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Featured Blu-ray Review: Airplane, Naked Gun, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

October 8th, 2011

Airplane - Blu-ray Best Buy Exclusive or Future Shop Exclusive
The Naked Gun - Blu-ray - Best Buy Exclusive or Future Shop Exclusive
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles - Blu-ray - Best Buy Exclusive or Future Shop Exclusive

At the end of September, a trio of comedies from the 1980s were released on Blu-ray for the first time: Airplane, The Naked Gun, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. At the moment, they are exclusive to Best Buy in the States and Future Shop up here in Canada. But are they worth going out of your way to grab?

Airplane - Blu-ray Best Buy Exclusive or Future Shop Exclusive

We start at an airport with people arriving for various trips, but we focus on one flight, a Trans American flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. One of the flight crew is a woman named Elaine Dickinson, who has just broken up with her long-term boyfriend, Ted Striker, who is suffering from PTSD and has developed a drinking problem as a result. She no longer respect him, so she can't be with him. He's determined to not let the relationship end like that, so he buys a ticket on her flight. It's the first time he's even been near a plane since the war.

Also on the flight is a young girl, Lisa, who is in need of a heart transplant and who has to get to Chicago as soon as possible. Partway through the flight, trouble begins. There's a storm up ahead, which could delay the flight. Then tragedy strikes. The crew and passengers start to become ill with food poisoning from tainted fish. There's only one man on board who has flown a plane who didn't eat the fish: Ted Striker. But he's never flown anything larger than a single-engine fighter during the war. He will have help on the ground, his old commanding officer from the war, Rex Kramer, but even then, it's a million to one shot.

When people think of spoofs today, they think of the awful Friedberg / Seltzer movies. Watching this film reminds you that spoofs can be funny, but it takes a certain talent. First, you need to understand what makes your target genre work. In this case, the disaster movie. And then tweak the genre conventions till the natural absurdities are brought to the front. The dialogue is infinitely quotable and the film never takes itself too seriously, even if the actors deliver the lines with all the seriousness of an Oscar contender.

This film changed the way parodies worked. The only downside is the countless imitations from lesser talents than came afterward.

The Extras

Extras include an audio commentary track, a trivia track, and the "The Long Haul" Version. The first two are pretty self explanatory. With "The Long Haul" Version, the Trans-World logo will occasionally appear on screen and by hitting the enter button you can watch deleted scenes or interview clips. The film's audio and video quality are both good, all things considered. The film only cost $3.5 million to make and was shot more than 30 years ago, so it doesn't exactly look crisp, but it is a large step up from the DVD releases. The audio is relatively uncomplicated. The dialogue is clear, but there are very few scenes that take advantage of the surround sound speakers.

The Verdict

Airplane is one of the best comedies of all time, and while the Blu-ray doesn't push the technology in any way, it is still worth picking up for the noticeable improvement in video quality. Grabbing it as a Best Buy Exclusive or Future Shop Exclusive will probably cost a little bit more than if it was released wider, but there's no word on when that will happen.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad - Blu-ray - Best Buy Exclusive or Future Shop Exclusive

After proving he could do comedy in Airplane!, Leslie Nielsen was cast as Lt. Frank Drebin in a short-lived TV show called Police Squad. Only six episodes were made, but it lived on in theaters becoming a trilogy. In the first film, Lt. Frank Drebin's partner, Detective Nordberg, is nearly killed while undercover investigating a shipment of heroin that was coming through the port of Los Angeles. However, Nordberg's investigation wasn't strictly by the book, so the cops think he might be crocked. Now Frank Drebin has 24 hours to clear his partner's name and find out who the real bad guys are, and it won't be easy, because there's a lot more to this case than drugs.

At the same time Frank has to clear his partner's name, he has to lead the protection detail for Queen Elizabeth II's royal visit. The person planning the reception is Vincent Ludwig, a respected businessman and the very person who ordered Nordberg killed. When Frank Drebin interviews Vincent Ludwig, he meets Jane Spencer, Ludwig's personal assistant. Ludwig asks her to keep an eye on Drebin, get to know him better. After all, Ludwig doesn't want drugs coming into Los Angeles any more than the cops do. But in reality, Ludwig is up to much more than drugs. He's been hired to carry out an assassination on Queen Elizabeth II.

