"The lives of everyone onboard depend upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane but who didn't have fish for dinner."
I snatched that quote because it said in one, two, three... twenty-eight words everything you need to know
about Airplane!, from its kinda-sorta plot all the way to its surreally ridiculous sense of humor. Who knew it was actually delivered with complete seriousness in a hopelessly obscure 1957 flick called Zero Hour!? Okay, probably a lot of people, but I wasn't one of 'em. Seeing as how I grew up in the '80s and was wired for cable, it kinda goes without saying that I've seen Airplane! eighteen hojillion times, and I never even knew till now that it was technically a remake. The only thing is that now I'm kind of desperate to track down a DVD of Zero Hour! and don't really feel like finishing this review.
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I won't try to recap the plot or anything since it's pretty much just a framework-fer-gags, but...c'mon, there's no way you haven't already seen Airplane!, so that'll save us both some time. I've gotta admit that I wasn't expecting much out of this longtime favorite on Blu-ray. I was hopelessly obsessed with this movie as a kid, and just about everything I loved that much growing up makes me want to curl up and die now. That's not so much the case with Airplane!, as it turns out. If anything, I think I love it even more now. Although there were some early genre parodies like the way Attack of the Killer Tomatoes skewered '70s disaster flicks, plus there's obviously ZAZ' own Kentucky Fried Movie, the comedy in those spoofs was really hit-or-miss, and they didn't scream ahead at the same manic
pace that Airplane! does.
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Its sense of humor casts a really wide net too: pop culture riffs, cacklingly vulgar sight gags, and a whole lot of witty wordplay. Even with all the bizarre and batshit insane havoc being wreaked here, the actors never mug for the camera. Because the cast plays it completely straight -- plus guys like Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen can actually act -- that head-on collision of the silly and the stonefaced serious still kills me however many decades later. The mission statement goes something like "never be not funny", lobbing out four or five gags a minute. If exposition is being heaped out, there's something ridiculous going on in the background to score a laugh. If you don't crack a smile at whatever the joke of the moment is, the next one's never more than a few seconds off. The jabs at pop culture aren't too dated: only a few fleeting references to some '70s coffee ads really creak and groan, and even stuff like the skewering of Saturday Night Fever still wind up feeling fun. Doesn't hurt that I'm better equipped now to appreciate stuff like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar being pestered about botching defense and only bothering to try during the playoffs since I know incrementally more about basketball now than I did when I was in 5th grade and watching Airplane! over and over and over and over. Seeing Robert Stack beat the ever-loving shit out of the nutjobs in the airport pestering him for donations is totally a wish-fulfillment fantasy for me too these days. Airplane! is like a fine wine! Better with age. Plus it has tits.
As things stand right now, at least, Airplane! is being sold exclusively at Best Buy. There's a sticker on the cover saying so and everything! Although that does mean you'll have to leave your dark, dank apartment to drive to a store or at least pony up for shipping from bestbuy.com, it's worth it. The asking price is all of $14.99 as I write this, and that seems inline with what newly-issued catalog titles are going for these days. Airplane! holds up a whole helluva lot better than I waltzed in expecting, it's gotten a pretty solid spit-and-polish on Blu-ray, and there are several hours of extras to boot. I think DVD Talk has a rating for things like that too: Highly Recommended.
Shameful confession! I never got around to grabbing Airplane! on DVD, so I can't do any direct comparisons between either of those older releases and this shiny new Blu-ray disc. On the other hand, there are snippets from the movie in some of the standard-def extras that probably mirror the creaky, old DVD from 2000, so if you wanna see how this high-def version of Airplane! stacks up, then...drum roll!...
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You don't even have to pop those screengrabs open to full-size to see how much punchier and more vivid the colors are versus that sickly, sepia-tinged DVD from a decade back. The palette is pretty drab early on in this Blu-ray disc too, but it roars to life shortly after the titles are all out of the way. Detail and clarity are kinda shockingly great when the camera's closed in tightly, settling for something more-ordinary-but-totally-okay otherwise. So, yeah, Airplane! is generally kinda soft and grainy like you'd probably expect for a really low budget studio flick from the class of 1980, but all that comes through as well as can be hoped for on Blu-ray. It doesn't look distractingly filtered or anything, there's not much in the way of dust or damage, and the compression never stumbles over that gritty, totally filmic texture. Not something you'd yank off the shelf to show off your 65", ISF-calibrated home theater rig or whatever, but...yeah, I'm happy with it.
The AVC encode for Airplane! gets to stretch its legs across both layers of this BD-50 disc. The aspect ratio has been opened up a few extra scanlines to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Hey, another remix! Purists might make a sad, frowny face that the original mono track isn't anywhere on here, but this 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix
really is pretty respectful. There's not a whole lot going on in the rear channels aside from music and reverb, so you won't have to cringe at a bunch of forced, gimmicky surround effects. The low-end is surprisingly meaty, and you get that low-frequency snarl right off the bat with that Jaws riff too. Elmer Bernstein's smirkingly overdramatic score is reproduced flawlessly, and although the film's dialogue does sound a little dated, it overall comes through really well too. As a card-carrying member of the Snarky Blu-ray Reviewer Cabal, I'm kind of honor-bound to nitpick about something, but I don't really have anything to complain about this time around. Solid! Solid as a rock rock rock rock.
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Monaural Dolby Digital dubs are dished out in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The list of subtitles includes streams in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
- Long Haul Version (71 min.; SD): Okay, I might've screwed up keeping tabs on all this stuff at some point, but if my math is right, the Long Haul Version of Airplane! branches off to sixty different interviews, behind-the-scenes photos, and deleted scenes, clocking in at 71 minutes in all. Well, 71 minutes and 3 seconds, but who's counting? It's a little bit of a drag that you can't access any of this material without watching the movie again, and mashing the 'Okay!' button on the remote every minute or so kinda kills the movie's momentum, but...whatever. There's a whole lotta stuff here, although you could probably have guessed that from the just-about-feature-length runtime. Props! Casting! Leslie Nielsen's fart machine! Jive! A former president of Paramount on his hands and knees making fake poop! Peter Graves' very first scene in the movie having him ask a 12 year old boy if he'd ever seen a naked man before! A tiny stewardess-type struggling to drag all seven feet and two inches of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar down a fake airplane aisle! A singing not-a-nun auditioning for the movie in the back of Jerry Zucker's Volvo! The guys who did the disco choreography in Saturday Night Fever giving "Stayin' Alive" another shot in this movie too! There are way too many highlights to list, unless you want to trudge through sixty different bullet points, but another favorite is being able to see clips comparing 1957's Zero Hour to Airplane! so you can see just how close a remake this is in a lot of ways. There are three very short deleted scenes scattered around in here too, although like ZAZ say, nothing they cut out is any good: a water cooler gag, more with the way-too-adult kids, and a
hijack"hi, Jack!" pun. Pretty much all of these clips run a minute or two a pop.
- Audio Commentary: Producer Jon Davison! David Zucker! Jerry Zucker! Jim Zuc...I mean, Jim Abrahams! This commentary track is such an essential listen, never easing up on the throttle for eightyhowevermany minutes straight. A few notes worth pointing out...? The long, long process of trying to get Airplane! off the ground (zing.), including briefly being pressured to boil it down to twenty minutes for Kentucky Fried Movie 2. A lot of the "extras" in the airport being actual folks in LAX trying to make their flights. Legal namechanging to "Zuckers and Abrahams" to sidestep Director's Guild rules. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanting a pay
raise so he could buy a $35,000 rug. Doing a Robert Stack impression for Robert Stack so he'd sound more like Robert Stack. The one airline in the entire world who bought Airplane! to show during flights. None of 'em ever even getting around to seeing Airplane 2, which they had absolutely nothin' to do with. Just a blast to listen to, and it's really, genuinely, sincerely insightful too!
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- Trivia Track: Unlike a lot of subtitle trivia tracks that just kinda...sit there, the one for Airplane! zips around and points arrows at very specific things, including a bunch of mistakes you were never actually supposed to see. This is one of my all-time favorite trivia tracks for sure, mostly because it hardly ever lets up. Among the standouts are the reveal that the movie was originally gonna be titled Kentucky Fried Airplane, ZAZ accidentally paying homage to From Here to Eternity with the sopping-wet romance on the beach, David Letterman auditioning for the lead, and moving around a valve because they didn't know how fellating an inflatable copilot would play with the censors. Definitely worth a peek, especially if you pair it with the audio commentary.
- Trailer (3 min.; HD): Sorry, I tried to think of something really clever or insightful to say about this high-def theatrical trailer, but I'm coming up a cropper.
Paramount really didn't cheap out when hammering out this Blu-ray release of Airplane!, lovingly crafting high-res animated menus with airplane safety pamphlet people acting out scenes from the flick, and they even tossed on a slipcover with lenticular animation.
The Final Word
What is surely one of the greatest comedies in the annals of film history has finally made its way to Blu-ray, and...yeah, I know, don't call you "Shirley". If you're done rolling your eyes or whatever, I'll say one more time that this shiny new Blu-ray release of Airplane! looks pretty great, there's a hefty stack of extras to tear into, and the asking price of $14.99 seems totally reasonable to me. Highly Recommended.