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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Paramount // R // October 20, 2009
List Price: $12.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Casey Burchby | posted January 5, 2011 | E-mail the Author

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
would probably be titled Trouble in
Turkeyland
or Travel Buddies if it were released today. It
would be chopped up beyond recognition, too, its sleek 92 minutes hacked
to 78, cutting out the character bits and leaving only the punchier
set pieces and sight gags. John Hughes, like a lot of other filmmakers
who specialized in comedy during the 1980s, knew how to explore a varied
range of comic tones in crafting a full-bodied movie that went well
beyond the one-note comedies that are par for the course. Hughes took
comedy sub-genres such as the teen film, the buddy movie, the family
comedy, and the road film, and boosted these flattened-out, cliché-bound
stories with robust characters capable of generating believably absurd
cinematic situations. Planes, Trains and Automobiles displays
Hughes' powers at their height, as well as Steve Martin and John Candy
in two of their very best roles.




Steve Martin is uptight marketing executive Neal Page, delayed in New
York due to a long meeting with a client that leaves him struggling
to make a flight from LaGuardia to Chicago. But it's the week of Thanksgiving,
and his travel plans take several unexpected turns, all of which find
Page reluctantly throwing in with shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith
(John Candy). Griffith is gregarious and even obnoxious; the personality
conflict fuels a host of comic situations. Page just wants to make it
home for Thanksgiving, and Griffith's unrepentantly cheery outlook doesn't
help matters, even though Griffith often proves resourceful.



Hughes uses his perfectly-cast leads to generate a string of outrageous
situations that, despite their comic ferocity, never lose sight of who
these two guys are and of what each of them is after: Page just wants
to be reunited with his family, while Griffith is perfectly content
to spend a few unplanned days with a stranger he would desperately like
to call a friend. As a successful executive and family man, Page doesn't
need friends; he just wants to go home. This tension remains understated
but understood throughout the film, building to a bittersweet twist
ending.



But the film succeeds and remains a classic because of its characters
and the set pieces that emerge from their personalities. From the opening
footrace down Madison Avenue between Page and an unbilled Kevin Bacon,
to Page and Griffith's first night in a motel, to the highway sequence
that ends with their rental car aflame, Hughes and his stars construct
a very funny and very fast travelogue of disaster. Martin is unafraid
to be flat-out unlikable as the uptight Page, and Candy sports a curly-haired
'do and a penchant for bow ties as the slovenly Griffith. Despite their
differing negative qualities - which are the qualities that drive a
wedge between the two characters - we care a lot about these guys, and
both actors perform their deceptively simple roles with admirable care.






The DVD



Image and Sound

This DVD release is not new. Nonetheless, DVD Talk received a copy
of the DVD that was released about a year ago. The technical presentation
(16:9 transfer, 5.1 surround) is very good. The crisp image looks almost
brand new, and the very active soundtrack showcases excellent effects
work and Hughes' strong musical sensibility. (The score is by regular
Hughes and John Landis collaborator Ira Newborn.)



Bonus Content


The extras are a little disappointing in their brevity. Three featurettes
and a single deleted scene run under 30 minutes all told. Although some
of the vintage footage in the featurettes is interesting, it's too bad
more work wasn't put into making this second DVD release truly special.
The film deserves deluxe treatment.





Final Thoughts


Planes, Trains and Automobiles
is a classic character-driven comedy that has aged well due to the timelessness
of Hughes' approach - one that favors personality and situation over
cheap gags and topical references. An excellent technical presentation
is undermined by a regrettable lack of substantive extras. Although the movie itself is a near-perfect comedy, this DVD only merits a high recommendation.

Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.

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C O N T E N T

V I D E O

A U D I O

E X T R A S

R E P L A Y

A D V I C E
Highly Recommended

E - M A I L
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