Airplane! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While dated, the film looked about as good as I could expect.
Sharpness usually seemed positive. Occasional shots came across as a bit tentative and soft, though, and I can’t say the image often looked razor sharp. However, it mostly maintained positive definition and any softness resulted from the source material. I noticed no issues with shimmering or jagged edges, and neither digital noise reduction nor edge enhancement appeared to be present; this could be a pretty grainy film. In terms of print flaws, I noticed occasional small specks but nothing substantial.
Colors were adequate. With 32-year-old film stock and all that grain, the hues could appear a bit drab, but they usually maintained a decent sense of clarity. Black levels appeared reasonably deep and dark, and shadows were fine; a few low-light shots could be a little dense, but those weren’t a substantial concern. Overall, this was a strong presentation given the weaknesses of the source.
I also felt relatively pleased with the remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. Except for the music, the soundfield usually stayed anchored in the center channel. The score spread nicely across the forward spectrum and provided solid stereo sound, and the surrounds also reinforced the music in a light but appropriate manner.
All dialogue seemed to come from the center, and the majority of the effects emanated from that channel as well. On a couple of occasions, I heard some effects pop up from the sides, and I even heard one or two times where split surrounds appeared, such as when the plane landed at the end. However, the soundfield remained modest and it worked well for the film.
Audio quality seemed erratic but acceptable. Speech usually sounded reasonably natural and distinct, but the lines sometimes appeared edgy and sibilant. Effects displayed some concerns, as louder scenes could be a bit rough or distorted. These problems didn't seem terribly substantial, though, the effects usually reasonably clear, if without much range.
Music fared best throughout the soundtrack. The score usually appeared nicely bright and brassy, and its dynamic range was fairly broad. Across the board, the movie’s music sounded lively and dynamic. Nothing here dazzled, but the track was good enough for an age-adjusted “B”.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the 2005 Airplane DVD? Audio seemed clearer and more robust, while visuals were tighter, cleaner and more vivid. This became a nice upgrade.
The Blu-ray repeats the 2005 set’s extras, and we start with an audio commentary from writers/directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker plus producer Jon Davison. All four sat together for this running, screen-specific chat. I largely found it to offer a very interesting and compelling discussion of the film.
The commentary suffers from a surprising number of empty spots, and even when conversation occurs, the participants sometimes do little more than joke about how they have nothing to say. Despite those issues, much of the track provides a lot of really good facts and anecdotes about the movie. These guys aren't afraid to criticize the work and they also give us a fairly frank discussion of the reality behind their creation.
We hear a lot about the studio politics that affected Airplane! and they go into their inspirations for the movie and quite a few other topics. Honestly, I enjoyed the commentary much more than I liked the film itself; the track was quite a lot of fun.
The movie's theatrical trailer gives away a lot of the film's gags, but considering the massive number of jokes packed into its 87 minutes, plenty more remained to be uncovered.
Next we get the Long Haul version of Airplane. Some have gotten the impression that this presents an extended cut of the film, but that’s not the case. While it does offer a smattering of deleted scenes, instead it uses branching to give us a slew of interview clips related to the flick.
In this case, “slew” means 60. If you activate the “Long Haul” version, the film will allow you to branch off to show these snippets at the appropriate time. This makes it virtually impossible to actually watch the film. It rarely runs for more than a minute or so without interruption, so don’t attempt to screen Airplane with this feature active if you hope to enjoy the flick.
The “Long Haul” feature does work well as a form of documentary, though, especially since we get to see the scenes connected to the material. None of the snippets are long; taken together, they fill a total of one hour, 10 minutes and 32 seconds.
Those with a hankering for deleted scenes won’t find much, as we get only three short clips. The majority of the footage stems from the interviews. We hear from the Zuckers, Abrahams, Davison, special effects supervisor John Frazier, and actors David Leisure, Ross Harris, Nicholas Pryor, Lee Bryant, Robert Hays, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Lorna Patterson, Al White, Norman Alexander Gibbs, and Billy Koch.
The pieces cover a broad mix of subjects. In addition to the cut footage, we learn about various effects, casting and working on the film, editing and pacing, goofs, playing the roles, the effect the film had on various careers, and general production notes. Some of this repeats what we learn in the commentary, but quite a lot of new material appears. The brevity of the clips makes them a little choppy, but there’s lots of great information here. Airplane fans should really dig this treasure trove of details.
Note that the Blu-ray’s “Long Haul” alters the presentation found on the DVD. The latter branched automatically whereas the Blu-ray lets you choose whether or not to leave the film. I’m not sure which is preferable; the automatic branching is more convenient, but the manual option is less intrusive if you want to watch the movie. I still wish Paramount created a separate place on the disc with all the clips there so we could examine them independent of the film.
For more information, we head to the Trivia Track. This text piece runs along with the movie and gives us actor credits as well as notes about goofs, flaws, references, effects, background elements and other general production topics. This is a true trivia track, as most of the information can really be described as “trivial”. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Inevitably, we find comments that already appear in the commentary and/or the “Long Haul” version, but there’s still enough good stuff here to merit a look from fans.
Despite its status as a comedy classic, Airplane! does almost nothing for me. I find it to offer a witless and uninteresting program from start to finish. The Blu-ray provides dated but generally good picture and audio along with a small but useful set of supplements. After 32 years, I still don’t like Airplane!, but fans will feel pleased with this high-quality release.
To rate this film visit the "Don't Call Me Shirley" Edition review of AIRPLANE!