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Martin Scorsese
Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin
Writing Credits:
John Logan

A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes' career from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s.

Box Office:
$110 million.
Opening Weekend
$858,021 on 40 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English Dolby 5.1
French Dolby 5.1
Spanish Dolby
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 170 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 11/6/2007

• Audio Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese, Editor Thelma Schoonmaker and Producer Michael Mann
• Additional Scene
• “A Life Without Limits” Featurette
• “The Role of Howard Hughes In Aviation History” Featurette
• “Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes” Documentary
• “The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” Featurette
• “OCD Panel Discussion”
• “An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda”
• “The Visual Effects of The Aviator” Featurette
• “Constructing The Aviator” Featurette
• “Costuming The Aviator” Featurette
• “The Age of Glamour” Featurette
• “Scoring The Aviator” Featurette
• “The Wainwright Family” Featurette
• Soundtrack Spot
• Trailer
• Still Gallery


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Aviator [Blu-Ray] (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 1, 2017)

Out of the five Best Picture nominees for 2004, Sideways was unquestionably my pick as the one I wanted to win. However, barring that miracle, I hoped Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator would emerge victorious just so poor old Marty could finally snare an Oscar.

He didn’t, as Clint Eastwood’s melodramatic Million Dollar Baby took the prize for 2004 instead. Scorsese eventually got an Oscar for 2006’s The Departed, though, which ended his famous drought.

Perhaps I’d have been more bothered at Scorsese’s 2005 loss if I cared more for Aviator itself. While it offers a well-executed and generally interesting flick, it lacks a certain spark that’d make it truly memorable.

A short prologue lets us see a young Howard Hughes (Jacob Davich) with his mother (Amy Sloan) as she cleans him and warns him about disease. From there the movie jumps ahead to 1927 and shows a 22-year-old Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he directs Hell’s Angels. He hires Noah Dietrich (John C. Reilly) as a second-in-command to run Hughes Tool.

Essentially this means Dietrich will handle financial interests while Hughes directs movies and pursues other interests like an airline. The film follows his single-minded pursuit of bigger and better, whether via the extremes he goes to in order to film his cinematic vision or the ideas he develops to make more impressive planes.

Hughes eventually buys TWA and tries to expand. These areas lead him to conflicts, most notably with Pan Am president Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) and Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda).

Hughes also goes through a number of romantic interests. We see his time with Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) and how those relationships affected him. All of this progresses through 1947 or so; we don’t get any glimpse of Hughes in his later, nuttier years.

Not that such a focus is necessary, for Aviator demonstrates the man Hughes would become. It doesn’t pound us with his psychological issues, and it doesn’t really try to tell us why Hughes behaved the way he did.

Obviously Hughes’s mother played a significant role, as hinted by the opening sequence, but that’s not the whole of it. Dime-store psychology isn’t worthwhile, so I’m glad the film doesn’t try to turn into some TV movie exploration of Hughes’ OCD.

That said, I think the film could use more depth, as it usually stays in standard biopic territory and doesn’t do much to expand the genre. At no point does Scorsese threaten to innovate or redefine things ala Raging Bull, and the movie lacks the stunning self-confidence of GoodFellas. It seems like the kind of movie you watch, you enjoy, and then you essentially forget, as the material fails to stick with you.

I can’t fault anyone involved, for the project seems resolutely well-made and professional. It just doesn’t present a certain panache or spirit that might make it more memorable. The movie always feels like it teeters on the verge of turning into something stronger but it never quite turns that corner.

Much has been made of the casting of DiCaprio, as many find the former teen idol to be too youthful to play Hughes. Those criticisms are only partially appropriate, as they seem to ignore the fact that Hughes was only 22 during the movie’s first glimpses of DiCaprio. Because he looked young for his age, the then-30-year-old DiCaprio certainly could play Hughes in his early-to-mid-twenties.

Grudgingly, I do have to agree that DiCaprio’s appearance provides some moderate distractions for the scenes in which he plays an older Hughes. However, I don’t think these ever become problematic. Yeah, he never remotely looks like a man in his forties, but he manages to involve himself in the role well enough to let us ignore those distractions.

DiCaprio handles the younger Hughes better, and not just because of the age factors. During the movie’s first half, we get a feel for the suave, charismatic Hughes, and DiCaprio pulls off those sides well.

DiCaprio shows us the growing psychological issues neatly too, but he does best with the more confident view of the man. I think he does fine with the older Hughes as well, but I don’t see him as quite as convincing.

Scorsese surrounds DiCaprio with an absolutely top-notch cast of actors who present virtually no problems. Blanchett’s take on Hepburn starts as a little cartoony and mannered, but eventually she brings real definition to the part. There’s warmth and humanity underneath the Hepburn mannerisms, and Blanchett delivers a solid turn.

Alda’s supporting role as Brewster also deserves attention. Most of us remember Alda best as the sarcastic but compassionate Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, but his work here depicts none of those qualities. He turns Brewster into a conniving, manipulative slimeball and does so in a wonderfully deft take.

Ultimately, all of this adds up to a “B+” movie. I find it hard to point out any true flaws in The Aviator, but outside of some performances, I can’t discover too many standout elements.

After more than 30 years as a filmmaker, perhaps it’s surprising that Scorsese can still deliver at that high a level; he probably should have burned out by now. But I admit I expect more, so I see Aviator as a good movie that doesn’t reach its full potential.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus A-

The Aviator appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite some inconsistencies, the movie usually looked good.

Sharpness became the most notable minor issue. While much of the film offered nice definition, occasional instances of softness crept into the presentation. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained absent. Print flaws also failed to appear.

Though some variation occurred, much of Aviator went with a teal orientation. The image “warmed up” as it went, though, and pushed more toward a red-orange along the way. The tones consistently looked appropriate within those restrictions.

Blacks were dense and tight, and low-light shots demonstrated good opacity and definition. Except for the instances of softness, this was a nice transfer.

Although it only provided occasional action material, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Aviator fared pretty well. Given its emphasis on character drama, much of the movie stayed with a feeling of general ambience. The scenes might feature vague environmental bits but not much more.

However, that wasn’t the case with the more expansive sequences, as those came to life well. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the exciting auditory elements related to aviation.

Whether the fights of Hell’s Angels or Hughes’ own flights - and crashes - the planes brought the mix up to snuff and created a vivid soundfield. Surround usage was better than average and allowed the planes to zoom around the room.

No issues with audio quality emerged. Speech was natural and concise, as the lines were consistently smooth and intelligible. Effects sounded lively and accurate. Their dynamic range was good, with bright highs and deep lows.

Music also showed good definition. The score sounded vibrant and replicated the recordings well. This became a positive presentation.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2005 DVD? Audio was identical – literally, as the Blu-ray reused the DVD’s DD 5.1 mix. That was a disappointment, as I expect lossless audio from Blu-ray.

Visuals demonstrated improvements, though. The Blu-ray looked tighter and more dynamic, so it presented an obvious step up from the DVD.

The Blu-ray replicates the DVD’s extras, and we find an audio commentary with director Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and producer Michael Mann. All three were recorded separately for this edited piece.

Scorsese dominates the discussion. As with his chat for New York, New York, he doesn’t often stay with screen-specific material, as he goes off on related tangents.

Scorsese talks about movie topics such as the film’s visual design and how it reflects various eras, casting and working with the actors, why he took on the project and adaptation issues, character facets and continuity, and dealing with the depictions of real people.

Scorsese also gets into more about the historical Howard Hughes. He relates notes about Hughes’ life and career that help flesh out the movie.

Though Schoonmaker doesn’t speak as much as Scorsese, she chimes in frequently, especially as the movie progresses. She delves into many of the same topics as Scorsese, though from a different perspective, and she also relates some editing and pacing concerns. Mann gets into some of similar issues, but he speaks so infrequently that it doesn’t really matter.

Dead air occasionally mars the commentary, and I can’t say that it ever becomes truly involving. However, it covers the relevant subjects well and opens up our understanding of the movie and its subject. It works fairly well and merits a listen.

Up next comes a Deleted Scene. Entitled “Howard Tells Ava About His Car Accident”, this clip lasts one minute, 38 seconds. This extends the segment in which Gardner tells Hughes to stop trying to buy her with gifts.

Hughes tells her about a time he unintentionally hit and killed a pedestrian. It’s not a bad snippet, as it provides some insight into Hughes’ character.

For the first of many featurettes, we find A Life Without Limits: The Making of The Aviator. This 11-minute, 32-second piece presents comments from Scorsese, screenwriter John Logan, producer Graham King and actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Beckinsale, Cate Blanchett, Gwen Stefani, John C. Reilly, Alan Alda and Alec Baldwin.

They discuss the project’s appeal and its development, research and approaches to characters, and Scorsese’s work. As expected, movie clips dominate the show and insights are rare. We hear lots of praise along with a smattering of decent information. Skip this promotional fluff.

Somewhat more substantial, The Role of Howard Hughes In Aviation History goes for 14 minutes, 39 seconds and includes remarks from DiCaprio, Logan, Ron Kaplan and Robert Hoover of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, aviation enthusiast Ralph Huddlestone, air racer Skip Holm, Hughes biographers George J. Marrett, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele.

The program discusses Hughes’ early interest in flight, shooting planes in Hell’s Angels, the focus of The Aviator and Hughes’ obsession with speed, Hughes’ innovations and set-backs, and his aviation-related career. “Role” moves pretty quickly, and we already know much of the information from the movie itself. That said, it packages a tight look at Hughes’ work and gives us a decent overview of this area of his life.

Definitely more substantial, we get a History Channel documentary called Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes. The 43-minute, 36-second show presents information from Steele, Marrett, Hughes biographer Pat Broeske, Hughes historian Robert J. McCaffery, aviation historian and writer Bill Schoneberger, Pima Air and Space Museum director Scott Marchand, former Hughes Electronics chairman and CEO Allen Puckett, Boeing Engineering fellow (ret.) Robert E. Head, and Hughes Electronics satellite inventor Dr. Harold Rosen.

