Cast Away is a 2000 film by 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks about a FedEx employee who is stranded on a deserted island after his plane goes down over the South Pacific. It is unusual in modern cinema in that during most of the movie there is only one character (with the noted exception of Wilson the volleyball). Tom Hanks would go on to be nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his performance.
In the opening scene, a FedEx truck rolls under a large sign reading "Dick-Bettina" to a ranch-style Texas residence where the driver takes for delivery a FedEx package marked with a custom logo in the form of angels' wings. These wings are also seen as freestanding sculptures on the property and inside out-buildings. The woman sending the package, an artist in a welder's suit, tells the driver she will have another one for him to take that coming Thursday. We see the package delivered all the way to a residence in Moscow, Russia, to a man in a cowboy hat and robe. A Russian woman who is with the man, apparently on intimate terms, asks, "Who is it from?". He replies, "My wife".
The film then cuts to Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a highly efficient FedEx executive, as he attempts to improve the performance of FedEx's Moscow branch. After imploring the Russian employees to live by the clock, Chuck returns to the U.S. (Tennessee) where he is trying to guide a relationship with his girlfriend Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt) toward marriage. It is obvious that Chuck's harried professional life with FedEx is making his relationship with Kelly difficult to sustain. Their Christmas together is interrupted by Chuck being called on a last minute business trip. He and Kelly exchange gifts in the SUV on the way to the FedEx hub, Kelly giving him a family heirloom pocket watch containing a photo of herself, and Chuck giving her a number of joke presents before solemnly offering her an engagement ring. She is too nervous to open it, and he walks off to the FedEx jet saying, "I'll be right back".
While flying through a thunderstorm somewhere over the southern Pacific Ocean, Chuck's flight goes disastrously wrong and crashes into the nighttime sea in flames. Saved by an inflatable raft, Chuck ends up stranded alone on a deserted tropical island. After ascertaining the island is uninhabited, Chuck's most immediate need is drinking water, which he satisfies by drinking coconut water and later by storing rain water in the discarded husks. His second immediate need is shelter, which he secures by draping his raft over palmtree trunks and, later, by discovering small caves in the island rock. The third task is food. He attempts to fish, but is wholly unsuccessful at the start. As time progresses, his fishing skills increase. Shortly after his first fishing attempt, he finds a compelling need to produce fire, which, after great effort, many attempts and some injury, he succeeds in doing.
Fortunately for Chuck, a few FedEx packages from the plane wash up on the shore shortly after he lands on the island. A short time later, the body of one of the flight crew also washes up. Having been without shoes since removing them while on the plane, Chuck takes the pilot's too-small shoes and dons them after cutting out the toes. He also improvises some tools from items in the washed-up packages, in particular a pair of ice-skates (which he uses to remove a tooth causing him great pain). Chuck also finds a small pocket flashlight amongst the pilot's possessions. Around this time, at night, he sees a light on the horizon, presumably from a search party. After realizing the futility of attracting attention using the flashlight, he takes to the sea on the damaged life raft. His escape attempt is thwarted by the high surf around the island's reef, and his leg is badly cut in the process.
As time passes, it is clear that through determination and ingenuity Chuck has risen to the challenges of physical survival. It is also evident he is in a fragile mental state, relying heavily on his memories of Kelly.
One of the FedEx packages bears the distinctive angels' wings custom logo observed in the first scene. It is the package the artist mentioned she would be sending on the following Thursday. For some reason, this is the only package Chuck does not open.
Four years later, a large piece of a molded plastic port-a-john appears on the shore. Chuck, now with a beard, long hair and wearing a loincloth, his body much leaner and weatherbeaten, drags it up the beach away from the waves and contemplates it with some intensity. Eventually he uses this fragment as a sail for a new raft. It is also revealed that in previous years he has considered suicide as an alternative to escape from the island.
After construction of the raft, Chuck sets off into the ocean, desperately hoping for rescue. By raising his hinged, makeshift sail (on which he has painted a replica of the angels' wings logo) at a precisely timed moment in the curl of a wave, he pushes through the rough surf at the reef break that foiled him years earlier. After sailing for an unknown period of time over a distance of about 600 miles—when he is on the verge of death— he is rescued by a passing cargo freighter.
On returning home, Chuck must come to terms with the fact that everyone he was close to had given him up for dead long ago and moved on with their lives. Kelly has married and had a child with another man (Christopher Noth), his dentist. After a dramatic scene in which the pair comes close to resuming the romance, Chuck reconciles himself to "losing her all over again". In the film's short philosophical coda, Chuck explains to his close friend, "I've got to keep breathing. Because tomorrow, the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?".
The film ends with Chuck at a remote crossroads after delivering the one unopened package from the island to the residence from the first scene (due to the long passage of time, the package is being returned to sender). The sign over the residence has had the "Dick" portion of the "Dick-Bettina" name removed, but the angels' wings sculptures are still there. No one is home, so Chuck leaves the package propped in the screen door with a note, which reads "This package saved my life." He returns to the crossroads a short distance away, stopping his car to study a map. The artist, pretty, friendly, and around his own age, drives up in an antique truck and says, "You look lost." She describes where all the roads branching from the intersection lead. He thanks her, and as she drives away Chuck notices the angels' wings painted on the back of her truck. A long close up of Chuck smiling in the direction the truck had left closes the film.
One of Cast Away's notable "characters" is "Wilson," a volleyball from Wilson Sporting Goods. The volleyball is found in one of the FedEx boxes. When Chuck tries to make a fire and cuts his hand, he angrily palms the volleyball and throws it. The blood from his wound makes the hand-shaped mark that forms the ball's "face". This volleyball plays the role of a mute, infinitely patient, non-living listener in the movie, providing Chuck with a companion for the 1,500 days he spends on the island (one might go so far as to suggest that Wilson is to Chuck as Friday is to Robinson Crusoe). Wilson is also slightly modified by Noland sometime during the four-year gap; a section of the volleyball above the face has been removed and a coif of leaves has been inserted, serving as hair. From a theatrical standpoint, Wilson also serves to realistically simulate dialogue in a single-person situation. Chuck loses Wilson after the volleyball washes off the raft and drifts too far out to sea for Chuck to be able to retrieve it. Toward the end of the film, Noland is seen driving with a brand new volleyball sitting in the passenger seat.
Cast Away is well-known for its prominent product placement marketing. In this case the movie benefited two major brands: Wilson and FedEx. However, contrary to popular belief, FedEx did not pay the filmmakers anything for their presence in the movie, a fact which the director has made clear in a number of interviews.
At the time of the movie's release, Wilson Sporting Goods launched its own joint promotion centered around the fact that one of its products was "co-starring" with Tom Hanks.
Despite the fact that the plot revolves around the tragic crash of a FedEx plane, the company correctly guessed that the movie would not damage its reputation. FedEx cooperated closely with the filmmakers to ensure that all FedEx materials seen in the movie were authentic. Chuck's "coming-home" scene was filmed on location at FedEx's home facilities in Memphis, Tennessee. According to an interview on the DVD release of the film, FedEx Corporation did not pay for product-placement rights. However, the extensive support that the company provided to the film can be considered a form of payment for the placement.
Some commentators claim that the use of the FedEx brand and logo in its present form is an anachronism, since the first half of the film was set in 1995 while FedEx Corporation was officially titled FDX Corp. at the time. (FedEx Corporation changed to its present name in 2000, when Noland returned). However, the brand "FedEx" began to be used by the overnight-courier division of the company in 1994. The complete absence of references in the film to the old names that had been recently in use could still be considered a flaw or a form of marketing benefit.
* The producers made up a list of seemingly useless items that would be in the packages that Noland recovered: party dress, ice skates, divorce papers, video tapes, etc. They turned this over to a group of survival experts, who decided what the protagonist might be able to do with them: fish net, axe, etc.
* In the "Making of" content of the DVD, the producer states the film was shot on Modriki Island in Fiji at 17.609175° S 177.033777° E.
* A FedEx advertisement in the United States features a character who survived an ordeal very similar to Chuck Noland returning an unopened package to its owner. She tells him that it contains "silly stuff" such as a GPS Receiver, satellite phone, seeds, fishing rod and a water purifier. Watch the commercial here
* After the movie's release, NASCAR stock car driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drove several races with a volleyball in his car, whom he called "Wilson".