This brings us to the only major problem with this film. Why? Why would you assassinate the Queen? It's not like she does anything. She has absolutely no political power. Unless you are Prince Charles, the death of the Queen will have no effect on your life. Maybe he's the one paying for the hit.

The first two films share a lot of the same creative team and the quality here is nearly as good as the first film. The hit to miss ratio of the jokes is a little lower, it's a little goofier than the previous film, but still stellar. It hits the right notes to send up the police procedural / Film Noir genres. There are a number of running gags that almost always hit their mark (Lt. Frank Drebin's driving skills always draw a laugh). The dialogue is very quotable. Also, Ricardo Montalban makes one hell of a good villain.

The Extras

The only extra on the Blu-ray is an audio commentary track. The video is good, for a comedy made more than 20 years ago. The level of detail is good, the colors are bright, there's not print damage, etc. It's a step up from the old DVD, but nothing awe inspiring. The audio has clear dialogue, but not a lot of activity in the surround sound speakers.

The Verdict

The Naked Gun is a funny film that hits all the right marks to parody Film Noir. The Blu-ray doesn't have a lot of extras while it doesn't push the technology in terms of audio or video, it's worth owning if you don't already have it. Right now its a Best Buy Exclusive or a Future Shop Exclusive and it might be a long wait till its released in other stores.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles - Blu-ray - Best Buy Exclusive or Future Shop Exclusive

Steve Martin plays Neal Page, whom we meet just before the holidays. He's stuck in a meeting that won't end, because the person in charge can't make a decision. Now he has to race to the airport to catch his 6 o'clock flight from New York to Chicago. Things immediately go wrong. In fact, he barely gets to the elevator when he realizes he left his gloves behind. While racing to a taxi, he trips over someone's luggage (it has Del Griffith on it). He has to bribe another man to get his taxi. And while he's negotiating a price, another person, Del Griffith himself, steals his taxi.

It doesn't really matter, as he gets to the airport just in time to learn his flight was delayed. While waiting, Neal runs into Del, who didn't even realize he stole his cab and asks to make up for it. Neal isn't interested in getting a hotdog and beer with Del, or anything for that matter. He just wants to never see Del again. His wishes don't come true, as he's bumped from first class and gets a seat right beside Neal. Then when O'Hara airport closes, he's re-routed to Wichita, Kansas. Fortunately, Del's well-versed in dealing with travel delays like this (he's a shower curtain ring salesman and travels a lot) and he offers to share a motel room, if he picks up the cab fare. And from now on, the fates of these two men are linked as they both try desperately to get to Chicago for Thanksgiving.

Of the three films reviewed here, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles might not be the funniest, but it has the most heart. That's not to say it isn't funny. It takes a premise that almost everyone can relate to, troubles while traveling, and increases the chaos to an absurd, but always funny degree. Both Steve Martin and John Candy give amazing performances and have great chemistry together. And like the other two movies, there are some incredibly quotable scenes. ("You're going the wrong way.")

The Extras

There are four featurettes and a deleted scene on the Blu-ray. The first is a 17-minute Q&A with Steve Martin, John Candy, and John Hughes. There's a two-part, 53-minute featurette on the career of John Hughes. There's a short four-minute clip of John Hughes explaining how he went from directing films with teenagers to a more adult cast. There's a three-minute tribute to John Candy. And finally a single deleted scene. That's a pretty good selection of extras.

Unfortunately, the audio / video is a let down. There's a bit too much DNR and there's a lack of details overall, especially in darker scenes. The brighter lit the scene, the better the details and the colors are, and overall it is a step up from the DVD, but it looks the weakest out of the three films here. The audio is what you would expect. The dialogue is clear, but the rest of the audio is uncomplicated.

The Verdict

Like the other two films on this review, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is worth owning. And also like the other two, the Blu-ray costs $15 as a Best Buy Exclusive and $20 as a Future Shop Exclusive That's not a bad deal, and it's worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Airplane!, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, Planes, Trains & Automobiles