Larry Niven or John Varley isn't on board.
      Albert: Who are those guys?
      Jenkins: Science-fiction writers.
    • He's not giving himself or the universe enough credit, though. Once they get to Bangor and land, he finds more than enough consistent evidence to figure out the One Big Lie: between the tasteless food, odorless air, lack of reverberating sound and a bullet incapable of punching through a T-shirt, he's able to rationally deduce that the key to it all is entropy; they're in a world that has been used up and abandoned. In other words, they've somehow Time Traveled a short distance into the past, into an existence that the universe has abandoned for greener pastures. And if they don't find a way back fast, whatever happens to such dead worlds is going to happen to them.
  • Hope Spot: Inverted. After they return through the rip, the world is still deserted, and for a short time the survivors believe that they are still in the past. But once they land in Los Angeles, the vibrancy and fidelity of their surroundings informs them that they have traveled into the future and thus are now waiting for the present to catch up to them as opposed to it leaving them behind.
    • Before that, Just finding the rip itself is the hope spot. Then it goes south when they realize that they came through asleep, and thus, must go back through asleep, while finding a way to wake back up after they're through, so the plane doesn't run out of fuel and crash.
  • I Didn't Mean to Kill Him: Albert totally freaks out and has this reaction after fighting Toomy. He's so upset he vomits after. Nick finds him and discovers Toomy is still alive, easing Albert's guilt, (though in the novel, the damage Albert does is so extensive that he privately thinks to himself that Toomy's going to expire soon.)
  • I Have No Son!: Before Nick sacrifices his life, he asks Laurel to find his father, and tell him that he tried his best to atone for the things he did. He says that she has to be persistent, because his father "tends to turn away and curse loudly when he hears my name. The old I-have-no-son bit."
  • Improbable Weapon User: Albert with a toaster in a tablecloth.
  • Improvised Weapon
    • Round 1: Cased violin. Round 2: Toaster in a tablecloth. Albert: 2, plus several thousand for style; Toomy: 0, minus several billion for getting eaten afterwards. Even the stoic Nick is stunned, especially in the novella, at how much damage Albert did to Toomy's face with the toaster, lamenting he knew "professionals" who wouldn't believe him if he told them.
    • Nick uses ordinary coins as a makeshift set of brass knuckles when he goes looking for Albert and Don, and then re-pockets the change when he sees that Albert is alive and Toomy seemingly isn't.
  • In the Doldrums: The world between seconds where the survivors end up. The resulting dead world acts in this manner, but it is fated to be eaten by Eldritch Abominations.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: Each chapter is headed by sentences describing that chapter's highlights.
  • It Can Think: The Langoliers actively tear up the runway to try and slow down the escaping plane. They also seem to take sadistic joy in watching Toomy beg for his life before they eat him.
  • Jerkass: Craig Toomy is one of the sharpest, and not to mention loudest, examples in King's mythos. He's a tragic character, sure, being a severely schizophrenic victim of hideous parental abuse, but he's still a colossal asshole from the moment we meet him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Nick at certain points. He's rough when it comes to getting the job done and the other passengers call him out on his harsh treatment of Jerkass Woobie Toomy, but he is one of the first adults to believe Dinah when she hears the Langoliers coming, and everything he does is with the safety of the group in mind. When it's determined one of the group will have to sacrifice themselves to get the others back safely through the time rip, Nick volunteers without a single second of hesitation.
  • Just One Second Out of Sync
    • Inverted here, as the characters find themselves an unknown amount of time in the relative past, in a "used-up" version of the world.
    • The reverse happens when they find themselves slightly in the future. However, they only need to wait a little for time to catch up to them.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Craig Toomy, who has possibly the funniest last thought ever, under the circumstances:
    Toomy: How can their little legs be fast? They don't have any le—
  • The Lancer: A rare double version. Nick serves as one to Brian while in flight to Bangor. Brian then becomes a pseudo one to Nick after they land in Bangor. Nick shifts back into the role for Brian once they focus their efforts on refueling the plane and getting the Hell out of there.
  • Large Ham
    • Toomy is one of the most enjoyable characters in the film because of it, not least because his facial expressions make him look like he's doing an Ernest P. Worrell impression.
    • Meanwhile, Dean Stockwell takes some serious cues from the William Shatner school of acting. Given that his character, Robert Jenkins, is more than a bit of a ham even in the novella, it's a bit less egregious than Bronson Pinchot's infamous performance above.
    • Willem Dafoe's audiobook version is hammy in the way only Willem Dafoe can be hammy. On more than one occasion, the man successfully out-hams the miniseries, which is no small feat.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: After Toomy shoots him, Albert goes faint, collapses on the floor, and asks Nick and Brian if they'll be able to stop the bleeding. Then Nick holds up the bullet for Albert to see, showing him that he wasn't even shot, the bullet simply bounced off of his shirt, and he's totally fine.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The Langoliers are almost entirely mouth, with three rows of teeth in their three jaws. In the movie, these rows also spin in alternative directions, giving them the appearance of hungry excavation drills or evil Pac-Man clones.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Bob Jenkins, who probably has enough material for a lifetime of scary stories afterwards.
  • Mythology Gag: In the novella, Bob Jenkins mentions the Shop (a mysterious organization also connected with the events of Firestarter) as a potential cause of their Ontological Mystery.
  • Never Trust a Title: The name of the story implies that the story's Clock Roaches are the Langoliers; while they are usually called that for convenience, the actual Langoliers are boogeymen from Craig Toomy's childhood who ate people who wasted time, and Craig identifies the literal time-eating monsters with them.
  • Noodle Incident: A dramatic example. Nick asks Laurel to find his father, and tell him that he tried his best "to atone for the day behind the church in Belfast" and his father has to listen because of the time he brought the daisies (not to him). We find out what Nick did behind the church — he accidentally shot three boys, mistaking them for terrorists — but it's not revealed what was with the daisies.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A few examples:
    • Before the plane even passes through the heavy cloud cover obscuring the world below, several characters indicate very strongly that they're terrified of what might or might not be below. The latter comes true in a big way later on.
    • When they wake up at first in the middle of the night, there are no clouds below them, thus allowing them to see the dark, lifeless landscape below.
    • "What the hell is making that weird crunching noise over the horizon?!"
    • That horrible, eye-watering, soul-sucking void left behind after the Langoliers eat the past.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Subverted. Dinah hears the Langoliers coming before everybody else, but she thinks that the rest of the group won't listen to her because grownups don't believe children, especially blind girls. However, they believe her pretty fast. They even muse that as she's blind, she probably has really good hearing. In fairness, Brian and Nick initially are dubious when she mentions it the first time, but quickly change their tune when Dinah, at the window, recites their whispered conversation word-for-word from about 30 feet away.
  • Not So Stoic: The two most level-headed survivors Brian and Nick both have their occasional breaking points.
  • Now Do It Again, Backwards: The survivors determine that they must fly back though the time rip to get home. But there's a problem...
  • Oh, Crap!: Bob's reaction when Brian announces that he's going to try flying through the time rip. Which, since everyone on board is awake, would have had the effect of vaporizing everyone and leaving the now-empty plane to run out of fuel right over downtown Los Angeles. Fortunately, he's able to point this out in time.
    • Bob's fear becomes contagious to Nick after Bob screams in his face that they were all asleep. In the telefilm, Nick even drops a "Bloody Hell" as he realizes the point Bob is trying to make.
    • Based on Craig Toomy's first major scene, the audience just KNOWS he's going to go ballistic when Brian diverts the flight to Bangor.
    • Several of the passengers go through this when they find the plane virtually empty. Of all of them, Nick keeps it pretty together until Brian makes the descent to Bangor. It's one of the few times Nick cracks, to the point he says he almost wants to take the crontrols from Engle and fly them back up. Engle talks him down.
