A masterpiece of off-the-wall comedy, AIRPLANE! tells the story of an ex-fighter pilot who takes control of an airliner when the crew is incapacitated—and skewers airplane disaster flicks, religious zealots, television commercials and everything else in its path along the way. The wildly quotable comedy features an all-star cast including Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and more. (from Paramount Pictures)
It can be a little startling to only ever watch a movie on TV and then see it in its unadulterated form on video. I remember watching the 1980 airport comedy spoof Airplane! on TV several times growing up. It's not the most wholesome of comedies, but it's one of the most original spoofs and a groundbreaking one at that. Many have tried to copy the silly tone and visual gags that Airplane! boasted and few have been able to come close. Truthfully, it's not the funniest movie you'll ever see, and if you hate silly and goofy comedy, I can tell you right now that this movie is definitely not for you. But until watching the new 2011 Blu-Ray home entertainment release of Airplane!, I don't believe I've ever seen *all* of the film. Sadly, by that, I mean that some content that had been omitted for TV was stuff that I can assure you I've never missed having never seen before.
As a whole, Airplane! is one of the most memorable films of the 1980s because of its comedic approach. Better comedies have been made since its debut, but the three-piece directing team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker created something truly unique with this film. Unfortunately, much like most comedy in today's Hollywood undertakings, sexual humor plays a big part in the jokes you find in the film. Perhaps it's not as frequent in Airplane! as, say, last year's Dinner For Schmucks, but it's still there and when it is, it's pretty in-your-face. See, in 1980, the movie ratings were much more lax. There was no PG-13 rating, so it was a bit more black and white; we either had PG or R ratings. This all changed in 1984 due to movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom being considered too rough for PG and not rough enough to be R. But if Airplane! were released today, there's no way it would get a PG rating, but it would have to be edited slightly to obtain a PG-13. Without editing a thing, keeping it the way it is, it just might get slapped with an R rating. The reason I say this is not for language or violence, but for nudity. I was surprised that, during a scene where complete pandemonium breaks out on the plane, we see the close-up of a topless woman's chest run in front of the camera, stop for a second right in the middle of the screen and then run off screen. Another sequence shows a pilot visiting a rack of adult magazines in airport with one cover showing topless nudity and another one nearly showing as much. Finally, a few visual gags that would probably pass in a PG-13 film without the blink of an eye involve a woman refilling the air in an inflatable autopilot doll (who's made to look like a man) where the tube is at its crotch (which looks like she's performing oral sex on it). Another gag shows the "non-smoking" logo get illuminated for passengers and then another right below it displays the cartoonish graphic of a couple having sex with an "X" over it (like the non-smoking sign). Some may consider all of these rather mild, and maybe they are considering some of the stuff PG-13 films get away with these days, but for a film bearing a "PG" rating that parents might look at and mistake for a family-friendly film, they're guaranteed to get more than they bargained for.
Despite the content flaws (which does include some profanity, but not persistent usage), the film has always been a fun one to check out when it's been on TV. It stars a few actors who were predominantly known for their serious roles, like Leslie Nielsen and Peter Graves, and their dry delivery of some really ridiculous material is quite amusing. Robert Hays, who I don't believe I've ever seen in anything else, and Julie Hagerty (who I later saw in What About Bob?) are great at playing their characters straight and convincingly. You have to be a strong actor to pull off this kind of material and they do a fantastic job at it. Nielsen, Graves, Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges make up an excellent supporting cast and they all do a really great job mixing comedy with drama without being campy or over-the-top in what is otherwise an over-the-top movie. It's their cool and collected reactions to the ridiculousness around them that makes this such a fun film. And c'mon, who can forget exchanges like "Surely, you can't be serious?" "I am serious... and don't call me 'Shirley'" or the gag with the pilots and co-pilots' last names?
In the end, it's the content that drags the movie down for me. On the basis of some pretty iffy and crude gags, I can't recommend this one. The picture on the Blu-Ray release looks pretty good considering the movie is 31 years old, but I don't feel as though the HD presentation really improves on the movie as much as it does for some. Some really dated films have looked fantastic in Blu-Ray (pretty much any of the 80s Star Trek films, for example), but Airplane! looks surprisingly grainy at times, while other times, the picture is pretty clear, crisp and colorful. There are minimal special features on this release too, so if you are hoping for some extraordinary extras, you won't find anything new here. Apparently, one of the movie's DVD releases in 2005 offered a special feature called "Long Haul Version" and that is included here as the only extra besides a feature audio commentary track from the directors. (Oh, side note: The Blu-Ray disc's menu is made up to look like the in-flight instructional card and it has "S--t" written on it as well as an animated re-enactment of the above-mentioned autopilot inflating scene).
All in all, Airplane! is a classic comedy film, but one that crosses the proverbial line a few too many times to really be recommendable (A lot of the comedy gets pretty bold when it comes to ripping on all kinds of stereotypes - from racial to religious. There's a very good chance something in it will offend someone). Just don't let that PG rating fool ya, Airplane! is a funny film, but isn't one for the whole family.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/24/11)
As I said above, Airplane!'s Blu-Ray release is pretty thin on extras. It's being given a Best Buy exclusive release and it's virtually a high definition transfer with the bonus features you'd find on the DVD release; there doesn't appear to be anything new here. However, the main extra, the "Long Haul Version" is the one fans would want to check out. Also, the high-definition quality is decent, but not spectacular. However, it does bring out detail you've probably never previously noticed in the movie before. This is good and bad; in the scene where Striker dances in the bar, you can very obviously see the piano wires holding him up so he can dance off his feet. I'm not sure if it's noticeable in other releases, but it was clear as day on this one.
Long Haul Version (1:27:42) - With this selected, you can watch the film with interactive pop-up features that causes a "TA" logo to show up on the screen at random times. When you select it, it takes you to random bonus material -- from interviews with the cast telling stories about the filming process and mistakes in the film (like visible crew in a shot) to the directors discussing what it was like to make the movie. The highlights include hearing from a present-day Bob Hays as he talks about his role as Ted and fun stories on the set and tricks of how things were filmed. The directors and actors show scenes from the finished film and point out visible errors or show behind-the-scenes footage or photos of some of the iconic scenes. The occasional deleted scene in a fun addition to this featurette, too. It's also fascinating to hear actor Peter Graves reflect on filming his role as Captain Over and how risky the film was for him to do (especially given some of the lines he had to deliver). It's also funny to hear from little Joey, who's all grown up now, and how people still tease him about some of Graves' dialog toward him in the film in the iconic cockpit meeting of the two. All in all, this is a great featurette, I just wish all the extras were visible separately from the film.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/24/11)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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