What a Pisser
Only a handful of perfect movie comedies exist, “perfect” meaning every joke lands. Airplane is among that elite.
Airplane exists because the disaster genre deserved a skewering after the ‘70s when Irwin Allen killed more people than any tragedy in the real world. Not only Allen, but producers slaughtered people with asteroids, bees, boats, tidal waves, earthquakes, fires, blimps, avalanches, and yes, planes; that’s not even a complete list. Airplane’s comic mastery isn’t so much parodying cliches so much as lampooning an audience addicted to fear, and watching other people get maimed for entertainment.
Every Airplane character is a trope, and it’s not difficult to script – some draw directly from Universal’s Airport series, and the sick passengers borrow from 1957’s hokey Zero Hour. Played up to extremes, the idiotic, soapy drama works, mostly because the cast understands why any (or all) of this is funny. And not only funny, but painfully zany, without any remorse for the dopiest puns.
At no point does Airplane stop giving
At no point does Airplane stop giving
Considering this came out in 1980, it’s impressive to watch Airplane handle race too. A scene with jungle natives is skirting good taste, but the joke isn’t the tribe’s ignorance of civilization, rather the white missionary’s sheer stupidity in trying to sell such isolated people Tupperware. Then there’s jive speak, where again, the joke isn’t two black passengers speaking a street dialect, rather soft-spoken Barbara Billingsley – June Cleaver herself – translating. Accepting a ‘50s TV mother as progressive enough to comprehend cultural changes seems too absurd, and therefore, it’s the best comedy – the truth.
At no point does Airplane stop giving. Not even during the end credits (giving Charles Dickens a nod) or after (one of Airplane’s greatest gags, for the sheer willingness to always follow through). It’s a film without boundaries too, riffing on pedophilia, occasional sexism, religion, and the press. There’s even an openly gay character Johnny (Stephen Stucker), overplayed for laughs, but like the racial barbs, the joke isn’t his gayness, just his continually upbeat, hammy personality against the looming disaster.
Picking a single line worth quoting isn’t possible. Airplane offers too many, even if Paramount likes reupping, “Don’t call me Shirley” in marketing. For a movie so indebted to idiocy, making its words sync with pop culture is a testament to how right the jokes were and still are.
Paramount cites a new 4K scan for this third Airplane Blu-ray release, and at its peak, the visuals receive a definite boost. Sharper, better resolved facial detail is evident in most close-ups. Scenes looking down the aisles at passengers ensure each bit player is visible. Minuscule grain poses little challenge to the encode. The down moments, expectedly, happen during fade outs where unavoidable resolution loss occurs, potentially due to heavy processing as well; these shots appear far too clean, smooth, and digital.
No issues to mention on the print itself – it’s scratch-free. Tweaks to color seem minor, a little pasty behind the opening credits, then righting things once into the main feature. The routine palette isn’t much to gawk over, although flesh tones carry some vibrancy and a few primaries break from the tan-ish, late ‘70s aesthetic in the plane.
The black pilot uniforms present a battle when in the darkened cockpit, yet the careful shadows lose nothing. Nice contrast fares well, elevating Airplane’s visuals while firm enough to offer some dimension.
DTS-HD comes in 5.1 only, a capable mix, if mostly a stereo extension. Elmer Bernstein’s score stretches the stereos, excellent in clarity and even bringing a little range. Dialog sits safely in the center, immobile.
There’s nothing happening in the rears, a slight expansion of the score aside.
Sadly, Paramount only ports the lively commentary from the Zuckers, Jim Abrahams, and Jon Davison from the previous releases. At least they add some new touches, including a short nine-minute retrospective and a Q&A sourced from a 40th anniversary screening in January 2020 (quite possibly the only good thing 2020 gave us).
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Airplane’s delicate balance of puns, parody, and punchy one-liners solidifies its place among the greatest comedies ever made.
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