    • Brian is visibly freaking out when he can't contact anybody on the radio, including the Air Force. Enough that Nick has to snap him out of it by reminding him of his responsibility as a pilot.
    • Albert has one After Toomy kills Don Gaffney, and Albert realizes he's alone with a psychopath with only a toaster in a tablecloth to defend himself. He even derides himself in the novella for bringing what he things is a "kid's weapon" for his defense. He does well with it though. This is made most clear in the novella, when the reader can read Albert's internal thoughts.
  • Ontological Mystery: Finding out where you are is a bit hard when you aren't anywhere. Particularly present in the novella, where most of the story is spent puzzling out the existential mystery of the past.
  • Opposites Attract: Down-to-Earth school teacher Laurel, even though she's repulsed in the beginning by how Nick treats Toomy to keep him under control, eventually falls for her majesty's hitman, and he falls for her just as heavily.
    • Also, the straight-laced music student Albert falls for wild-child stoner Bethany.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Nick briefly considers outright killing Craig Toomy in cold blood as the man lies on the floor, already dying of a crushed skull. After the damage Craig has inflicted on everyone by that point, it's not entirely unreasonable. At the same time, he considers it a mercy killing and better than Toomy deserves.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Captain Engle does this to the radio in the plane when he can't reach anyone else. Of course it doesn't work, given the circumstances, but it's the thought that counts.
  • Posthumous Character: Probably Dinah’s aunt, who is among those who are gone when Dinah and the others wake up and never appeared in person before that. Averted in the movie where she gets a few seconds of screen time and one line of dialogue, talking to Dinah before takeoff.
    • Also, Craig's hallucination of Roger Toomy, who gives Craig a...Hell of a "pep talk" after they've entered the Bangor airport.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Nick is firmly of this bent, being an overall affable chap capable of intense brutality when it means getting the job done. It's suiting of a soldier turned government hitman.
  • Psycho Party Member: Toomy, who was on the edge of a breakdown even before he ended up in the past.
  • Recycled In Space: This miniseries is essentially "The Odyssey of Flight 33" under a Stephen King filter (which emphasizes the Timey-Wimey Ball nature of the whole ordeal).
  • Red Herring: The guy with the black beard. Eleven people survive the trip. One spends the the entire book sleeping in the back of the plane. He wakes up, briefly, and then goes back to sleep. You keep expecting him to do something, but no, that's it. His purpose is to remind Bob Jenkins that they must be asleep to survive the trip back through the time rip. (Rudy Warwick covers this role in the TV adaption, as he retreats to the coach section to sleep while everyone else is in First Class, and the black bearded man is Adapted Out.)
  • Sanity Slippage: Discovering you've lost everything, when you've been made obsessed with success, and are going to Boston to explain this to your superiors, only to wind up trapped in a past being eaten by monsters, does this to a person. Craig Toomy's mental stability does not last long.
  • Seeing Through Another's Eyes: Dinah can do this at times. Unfortunately, she at least once gets stuck with Toomy's delusional view of what's around him.
  • Serious Business: "I have a meeting in Boston at NINE O'CLOCK!" This is so important to Toomy that he snaps and is willing to try to kill several passengers to make his meeting on time.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Nick once shot three boys behind a church in Belfast, because they had been throwing potatoes painted dark gray to look like grenades.
  • Shout-Out: Many, including prominent ones to The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek: The Original Series.
    • In the novella only, Nick tells Bob that James Bond isn't real when Bob asks if Nick could put them out with his combat training when they're trying to figure out ways to fall asleep so they can go back through the time rip. Almost comes across as a Take That!, since is hard for readers and viewers not to see Nick as almost an expy of Bond in the novella and film. The film takes it a step further by casting English actor Mark Lindsay Chapman, who has black hair and blue eyes like the Bond character is described in the novel.
  • Slept Through the Apocalypse: The guy with the black beard in the novella only. This could also be said for the main characters as well. If they hadn't, there'd be no film.
