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Planes, Trains and Automobiles - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
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 UHD:
The film has been restored for this release and it's a mixed bag. Light reproduction appears erratic and there are almost waves of film grain in various moments that felt distracting during viewing. Detail is decent but also inconsistent but color reproduction appears to be faithful to the source. But for a film they seem to release every five years to justify an anniversary, you'd think Paramount would aim a little higher.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless from the Blu-ray is dropped here, a curious choice at the surface but as the movie goes on it's a wise choice, with church music and organs possessing low-end fidelity, channel panning in cars and trucks honking their horns, and the opening sequence when an air conditioner falls on Dick even has some panning and subwoofer thump to it. Dialogue is natural and strong in the front of the theater, with the feature sounding as dynamic as the intent of it was.The Extras:
What little there's been from the various releases is brought over to this release (you can read about what's what in this piece). The big extra in the UHD release is the discovery of more than an hour of deleted and extended film, which can be found on the Blu-ray release funny enough. The footage is mostly in full frame and all in rough cut, and it basically serves as a further testament to the work Candy turns into the film. The robber in the film has a little bit of a longer arc, and there's a scene with airplane food that are the standouts, but all of the stuff here is fun to watch. The only other new extra is for Dylan Baker, better known as Owen, as his audition is shown (3:34).Final Thoughts:
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a Thanksgiving movie, it's a road movie, it's a funny movie, but it's a beautiful movie that explores the human dynamic. Some of it has been dwarfed by time, most parts are gems still, decades later. For as adored as the film is, Paramount needs to step up and put a little more to the plate with it at some point for it to be considered a must-own, because the only real reason to upgrade is for the deleted scenes. But if you don't have a copy of it, snatch this with both mittened hands.