Steve Martin, John Candy, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon
A man must struggle to travel home for Thanksgiving with an obnoxious slob of a shower curtain ring salesman as his only companion.
$7.009 million on 1118 screens.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 105 min.
Release Date: 10/10/2017
• “Getting There Is Half the Fun” Featurette
• “John Hughes For Adults” Featurette
• “A Tribute to John Candy” Featurette
• “John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast” Documentary
• Deleted Scene
• DVD Copy
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Planes, Trains & Automobiles: 30th Anniversary Edition [Blu-Ray] (1987)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 16, 2017)
In 1987, hugely successful writer/director John Hughes decided it was time to grow up – cinematically, at least. After a string of hit teen-oriented films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, Hughes decided to take on more adult subjects and themes with 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles, a comedy that dealt with the modern hassles that sometimes surround travel.
Hughes’ jump to the world of adults was largely productive, though his transition seemed more modest than one might think. Planes really only shifts the age of its characters from the prior teens, as its themes aren’t much oriented toward grown-ups.
Really, it wouldn’t take too much adjustment to make the story feature young adults or teens. After all, 1998’s I’ll Be Home For Christmas used a somewhat-similar tale and starred purported college student Jonathan Taylor Thomas, so there’s nothing about Planes that forces it to require older adults.
Not that I find this to be a problem. In Planes, ad exec Neal Page (Steve Martin) tries to head home from New York to Chicago two days before Thanksgiving. Alas, snow delays then reroutes his plane home, and a comically nightmarish trek ensues.
Against his wishes, Neal is joined by a “helpful” fellow traveler, beefy glad-hander Del Griffith (John Candy). A shower curtain ring salesman, Del constantly offers his assistance so the two can make it back to Chicago, but inevitably all of his best intentions collapse.
Stories with mismatched cohorts aren’t exactly new, and Hughes does little to expand the genre here. Nonetheless, the movie works well because of its actors.
Martin and Candy display ample chemistry in their only true joint venture. Both men appeared in 1986’s remake of Little Shop of Horrors, but they didn’t interact there.
Their interpretations of Hughes’ material make the flick succeed. Frankly, I never cared all that much for the sanitized hijinks of the director’s other films and don’t really understand the enduring popularity of pictures like Ferris, which didn’t greatly appeal to me even in when I was still a teen.
However, the considerable talents of Martin and Candy prove wildly effective in Planes. No matter how limp the material may be - and it can be pretty weak - these two liven up the tale and make the movie consistently watchable, if not downright hilarious.
Are Martin’s loose-limbed antics logical for this fairly stiff and repressed businessman? No, not really, but who cares? He musters enough believability in the role to make it work, and his comedic talents have rarely been used to greater effect.
Notable is the famous scene that earned Planes its “R”-rating all on its own. In this sequence, Neal attempts to rent a car to drive back to Chicago from a point in the Midwest.
However, when Neal gets to the correct spot in the parking lot, no car resides there. He misses the bus back to the airport terminal and must hoof it across slippery terrain and a runway to return.
Once Neal does, the combined frustration of this and all the preceding events spills out in a profanity-filled tirade aimed at the agency’s clerk. Actually, Neal’s rampage only includes one naughty word, but it’s a big one, and he uses it a lot.
While the result is terrifically funny, I feel surprised to find it in the film because it single-handedly keeps Planes from a “PG-13” rating. Could the scene have worked as well with more mild profanity? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Honestly, I think Hughes used the term so much because he actually wanted an “R”-rating. This seems illogical since that status limits the movie’s audience, but he may have been so eager to show his “adult” status that he desired the more extreme rating.
In any case, even without its profanity, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a solidly funny and entertaining film - as long as it sticks with its stars. When Martin and Candy are set loose, the movie works wonderfully, and director Hughes has enough sense to let them act without too much interference.
Hughes could be rather cutesy and cloying, tendencies evident when we see Neal’s nauseatingly perfect family. Nonetheless, the enormous talent of the film’s stars overcome its director’s flaws to make Planes a fun and amusing effort.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+
Planes, Trains and Automobiles appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Due to some poor choices, this became an iffy image.
Sharpness usually worked fine, though the flick came with an awful lot of processing along the way. Some edge haloes materialized, as the movie came with an overcooked look.
Still, the film usually boasted fairly good accuracy despite these choices. Unfortunately, other artificial techniques felt more damaging.
The flick suffered from a fair amount of noise reduction, and this gave it an odd smoothed out look. When grain did appear, it tended to seem “frozen” and unnatural.