The program covers Hughes’ early interest in mechanics and flight, the development of innovative planes, Hughes’ work at TWA and additional aircraft advancements, creations during World War II and the “Hercules”, further progress after WWII in aircraft, electronics and other areas, and the impact of Hughes’ various personal problems over the years. “Marvels” definitely doesn’t act as a general biography about Hughes. Instead, it concentrates on the technical elements, and it provides a fine look at the nuts and bolts of Hughes’ work.

For a look at psychological issues, we head to the 14-minute, seven-second The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. “Marvels” touches on this issue, but “Affliction” gets into it with more detail. We hear from DiCaprio, Barlett, Steele, UCLA physician Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, DiCaprio’s OCD consultant “Edward”, and OCD patients “Zong”, “Michael”, and “Jan”.

The program defines OCD and offers examples of how it manifests itself as well as attempts to tame the disorder. We also get notes about the film’s attempts to depict OCD accurately and reflections from OCD patients about how the disorder affects them. “Affliction” provides a pretty good little primer on the subject and offers a tight take on the issues.

More information on this topic comes from the OCD Panel Discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Howard Hughes’ Widow Terry Moore. It fills 14 minutes, 53 seconds.

Led by UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute director Dr. Peter Whybrow, the December 2, 2004 chat also features Dr. Schwartz. DiCaprio discusses how he “became” an OCD sufferer as part of the film, and Scorsese gets into challenges related to continuity and cinematographic depictions of the OCD. Moore goes over her a little about her time with Hughes.

Some of the featurette repeats material heard elsewhere, but we get a fair amount of new information here. DiCaprio’s notes are particularly good, and Moore offers some neat moments, though she speaks too briefly to add much to the show.

We spend An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda - or at least 28 minutes, seven seconds with them. Led by moderator David Schwartz, the actors chat about DiCaprio’s early interest in the project and his personal connections to the material, Alda’s casting, shooting the film, interacting on the set, working with Scorsese, approaches to characters, and research.

We hear some of the same stories told elsewhere, but I like the emphasis on the performance side of things. Despite too much banal praise, “Evening” includes a nice examination of those processes.

After this we get six straight featurettes about some technical areas related to the film. First comes the 12-minute, one-second The Visual Effects of The Aviator.

“Effects” includes remarks from visual effects supervisor/second unit director Robert Legato, as he discusses his job and goes into specifics mostly related to the many aircraft-related effects shots. He covers miniatures and CG elements along with other techniques.

We find a lot of fun behind the scenes materials that give us a solid glimpse of how the participants executed the clips. I especially like the view of compositing all the various layers. Those moments help make this a quality program.

Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Feretti runs five minutes, 59 seconds and presents notes from production designer Feretti, DiCaprio and producer Graham King. The show covers Feretti’s collaboration with Scorsese and the specifics of the sets and visuals of The Aviator. Feretti provides nice insight into his choices and fleshes out the movie’s visual details.

Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell takes three minutes, 35 seconds to feature comments from costume designer Powell along with DiCaprio, Beckinsale and Blanchett. The show gets into Powell’s processes, the clothes of The Aviator and all the details used to make them seem convincing. Despite the featurette’s brevity, it touches on the appropriate issues and works well.

The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator lasts eight minutes, seven seconds. It gives us statements from chief makeup artist Morag Ross and department head hair stylist Kathryn Blondell.

“Glamour” goes over the eras covered in The Aviator and all the fashion challenges the material presented, especially due to our familiarity with so many of the characters. This becomes another solid discussion of the topics. Ross’s investigations of how she turned the actresses into their real predecessors seem particularly good.

Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore goes for seven minutes, 14 seconds. We hear from composer Shore as he chats about his score, his general approach to movies, and what he wanted to convey with the music of The Aviator. Shore gives us a nice feel for his work and provides a tight look at the topic, especially since he delves into how he lets the material influence and inspire him.

Also concerned with music, The Wainwright Family - Loudon, Rufus and Martha fills five minutes, six seconds. Musician Loudon chats about his guest turn as the Cocoanut Grove bandleader as well as the singers played by his kids Rufus and Martha.

He tells us about their research and approaches to their roles. I’d not realized that Wainwrights played all of these characters, so this is an informative piece.

In addition to a Soundtrack Spot and a trailer, we find a Still Gallery. It includes 179 shots, most of which show Scorsese as he works with the actors.

We also get a few publicity images. The preponderance of pictures that show the director with the performers makes many of them look a lot alike, and they get tedious.

The Aviator falls into the “near miss” category. It certainly has more than a few positives, but it never quite coalesces into something special. The Blu-ray offers good picture and audio plus a long, rich set of supplements. Though not Scorsese’s best, The Aviator merits a screening.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of THE AVIATOR

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main