* The CEO at the end of the movie is actually Fred Smith, the real-life CEO of FedEx.
* In the 2006 video game Far Cry Instincts: Evolution, set in a tropical south Pacific location, there is a hidden island containing an easter egg: a small wrecked boat, two corpses, rocks laid out to spell "HELP!", and a volleyball resembling Wilson (except in the game, instead of a bloody handprint on the ball, it is a footprint)
* The Stargate Atlantis episode "Epiphany" references Cast Away when Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, stranded in a cave, says into his radio, "This is Sheppard. I'm pretty sure you can't hear me, but I don't have a volleyball to talk to, so what the hell."
* The movie was spoofed in Family Guy. It shows Peter on the raft with Wilson (the ball). Peter keeps yelling, "Wilson! Wilson! What are we gonna do now? Wilson! Wil-" At that moment the ball interrupts saying, "My name is Voit, dumbass!!"
* The movie was also spoofed in an episode of Lilo and Stitch: The Series when Pleakly made friends with a coconut he named Coco.
* Cast Away was spoofed in the movie Behind Enemy Lines, when Owen Wilson's character, Chris Burnett, loses a football out to sea. Chris then yells "Wilson!"
* It was also spoofed in the movie Madagascar, when Alex is stranded on the beach, talking to his basketball "Spalding." After Alex sees Marty having fun on the other side of the beach, and the Melman and Gloria start complaining, Alex says "Shut up, Spalding" Incidentally, this film was made by DreamWorks Animation, which was spun-off from DreamWorks in late 2004.
* In a panel discussing the movie, Director Robert Zemeckis jokingly said that the final unopened package at the end contained a waterproof, solar-powered satellite phone.
* Chuck tells Wilson that his dentist's name was Dr. Spaulding after he said that he wished Wilson was a dentist. Spalding is a company best known for its basketballs.
* Lloyd Braun of ABC Studios pitched the idea of a television series based on the movie, obviously titled: Cast Away: The Series. That show later evolved into the hit ABC show Lost. The pilot episode of the show was the most expensive pilot ever produced and fearful ABC executives subsequently fired Braun, ignorant of the success to come for Lost.
* Wilson, the sports equipment manufacturer, actually created and marketed a volleyball with Wilson's face on it.
* Production was on hiatus for about a year to allow Tom Hanks to lose some weight and grow his hair. During that period, Robert Zemeckis used the crew to produce and direct What Lies Beneath.
* MaximOnline.com named the airplane crash in Cast Away #6 on its list of "Most Horrific Movie Plane Crashes."
* In the MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing, a player can create a blood-faced volleyball using the bloody hand effect. To promote a bit of creativity, it is not allowed to be named "Wilson".
* The filmmakers actually burned down several trees on the island for the movie. In return they were required to plant three new trees for each one they burned down.
* A reference to an earlier Robert Zemeckis/Tom Hanks film Forrest Gump is when Chuck is on the plane ride home and he asks the stewardess for a Dr Pepper, in Forrest Gump, this was Forrest's favorite beverage.
* The film's minimal score was composed by Alan Silvestri for which he won a Grammy in 2002. The film's soundtrack is most notable for its lack of score while Chuck is on the island. There is no music at all until he escapes, which is used to resemble the lack of civilization on the island. A pseudo exception to this could be said to be the scene where Tom Hanks' character creates fire, in which he sings "Light My Fire" by The Doors, among others. The tracks for the score are as follows:
1. "Cast Away" - 3.44
2. "Wilson, I'm Sorry" - 1.39
3. "Drive To Kelly's" - 3.54
4. "Love of My Life" - 1.47
5. "What the Tide Could Bring" - 3.39
6. "Crossroads" - 2.08
7. "End Credits" - 7.29
* Tom Hanks – Hanks' performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
* Helen Hunt
* Wilson the Volleyball
* Valerie Wildman
* Geoffrey Blake
* Jenifer Lewis
* Chris Noth
* Nick Searcy
* Lari White - Bettina Peterson
Notable award nominations:
* 73rd Academy Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks), Best Sound
* BAFTA Awards: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks)
* Golden Globes: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama: For which he won (Tom Hanks)
* Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks)
* MTV Movie Awards: Best On-screen Team (Tom Hanks and Wilson)