At least no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred. Source flaws remained minor, though, as I noticed a few specks but nothing big.
Colors appeared peppy and accurate throughout the movie. I thought the hues were clear and bright and they displayed no concerns related to bleeding, noise or other issues.
Black levels seemed deep, and shadow detail was fine. Without the noise reduction and other artificial choices, this would’ve been a top-notch image, but as it stood, I thought it was worth a “C”.
I felt surprised by the high quality of the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield was nicely involving and engaging, as the forward spectrum dominated and showed some very solid stereo imaging.
The music spread cleanly across the front speakers, and I also heard quite a lot of discrete usage of effects. Some really fun audio resulted from this, such as when the destroyed car toward the end of the film filled the forward spectrum with its rattling.
The surrounds contributed some solid sound as well. For the most part I found the rears to appear monaural, but some split surround usage occurred; mostly these instances involved various vehicles and they were fairly minor, but they added to the soundtrack’s impression.
Mostly it was the film’s music that was nicely reinforced in the rear. Clearly the soundfield doesn’t compete with something from an action spectacular, but I thought it seemed quite strong nonetheless.
I also felt pleased with the quality of the audio. Dialogue occasionally betrayed some mild edginess and could also seem slightly flat at times, but for the most part speech appeared distinct and natural, with no issues related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and realistic and showed no signs of distortion.
The music - which mainly consisted of dated Eighties technopop but presented some more traditional variations as well - seemed clear and bright and displayed modest low end. As a whole, the track lacked much deep bass, but I found the dynamics to seem fairly satisfying. In the end, I thought the soundtrack of Planes offered a nice surprise.
How did this 2017 “30th Anniversary” Blu-ray compare to the original BD from 2012? Both were identical – literally. The 2017 disc simply reissues the 2012 version.
Obviously, that means both share the same extras. Getting There Is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles runs 16 minutes, 38 seconds as it provides comments from executive producer Neil Machlis, casting directors Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson, and actors Michael McKean and Edie McClurg. Writer/director John Hughes and actors Steve Martin and John Candy also appear via a 1987 press conference, and we hear from actor Kevin Bacon from the movie’s set.
“Fun” looks at the project’s origins and script, cast and performances, and a few other production thoughts. We learn a smattering of decent notes here, but don’t expect a great overview of the production.
The 1987 press conference offers most of the info, so we don’t find many retrospective thoughts. Though we learn some interesting tidbits, the show doesn’t excel.
Two more featurettes ensue. John Hughes For Adults lasts four minutes, two seconds and offers thoughts from McKean, Martin (from 1987), Hughes (from 1987), Machlis, Hirshenson, Jenkins, and Bacon (from 1987). Hughes addresses his then-new “adult emphasis” while the others reflect on the director’s talents and methods. This is essentially just a minor tribute to the late director, so it doesn’t include much in the way of concrete info.
A Tribute to John Candy goes for three minutes, one second, and includes remarks from Martin (1987), McKean, McClurg, Hirshenson, and Jenkins. They tell us how wonderfully Candy was. And I believe them, but that doesn’t make this an interesting piece.
Under John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast, we find a two-part documentary that breaks into “The Voice of a Generation” (27:39) and “Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of John Hughes” (25:52). These include notes from Hughes, (archival), Martin (1987), Candy (1987), director Howard Deutch, producers Matty Simmons and Lauren Shuler Donner, costume designer Marilyn Vance, and actors Matthew Broderick, Jon Cryer, Lea Thompson, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara (1985), Eric Stoltz (1986), Mary Stuart Masterson (1986), Jennifer Grey (1986), Kevin Bacon (1987), and Andrew McCarthy (1985). These cover Hughes’ life and career, with an emphasis on various aspects of his films.
Created posthumously, one should expect a fair amount of praise and happy talk here. Nonetheless, we still learn quite a lot about Hughes and get good insights into his work and themes. The shows move well and go over a lot of solid info, so they’re well worth watching.
Called “Airplane Food”, a Deleted Scene fills three minutes, 24 seconds. Here Del ruins Neil’s already unappealing meal. It’s moderately amusing.
A second disc provides a DVD copy of Planes. It provides none of the Blu-ray’s extras.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles succeeds largely due to the chemistry of its two stars. For all his faults, director John Hughes usually had the sense to get out of the way and not interfere with their interactions. The Blu-ray delivers surprisingly strong audio and a decent set of supplements along with flawed visuals. The film desperately needs a remaster.
To rate this film, visit the "Those Aren't Pillows" Edition review of PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES