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Airplane! Blu-ray Review

Airplane! (1980) movie poster Airplane!

Theatrical Release: July 2, 1980 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG

Writers/Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker / Songs List

Cast: Robert Hays (Ted Striker), Julie Hagerty (Elaine Dickinson), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Roger Murdock), Lloyd Bridges (Steve McCroskey), Peter Graves (Captain Clarence Oveur), Leslie Nielsen (Dr. Rumack), Lorna Patterson (Randy), Robert Stack (Rex Kramer), Stephen Stucker (Johnny), Otto (Himself), Jim Abrahams (Religious Zealot #6), Frank Ashmore (Victor Basta), Jonathan Banks (Gunderson), Craig Berenson (Paul Carey), Barbara Billingsley (Jive Lady), Rossie Harris (Joey), James Hong (Japanese General), Ethel Merman (Lieutenant Hurwitz)

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By Aaron Wallace

Funny is maybe the last thing people would call commercial flight these days. That was different thirty years ago, when Airplane! became the fourth highest grossing film of 1980. Looking back now, the tongue-in-cheek comedy reminds us of a time when air travel was casual and relaxed... even when there's no one to fly the plane.

Airplane!'s slight story follows former pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) as he boards a jet plane, part of his plan to win the affections of stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty).
The flight starts easily enough -- a flight attendant sings to an ill child, two Afro-headed men converse in friendly jive, and an elderly lady chats up Ted as he nervously takes his seat beside her. Soon thereafter, though, a food-poisoned dinner is served and half the plane -- including Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves) and his co-pilot, Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) -- falls violently ill.

Fortunately, there is a doctor on board, Barry Rumack (Leslie Nielsen). Unfortunately, he's woefully inept. Otto, the inflatable auto-pilot, doesn't help much either. If only someone onboard knew how to fly a plane... oh wait, Ted does! Can he stop reminiscing about Girl Scout bar fights in time to wade through the convulsing, gas-soaked, panic-stricken, and sometimes randomly topless passengers and helm the cockpit?

All initially seems to be well for co-pilot Roger Murdock (a not-yet-bald Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves). Things aren't less stressful on the ground for air traffic controllers McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) and Kramer (Robert Stack).

Airplane! is of that special and rare brand of comedy that addicts with its deliciously silly balderdash. Like Clue, The Naked Gun, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the film revels in puns, randomness, and deadpan absurdity. The genre is underserved, particularly outside Mel Brooks' catalog, probably because it requires a very delicate balance of frivolity and dryness to work. Happily, Airplane! nails that balance with master-class finesse.

Despite the fact that it's right up my alley and widely considered one of the greatest comedies of all time, I somehow failed to see Airplane! until earlier this year. I already knew many of the jokes and gags beforehand, but I'm pleased to report that I'm in lockstep agreement with the majority. The movie is not only hilarious, but also nimble in its ability to privilege our innermost inanity as worthy of indulgence.

Having previously been released on DVD in 2000, in 2005 as a "Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition and in 2008 with "I love the 80's" packaging and CD sampler, Airplane! made its Blu-ray debut at the end of September. While Paramount will likely give it a wide release in the future, the disc is currently a Best Buy exclusive. Never fear; we still have it covered here!

Airplane! Blu-ray cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 25, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as "Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition DVD ($12.98 SRP)
and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as DVD (2000) and I love the '80s DVD (2008)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer is good but less than stellar. Paramount fortunately hasn't overworked the picture into something hyper-glossy, but grain is nevertheless a bit on the heavy side. That's particularly true in darker shots, though black levels are otherwise presented with mostly satisfactory depth and contrast. There's a pleasing degree of detail in the picture, but that's offset to some extent by almost-fading coloration. Drawbacks notwithstanding, this is surely the best Airplane! has looked on home video, and the nature of its production is such that the movie is never going to be a candidate for the top-ranked transfer in your collection.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track provides clear and plentiful sound. Dialogue, sound effects, atmospherics, and the laughably rousing score sound great, though they come primarily from the front three channels. The rear channels are in play but seldom noticeably. Bass is likewise underwhelming. Still, the track sounds quite good on the whole.

Foreign language tracks included are: French, Spanish, and Portuguese (all 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono). Subtitle options are: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. None of the above are available on any of the bonus features.

Writers/directors/executive producers Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker share memories in an audio commentary and in film-interrupting on-camera interviews from the Long Haul Version playback mode. Deleted scenes like this "Hi, Jack!" arrest are sprinkled throughout the Long Haul version of the movie.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray offers a medium amount of bonus features, all of them substantively good (but sometimes poorly executed). First is an audio commentary by producer Jon Davison and writers/directors Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, and David Zucker.
The conversation is funny, informative, and screen-specific. More than anything, their candor stands out as they reveal behind-the-scenes disagreements at Paramount.

The Trivia Track plays like "Pop-Up Video" for Airplane!. The on-screen blurbs are all textual in nature. As is not always the case with tracks like this, most of the info is pretty interesting. Naturally, reading every single pop-up is tiring, but it helps that you can play both this and the commentary track at the same time.

There's also a Long Haul Version of the movie, which plays the entire film but frequently breaks away to feature deleted scenes, recent interviews with cast or crew, and other material. The extra footage is great to see, but this interruptive format is frustrating and long-winded. While I can appreciate the effort to lend context to the content, a simple gallery or single featurette would have made for a better presentation. Note: while the audio commentary is available in this mode, the trivia track is not.

The title's exclamation mark is preserved in this original theatrical trailer and everywhere else. Ted's disco dance moves feature in the Blu-ray menu's animated safety card.

Finally, Paramount has thankfully included the original theatrical trailer (HD, 3:32), which perfectly captures the movie's brilliance and does a great job of selling it. That said, it also reveals a few too many of the best moments.

The main menu is quite creative, scrolling through animated reenactments of the classic scenes as if they were diagrams on the plane's safety instructions. Typical menu headings have been rebranded as: In Flight Movie, Settings, Seat Selection, and Safety Features. As for the jokes, just like the movie itself, the menu screen is rather adult in its comic sensibilities.

The disc is packaged inside a standard blue keepcase, jacketed with a lenticular slipcover. The cover art updates the original movie poster by enhancing the colors, adding Otto, and touting its recognition by AFI as one of the ten funniest films of all time. It looks quite nice, particularly in non-holograph form.

In the role that provided a career rebirth in comedy, Leslie Nielsen plays unhelpful passenger Dr. Rumack. The young leads of "Airplane!" -- stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) and former pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays)-- give love one more chance aboard the troubled Trans American Flight 209.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With a few good bonus features and decent audio/video treatment, Paramount's Airplane! Blu-ray belongs in coach, while the film itself is first class. Irreverent and uninhibited in its straight-faced dry humor, the movie is one of the best in the parody-satire genre.

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Related Reviews:
New: Footloose (1984) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (40th Anniversary UCE) Jackie Brown
1980s Comedies: Caddyshack Ferris Bueller's Day Off Back to School Big
Leslie Nielsen: Walt Disney Treasures: The Swamp Fox | Julie Hagerty: Confessions of a Shopaholic
Top Gun Flightplan Saturday Night Fever Epic Movie | Directed by Jerry Zucker: Ghost

Airplane! Songs List: The Bee Gees - "Stayin' Alive", John Williams - "Theme from Jaws", "Notre Dame Victory March", "River of Jordan", Ethel Merman - "Everything's Coming Up Roses", Otis Redding - "Respect"

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Reviewed October 28, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1980 Paramount Pictures and 2011 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.