A few months ago, I took a bus trip to Boston with some friends to catch a weekend sporting event. The first bus had broken down, the second bus (and its driver) had missed picking up some additional passengers three different times, and we spent approximately nine hours on the road for what should have been a five hour trip. We got to the hotel to find we were overbooked and our group was split into two hotels. After a short night, en route to the stadium the next day, we were sideswiped by an ambulance that took our side view mirror off with them. Fortunately, we were able to get back home safely. It may be easy to look at how crappy the trip was, but the experience of the trip itself has left us with a shared, slightly unique experience that was more memorable than the event we were going to see.
It's the journey and the experience that helps make Planes, Trains & Automobiles so special. Written and directed by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club), the film centers on two individuals. Neal Page (Steve Martin, Roxanne) is an advertising professional looking to catch a late-afternoon pre-Thanksgiving flight from his New York job back home to Chicago. While attempting to catch a cab to the airport, Neal (almost literally) runs into Del Griffith (John Candy, Spaceballs), a traveling salesman for shower rings. Despite Neal's every effort, he and Del seemed to be locked at the hip on their journey to Chicago, whether it's being rerouted to Wichita, Kansas because of a Chicago snowstorm, or sharing the back of a refrigeration truck, a rental car or even a hotel bed. Neal just wants to get home before losing what's left of his marbles.
It's clear that Neal and Del are cut from different molds and positions in life, but as the film goes along, Neal looks past that with increasing ease, seeing Del in a similar light of someone who wants to get home to his family for the holidays. In Del, Candy's performance is one where Del is a brash, crass, cigarette-smoking loudmouth, however when the veneer is stripped away, Candy shows us a lovable loser in a surprising turn. It's hard to stay angry at Del long because his hurt look is more affecting than when he takes his shoes and socks off next to you. The first couple of acts in Hughes' story are good, but the underlying swift in feeling has gotten more appreciation from me through the years.
But hey, the initial premise of Candy and Martin in a Hughes film is what gets you in the door, and the laughs in the film still hold up through the years, though in different aspects. The scene when Del almost kills both of them in the rental car might not be as hilarious now as when I saw it as a kid, and goodness knows I'm laughing at different parts of the movie now than when I did when I was 15, but on the deliverable chuckles on the film, the two bring them in workmanlike fashion, not playing them too over the top, and not leaving them as hollow jokes washing up on the shore. This is crystallized best in the sequence when Neal walks back from the car rental lot, through the airport runways and roads, to hurl a Costco-sized can of profanity at the rental clerk (played by Hughes favorite Edie McClurg). Martin plays it in such a way that it's not too far off from something any one of us would do, and McClurg's simple response is a hanging curveball over the place for anyone who's ever been in the customer service industry. To be sure, the humor that is typical in a Hughes' script is present in Planes, albeit in much more measured and thus effective form.
For all of the categorizing of John Hughes' work as being geared toward teens (and most of it is), with Planes, Trains & Automobiles serves to be the one that crosses the most demographics and has slowly grown into a multigenerational touchstone. The performances are heartfelt as much as the quality of the material being delivered, and no matter where the end of the journey is, be it in Chicago or for a bunch of bus-riding hooligans going to Boston, the experiences within the journey make it so memorable.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Paramount affords an AVC encoded 1.85:1 widescreen presentation to Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and the results are about as good as can be expected. Flesh tones look natural, and the color palette, while not vibrant, looks accurate. Shadow delineation is a little lacking yet blacks tend to look consistent through the film. There is a noticeable layer of film grain present when watching the feature, and while there look like some moments of DNR, there isn't too much to be concerned with. For what the film looked like at the time, this looks good though hardly breathtaking.
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless surround track that comes with the film is decent, though nothing spectacular. There are occasional moments of low-end fidelity like the car crash that remind you this is a six-channel track, but save for the traditional score/soundtrack in a Hughes film, the soundstage doesn't stretch too much. Even the jets going by lack subwoofer activity, and directional effects are scarce, as is channel panning. Any level of immersion is hard to detect when listening to the sound as most everything occurs in the front speakers, but as a straightforward replication of the film's sound, this disc is fine.
The good news is that everything from the standard definition edition is included here with some additions. The bad news is the additional material centers around remembrances of Hughes combined with some vintage interview footage from Hughes himself. I'm not knocking the material, as it's good, I just would have wanted more/different stuff than was here, but then again, don't we all? Moving on, "Life Moves Pretty Fast" is a two-part look at Hughes' life and film work. "The Voice of a Generation" (27:39) examines Hughes, featuring new interviews with those who worked with and for him, including Matthew Broderick and Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Lea Thompson (Some Kind Of Wonderful) and Jon Cryer (Pretty In Pink). Each of them and other collaborators has story or two about how Hughes was to work with and how he directed, and Matty Simmons, founder of National Lampoon and producer of Hughes' screenplay that became Vacation recalls how Hughes wrote for the magazine, and recounts his transition from it to film scripts. The piece is good but runs about 5-10 minutes long. The second part, titled "Heartbreak and Triumph" (25:52) is the better one of the two, as this gets a bit more into Hughes' process and includes a lot of footage of him on set. His music influences are discussed and how they figured into his work, and the talk about him pulling away from Hollywood is given some candor as well, with the piece wrapping up with when and where they were upon hearing the news of his death and what his legacy is. Altogether a solid tribute.
From there, the existing extras commence. "Getting There is Half The Fun" (16:38) is a look at the film from Hughes and the stars, primarily using a pre-release press conference where the trio share their thoughts on the material and tossing one-liners at each other. A couple of the other actors recall their time on set and their own individual scenes, be it in recent footage or in vintage interviews, and the hotel scene is discussed too. This is easily the closest thing to a making of there is for the disc, with "John Hughes For Adults" (4:02) recycling much of the same footage from the previous piece, a "John Candy Tribute" (3:01) including some quick thoughts of fondness and a deleted scene (3:24) being the only other things to speak of.
Additionally, the disc, an exclusive for Best Buy stores, comes with a lenticular cover, if you're into that kind of thing.
On one hand, seeing Planes, Trains & Automobiles finally arrive to Blu-ray is a welcome sight, on the other, the lack of any real participation by Martin in the extras feels like an incomplete experience. If you've got the standard def disc and want to double-dip, the only worthwhile part is the extras, but if you haven't seen this before (or don't have it in your library), I'd strongly consider snapping it up because for better or worse, this is as good a treatment as the film is going to get on recorded video.