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Airplane! – Paramount Presents (Blu-ray Review)

One month, two Jerry Zucker titles from two different decades and two completely directions for the Paramount Presents brand label. We first talked about Ghost, but now lets shift landing gears to Airplane! A landmark comedy that has never left the “movie quotes” lexicon and still works its magic on generation after generation. And this year it is turning 40 years old. Holy moly, you have earned that exclamation point! For this new edition there is a new 4K transfer of the film, overseen by its directors. The Filmmaker Focus is here, but another new bonus feature comes in the likes of a Q&A recorded back in January at the Egyptian Theater (Remember when we used to go to those places? Ah, fond memories). Its available now in this edition or a steelbook which are both handsomely priced. You can nab this one with the standard Paramount Presents packaging by clicking on the Amazon Associates link that follows the review.

Film

This spoof comedy takes shots at the slew of disaster movies that were released in the 70s. When the passengers and crew of a jet are incapacitated due to food poisoning, a rogue pilot with a drinking problem must cooperate with his ex-girlfriend turned stewardess to bring the plane to a safe landing.

While Airplane! wasn’t the first spoof or parody comedy film ever made (Heard of Mel Brooks, anyone?), it did fundamentally change the game for how they were done. The landmark Zucker brothers/Abrahams collaboration found a new methodology in the presentation of the spoof film. And with the glutton of disaster films both popular and passed over in the 1970s, that genre seemed right to have a mirror shown upon it. A perfect storm had brewed.

Until Airplane!, in your typical all out comedy, everyone from the characters to the actors to the production crew knew and showcased they were making a comedy. What the film did that distanced itself from the others is that it played everything straight and let the lines and visual gags sell themselves. Everything looked and felt like an actual disaster film, but just slightly off. The film feels like a gag you make to your friend during a real one come to life. Not limited to just the disaster films of the time, many pop culture touchstones (Some still remembered now, some we may no longer recognize) are poked fun at too. In fact, its so successful that the jokes play well on their own, regardless of reference recognition.

One of the most important aspects of the “playing it straight” component is getting the actors on board as well. And as we all know, and as introduced to us in this film, there is NO ONE better at it than Leslie Nielsen. He is absolutely dynamite here and it would lead to further partnering with the Zuckers and Abrahams (If for some reason you’ve committed the crime of never seen the short lived television show Police Squad, go fix that now). Many of the actors here do well, especially Julie Hagerty who really has an underlooked performance in the film. She’s in her own space that enhances film and provides a unique comedic presence.

Airplane! is a tough one to write about beyond the “that joke was funny” or “that joke was clever” or “I caught that reference”. The Zuckers and Abrahams must be given credit that for the sheer amount of jokes a minute, there is an actual patience for it shown and a focus on actually crafting a drama that works and never gets off course first and foremost. The desire of having the plot and character arcs first allow the humor and spoof to play more natural and even more riotous in execution. At the end of the day, a film like this does merely come down to “Did I laugh?” and “How much/hard did I laugh?” And with Airplane! we all know that it hits the highest marks in all facets.

Video

Additional screencaps appear following the paid Amazon Associates link at the end of this review.

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Airplane! boast a new 4K transfer supervised by writers/directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker. And wowee does this thing look wonderful. The image retains a nice grain structure while also feature a crisp image that looks incredibly three dimensional in appearance. Details are very strong and the color palette improves greatly. Its a damn shame this wasn’t given a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release (Seriously, what collector wasn’t going to buy Airplane! on 4K?), as this new picture showcases what a tremendous restoration has been done on it.

Depth: Depth of field is quite outstanding here with great foreground and background spacing, showcasing a great sense of scale and distance here with free reign for anything to moved in detached fashion. Motion is smooth and cinematic with no issues regarding motion blur or jitter.

Black Levels: Blacks are kept to very natural levels, featuring some deep consuming shadows and fall of night. Darker fabrics and surfaces manage to retain their details and textures. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  While featuring a mainly “regular” looking palette of browns and grays the film does pop with blues, reds and more, especially having a nice glow on neon signs, lighted buttons, disco dance floors and exterior plane and airport lighting.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Every little facial texture and detail comes through very clear like wrinkles, make-up lines, sweat, sand stuck to the face, stubble and more.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, German 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, French 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, German, French, Japanese, English Commentary, German Commentary, French Commentary, Japanese Commentary

Dynamics: Airplane! retains its 5.1 track found on all of its previous Blu-ray releases. And that’s okay, its a pretty fine track that manages to cleverly make a seamless transition from what was once likely a mono/stereo track. The mix doesn’t try to overdo it and plays it tight to the vest, with most of the action happening up front. It does balance quite well, though the score sounds the most restored and fresh in the mixture. Overall, a solid job and more than gets the job done for this 40 year old classic comedy.

Height: N/A

Low-Frequency Extension: The subwoofer does a solid job in deepening the experience. Mostly, the bump and bass in the music feels the most impact with punches, crashes and the like varying in their degrees of loudness or thumping.

Surround Sound Presentation: This one hangs a lot toward the front, but there are some notable contributions from the rear speakers during important moments and sound travel is handled accurately.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals come along clear and crisp, plenty audible in any given moment of intensity.

Extras

Airplane! in first pressing, comes with a slip cover that folds open to reveal the original poster art for the film. Removed from this release are the Trivia Track and the Long Haul Version which contained deleted scenes, interviews and the like.

Audio Commentary

  • By Writers/Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Producer Jon Davison

Isolated Score Track

Filmmaker Focus: Writers/Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker on Airplane! (HD, 8:42) – The directors go over their fun making the film and a few of the challenges in getting it done the way they wanted.

Q&A With The Directors Of Airplane!: Egyptian Theater, Hollywood: January 10, 2020 (HD, 34:49) – A full, in depth Q&A session which is pretty interesting and fulfilling. One of the best new bonus features that has appeared on a Paramount Presents disc.

Summary

Aiprlane! remains one of the dazzling comedy spectacles ever put to celluloid and is still as giggly, smart and clever as ever 40 years later and counting. Paramount Presents showcases a stunning new transfer for the film (WHY OH WHY WAS THERE NOT A 4K Ultra-HD RELEASE FOR THIS!), with the same good audio as before. The new features are worthwhile, but once again, its the subtraction of supplementary material found on the previous release which is the source of disappointment. At the end of the day though, the film sells itself and the transfer is VERY MUCH worth the upgrade.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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