A frenzied parody of the underrated Airport series (which, incidentally, had already parodied itself by 1980 with the atrocious Concorde: Airport ‘79), many of the gags used in Airplane! have been copied and reworked countless times over the past forty years, resulting in a kind of staleness when seen in their original context. Added to that is some dated humor, and a few clunkers that still fall flat. Airplane! Is still good for a few laughs, but some viewers may find it, given today’s sensibilities, a bit dull.
Airplane! was the first of the ZAZ films (named after the writing/directing/producing team of Jerry Zucker-Jim Abrams-David Zucker). After working together for years in a small theater company they founded, they wrote John Landis’ Kentucky Fried Movie in 1977, but Airplane! Was the first time they had complete control. As it turned out, ZAZ would have a string of box office hits during the 1980’s, including: Top Secret!, Ruthless People and The Naked Gun. It should be noted that they weren’t involved in the Airplane sequel and go so far as to claim they’ve never seen it.
Airplane! concerns Ted Striker (Robert Hays), a former fighter pilot who still has nightmares about his failure during a mission in “the war.” On board a flight to Chicago in an effort to work things out with his stewardess girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty), the entire cockpit crew is taken ill after eating bad fish. With Captain Oveur (Peter Graves) and his co-pilot, Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabaar), out for the count, the plane is stuck on auto-pilot. Doctor Rumack (Leslie Nielsen), has some bad news: if the sick people aren’t provided with immediate medical attention, some of them may die. Ted, the only on with any flying experience, ends up in the pilot’s seat. On the ground, air traffic control honcho McCrosky (Lloyd Bridges)—a man with multiple addictions—has called in the big gun: Rex Kramer (Robert Stack), Striker’s ex commanding officer, whose job is to bolster his former subordinate’s confidence and talk him safely down.
In casting Airplane!, ZAZ went in what was then an inspired direction. Four respected dramatic actors were brought in to essentially parody their previous work. At the time, this was not the type of film moviegoers expected Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen to appear in, yet their all good because they clearly get the joke. In fact, the movie reinvigorated Nielsen’s career as a saturation comedy specialist, in the highly successful Naked Gun films.
For the lead roles of Ted and Elaine, ZAZ took a more conventional route, choosing TV staple Robert Hays as the protagonist and newcomer Julie Hagerty as his love interest. Cameos and stunt casting adds to the films charm: Kareem Abdul-Jabaar as Murdock, Maureen McGovern as a nun, Ethel Merman as a soldier who thinks he’s Ethel Merman, and Al White as a Jive Dude and Barbara “Mrs. Cleaver” Billingsley as Jive Lady.
While Airplane! has aged in some respects, it’s a credit to ZAZ that the film has remained an audience favorite. Airplane! is an important film in the satire genre. With Scary Movie and its seemingly endless sequels, satires may feel a bit played out, but it’s fun to see how spoofs looked when the idea was still fairly original.
Airplane! boasts a new 4K transfer supervised by ZAZ. The results are terrific. The image retains an impressive grain structure while also featuring a crisp, three dimensional look. Details are very strong throughout, and the color palette has been improved significantly. Blacks look natural and deep. Skin tones are natural and consistent. Noise and artifacts are irrelevant.
Airplane! retains the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 found on previous the previous Blu-ray release. While the track won’t blow your socks off, it serves the film well. The surround channels receive minimal use, though the dialogue (the film’s most important asset), remains clean and clear throughout.
English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are available.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary by producer Jon Davison, and Writers/Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker: The guys keep things lively throughout the films running time, discussing the process of making the film and its style. They also point out cameos and goofs. This one is definitely worth a listen. You can simultaneously play the trivia track that points out cameos, and other trivial things.
- Isolated Score Track
- Filmmaker Focus: Writers/Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Producer John Davison (HD, 8:42) The men reflect on the fun they had making the film and the challenges in getting it done the way they wanted.
- Q&A with the Directors of Airplane!: Egyptian Theater, Hollywood: January 10, 2020 (HD, 34:49) An in-depth Q&A. A welcome addition to these Paramount Presents Editions.
Airplane! (Paramount Presents Edition) (1980)
Movie title: Airplane (1980)
Duration: 87 min
Director(s): Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Actor(s): Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lloyd Bridges , Peter Graves , Leslie Nielsen
Genre: Comedy, Romance