  • Someone Has to Die: Good news: They should be able to escape by flying back through the time rip. Bad news: If they're awake when they go through, they'll vanish — and after seeing the past get eaten by Clock Roaches, none of them are particularly inclined towards sleep. Good news: If they lower the cabin pressure, they'll all fall unconscious and make it through unharmed. Bad news: Someone has to stay awake to restore the cabin pressure so they'll wake up on the other side. Nick volunteers
  • Species Title: Antagonist Title for the Clock Roaches, technically, but they don't really have a known species name, that's just what the characters call them. The actual Langoliers are boogeymen from Craig Toomy's childhood who ate people who wasted time, and Craig identifies the literal time-eating monsters with them.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: The sweet and innocent Laurel would have been quite the grounding force for the haunted and needing to atone Nick. They're both quite smitten with each other, and both admit they could have something after they get back to the present. However, Nick foregoes the romance to atone for his past misdeeds, and sacrifices himself so Laurel and the remaining survivors can live.
  • "Stuck at the Airport" Plot: The only things keeping this flight grounded is a lack of clearance from Air Traffic Control and a lack of fuel.
  • Super-Reflexes: Played with. In the novella, after Nick and Brian break down the cockpit door, Brian is about to stumble and fall into the cockpit controls before Nick stops him. The surprised Brian lampshades Nick's incredible reflexes.
  • Take That!: When trying to find a method to knock everyone out to fly back through the time rip, Bob Jenkins, in the novella, asks the SAS-trained Nick if he knows some sort of sleeper hold or move that could render them unconscious. Nick makes it plain that James Bond doesn't exist, and even if he wasn't suffering with a broken arm, anything he used on them from his training would definitely cripple them, and possibly wouldn't even render them unconscious anyway.
  • Talk to the Fist: Nick really doesn't have time to listen to Toomy yammering on about how important his meeting is and how much he forbids the plane to make any sort of unscheduled stop at all. No, not even if most of the people on the plane including the flight crew have mysteriously vanished. While he never actually punches Toomy, Nick gets him in a brutal nose-hold that takes the fight out of him completely in the beginning of the story and in the film.
  • There Was a Door: Double Subverted. Right before Nick and Brian break down the door to the cockpit, Bethany muses on whether or not there's a key. Nick is caught completely off-guard by the question, before asking Brian the same thing. There isn't a key, but Nick compliments her for thinking of it.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: The Langoliers started off as a childhood boogeyman that Toomy's dad menaced him with, a hobgoblin that ate up lazy children. Adult Toomy makes the natural conclusion when the local Clock Roaches show up...
  • Time and Relative Dimensions in Space: The "nowhere at all" variant, as the passengers end up in a "used up" past.
  • Tragic Villain: Toomy, oh so very much. The guy is a complete danger to everyone else and grossly unpleasant, but is driven by mental torment rather than true, deliberate malice.
  • Waif Prophet: Dinah is a small, thin girl with a good knack for understanding and predicting things.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Toomy stabs Dinah in the chest, which eventually leads to her death. However, he was insane, and thought that Dinah isn't a real child but a Langolier in disguise.
    • Toomy also threatens Bethany at gunpoint. While she's not a child, she's easily the second youngest person in the party.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Despite being a Jerkass, Craig Toomy doesn't want to hurt anyone, not really, but extreme pressure coupled with obviously severe mental illness eventually cause him to violently snap and lose his mind entirely.
  • Worst Aid: Dinah is stabbed in the chest with a butcher knife. Then they pull it out.note  Given the nature of her injuries, though, that wouldn't have necessarily have saved her life, but it would have at least made it more likely she would have survived. To be fair, after they take it out they do try to stop the bleeding. Nick even comments that had they taken it out right away, she would have died already.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: A fiction writer gives an analysis of the situation (everyone waking up on an abandoned plane in mid-air) from the perspective of a mystery thriller. However, he immediately admits that it's a bunk theory, because there are still too many discrepancies. He realizes that they're really in a science fiction story, and later puts forth a different, correct theory on what happened to them.