The spoof film means something different to audiences today than it did in the early 80s. Anything, if done enough times over, starts to become stale. For instance, the first Scary Movie, while having a couple of really lame scenes, was actually pretty funny overall. With each sequel, however, came diminished returns. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a film that spoofs spoof films (though I’m not sure how one would do that).
Airplane!, however, was the first of the genre. Not only that, but the argument could also be made that it is the best. This film, from the people responsible for the hilarious Kentucky Fried Movie, was a send-up of the popular airplane disaster films of the 60s and 70s. At the time, nobody really knew how to do a film like this, or even how to describe it. In fact, it was pitched to the studio as “Animal House on an airplane”, which of course it was not. However, the studio bought in to the idea, and a comedy classic was born.
There are far too many funny moments in this film to mention, and too many inspired decisions to be recognized, but I think a major part of this film’s success was the decision to cast serious dramatic actors in the roles. Everybody knows that the best way to play comedy is not to try to make it funny, but to deliver it with conviction. This, coupled with the fact that these actors were bucking the audience’s expectations, gives the film respectability (of all things) in the face of complete lunacy. When is the last time a spoof film was nominated for a Golden Globe for “Best Picture – Comedy or Musical”? The sequel was also pretty funny, but you just can’t beat the original.
Airplane is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average nearly 40 mbps. Don’t let the high bit-rate fool you. This is a catalog title with no effort at all to clean or upgrade the image. Yes, it’s sharper, but all of the descriptions of the most recent DVD apply here. The image is often drab and contains some rather annoying video noise that is somewhat of a mystery to me. Black levels are weak. Upgrade only if you really want the high-definition tweaks, because they aren’t all that noticeable here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is still not a big step up. There is virtually no low end, and the same can be said for the surrounds. Of course, when this movie was being shot, the idea of home theater was simply unheard of, so I am not surprised. In fact, comedies in general were not looked at in terms of quality audio or video in the late 70s and early 80s, as much as concentrating solely on the existence of the funny. You would think that with all the trouble that goes into remastering a film for Blu-ray, the audio guys would have looked at improving the foley while they were at it, but they clearly did not. Oh well; the real point is the dialog, and it is easier to hear on the 5.1 track than it was on the stereo track, so all is well.
In addition to the token collection of trailers for this and other products, there is a fabulous commentary track available by producer Jon Davidson and writer/directors Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker. These guys are just about as funny in real life as they are through their films, and it is a real treat to hear them all gathered together to discuss their most famous of works.
This disc also includes one of my favorite extras that seems to be gaining in popularity, the trivia track. This one repeats some of the information that is found elsewhere on the disc, but it is still a very entertaining way to make your way through this film if you have seen it dozens of times before, like I have.
The real jewel in the crown is the inclusion of the Long Haul Version of the film. What the producers have done is taken all of the deleted scenes, interviews outtakes and the like, and shoved them all into the film itself, in the style of the “Follow the White Rabbit” feature from The Matrix. At first, I was annoyed that I couldn’t access all of this information separately, but once I got into it, this is a brilliant way to view this added content. First you watch the scene, then you get all the background on it instantaneously, without even having to lift a finger. This is the ultimate lazy man’s extra, and I think I am in love. Plus, it also doesn’t hurt that there is literally extra content showing up every 40 to 60 seconds of the film. All the viewer has to do is sit down, press play, and sit back for an afternoon packed with goofy entertainment.
This unassuming little disc is a quality purchase in disguise. Most retailers have it for something in the $15 range, which makes it a real steal. The movie is obviously a classic, and the extras come in better than advertised. Admittedly, the A/V specs are not as good as I was expecting, but they still present this film in a much better format than it has ever been seen before. Comedy fans, you owe it to yourself to pick up this disc.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani