There’s nothing like a big Hollywood epic. And Martin Scorsese is the man to deliver. The Aviator is a tantalizing blend of Old Hollywood and modern filmmaking panache. The movie tells the story of Howard Hughes. He rose to fame as a Hollywood producer and aviator extraordinaire. Eventually, Hughes descended into a crippling OCD affliction. The movie gives us a taste of the tragedy to come, but doesn’t dwell on it. The Aviator is a thrilling ride into the world of a complicated man.
The…movie is backed by an extremely solid cast. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hughes. I had my doubts, but Leo delivers the goods. He’s got movie star looks, but Leo’s descent in psychological hell is quite convincing. I was reminded that, yeah, he can be one of our finest actors (Gilbert Grape comes instantly to mind). Cate Blanchett (in her Oscar winning role) is a dead ringer for Kate Hepburn. And it’s a performance that’s not just mimicry either. Memorable performances also include Alan Alda (in a nice turn), Alec Baldwin (always fun to watch), and John C. Reilly (class act all the way). Kate Beckinsale is an okay Ava Gardner, and Gwen Stefani’s much talked about role (as Jean Harlow) is really just a glorified cameo. The real deal is DiCaprio as Hughes. Leo is pitch perfect.
The sequence where Hughes crashes his plane into a suburban L.A neighborhood is one of the best in movies all year. Scorsese continues to dazzle us with his moviemaking prowess. John Logan’s script may be a bit disjointed at times. But we’re put in the hands of a master here. Scorsese, like Hughes, is the ultimate showman. While not on par with Marty’s masterpieces, The Aviator is a good old fashioned Hollywood thrill ride. If you love movies, you’ll love The Aviator.
The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is quite strong. The front speakers get quite the workout. Although rear directionality is used sparingly, the audio mix still holds up. Your rear speakers come in handy for music and environmental effects. The Hell’s Angels and airplane crash sequences are excellent examples of a full front and rear sound. I was surprised by the front heavy mix, but it works for the story Scorsese is trying to tell.
Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, this video transfer is solid. It’s not perfect, however. Colors are deep and rich, but almost too much. The transfer has an feeling of over-saturation to it. Blacks seem too black, and colors seem a little too vibrant. Perhaps this is effect Scorsese was going for. And one gets used to the slightly unnatural flesh tones. However, digital artifacts are almost non-existent. This is a deep, luxurious video transfer. But almost too rich. It’s like eating an extra piece of the cake you love.
Talk about packed. A lot of extras here.
On Disc One, there is an audio commentary with Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and producer Michael Mann. It’s funny because Scorsese was the only one advertised as doing the commentary. And here pops up two other people. But I’m not complaining. I love Scorsese commentaries, and having master editor Schoonmaker and talented filmmaker Mann along for the ride is like having your cake and eating it too (too many cake metaphors, sorry). Each participant was recorded separately and there are lapses in the commentary. But, for film fans, this is a must listen.
On Disc Two, there are many features. Here is a brief rundown. There is one meaningless deleted scene (Howard tells Ava about his car accident). There is the standard “making of” featurette; it’s called “A Life Without Limits” and runs about 10 minutes long. “The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History” is a nice little overview of Hughes’s, well, contribution to aviation history. “Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes” is a 45 minute History Channel segment on the man himself. “The Visual Effects of The Aviator” is a segment featuring Robert Legato, as he talks about how these effects were created. “The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” is a 15 minute discussion on the nature of the illness.
And the list of extras continues… “The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator” is where we spend some time with Moreg Ross, The Aviator’s hair and makeup coordinator. “Costuming The Aviator” is where we spend some time with Sandy Powell, the Oscar Winning costume designer for this film. The costumes are, indeed, gorgeous. “Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Ferretti” details the work of this talented art director. “An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda” could be fun. C’mon, Titanic Jack and MASH’s Hawkeye? A night on the town? Sadly no…just a moderated discussion. The “OCD panel discussion” includes guests Leo, Marty, and Terry Moore (Hughes’s widow), as well as a few doctors. OCD is the topic of discussion. They discuss for about 15 minutes. “Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore” is a short featurette about the composer. He’s an interesting man, and also composed the Lord of the Rings films, don’t ya know? “The Wainwright Family” is a 5 minute segment about the family and musicians who were involved in the Coconut Grove sequence. Rounding out the extras, we have still galleries and an ad for the soundtrack album. Whew.
While not a perfect film, The Aviator is a dazzling cinematic thrill ride. There are moments of greatness, and moments of not so greatness. But director Martin Scorsese has us in the palm of his hand the whole way. The excellent performances don’t hurt either. With solid video and audio, not to mention the exhausting amount of extras, the 2 Disc edition of The Aviator should keep you busy for weeks. Just don’t forget to wash your hands.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scene
- “The Making of the Aviator” featurette
- “The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History”
- “Moder Marvels” A History Channel Documentary
- The Visual Effects of The Aviator
- The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- The Age of Glamour: The Hair And Makeup of The Aviator
- Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell
- Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Ferretti
- An evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda
- OCD Panel Discussion
- Scoring The Aviator: The Work Of Howard Shore