Airplane! Blu-ray Review: Surely, It Hasn’t Been 40 Years

The seventh title in the “Paramount Presents” line is Airplane!, a hysterical send-up of the disaster-film genre, and specifically Zero Hour! (1957), which writers/directors David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker (ZAZ) borrowed so much from that they sought the rights to create a “remake.” It is jam packed with so many jokes it requires multiple viewings to take them all in because they take place in the foreground, background, and even on the audio track.

Airplane! has a serious story as its frame. During a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, the flight crew and a number of passenger are stricken ill. While the autopilot can continue flying plane, the only person able to land it is former Air Force pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays), who is only aboard because he pursued his ex-girlfriend, flight attendant Elaine (Julie Hagerty). However, his ability is in question as he suffers trauma from his war-time experience and has a “drinking problem.”

But the story takes a back seat as generating laughs are the filmmakers’ goal. Much of the humor stems from the deadpan delivery of the cast who performs the material straight. Most notably, Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack, who handles the material so well it led to his starring in ZAZ’s Police Squad franchise. There is one exception: Stephen Stucker as Air Traffic Controller Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs, who is the only actor/character who knows he’s in a comedy who delivers a delightfully outlandish performance.

The video is presented in 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Colors appear in strong hues. Blacks are inky and come close to crushing in nighttime exteriors early in the film. The image delivers a sharp focus and looks clean.

The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 but does little with it. Dialogue is clear and sticks to the center channel. Ambiance is limited and also rarely uses the other speaks. Elmer Bernstein’s score is the only element that fills the surrounds.

The special features include a previous commentary by ZAZ and producer Jon Davison. The new extras are the availability of an isolated score track showcasing Elmer Bernstein’s work; Filmmaker Focus (HD, 9 min) with ZAZ; and a Q&A with ZAZ (HD, 35 min) recorded at the Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood – January 10, 2020.

Forty years later, the humor of Airplane! still succeeds because the comedy was created and executed by talented individuals and silliness is timeless. The Blu-ray delivers pleasing video. The audio is underwhelming because other than the score, not much is done with the surrounds. Without knowing the condition of previous releases, I cant comment on if it’s worth a double dip, but Airplane! certainly deserves a spot in any comedy fan’s library.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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