Ted Striker (Robert Hays): Surely you can’t be serious?!
Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen): I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.
These immortal lines represent in its simplest form why Airplane! has come to be loved by millions of spoof fans all over the world. Realising that disaster movies were inadvertent comedies in their own right, the talented trio behind Kentucky Fried Movie – Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker decided to send up the genre and produce arguably the most important spoof movie of all time.
The seventies had given birth to a clutch of disaster movies with varied success. These films were modern, big-budget epics which sought to update the fifties B-movies such as Zero Hour. By the time Airplane! was made, the eighties had reared its head and disaster movies were no longer in vogue – the perfect time for parody.
Featuring a range of famous ‘serious’ actors, Airplane! could easily have been conceived by some who haven’t seen it as a ‘Bad’ attempt at drama. However, within five minutes of Airplane!, it’s obvious which direction it is headed. Take for instance, the male and female airport announcers who argue over the tannoy with regards to whether the female should be having an abortion, or the send up of Jaws in the opening credits. Airplane! gathers more and more steam as it progresses, and the jokes become more surreal and hilarious by every scene.
The plot is mostly unimportant, but for those who are interested, Robert Hays plays Ted Striker, a man who was a disgraced pilot from the Vietnam War and has now become a taxi driver. After picking up a customer at an Airport, Striker embarks on a spontaneous quest to pursue his lost love Elaine (Julie Hagerty) who is an Airline Stewardess. Foolishly, Striker buys a ticket on the plane Elaine will appear on and attempts to win her back while in mid-air. However, once aboard, the pilots and most of the passengers suffer a bout of food-poisoning after eating contaminated food, and Striker must face the complexes he has gained from his disgrace in Vietnam to steer the passengers to safety.
The plot doesn’t matter, as it is just used as a template by the directors to parody many conventions of the disaster film. There’s the Nun playing guitar to a terminally-sick child whilst unknowingly knocking out the child’s drip-feed, or the world-famous literal use of the phrase that involves excrements hitting fans!! The real highlights are Leslie Nielsen, the deadpan Doctor Rumack who takes everything literally or Lloyd Bridges as the Steve McCrosky, who’s picked the wrong day to give up his vices and even Robert Stack as Rex Kramer, drafted in to stop Striker screwing up yet again. The three classic veterans probably in hindsight were appearing in the highlights of their career (Although Leslie Nielsen bettered himself in the Naked Gun trilogy).
Airplane! has jokes for everyone, and is a riot throughout, and you cannot consider yourself a fan of comedy if (a) you haven’t seen it and (b) you do not own it.
Presented in widescreen for the first time in the UK and available in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, Airplane! has never looked better and although the colours and tones are slightly dated and appear like a seventies TV series, this doesn’t detract from the film. The picture is relatively blemish free and in pristine condition, which destroys the need for any fullscreen VHS copy you might have.
Presented in a new remixed 5.1 version, Airplane's sound mix is nothing to write home about, but the music and plane noises are given more room to breathe and the dialogue has an added level of clarity. For a film like this, a portion of fans actually prefer the original soundtrack to be maintained, and it’s a shame that the distributors did not see fit to include it.
Menu: A static menu incorporating some shots from the film as well as promotional artwork. This menu is completely uninspired considering abundance of comic potential that could have helped produce a satisfying one.
Packaging: The usual Paramount Widescreen Collection amaray packaging, with chapter listings on a one page insert.
Commentary With Jon Davison, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker: On paper, a commentary by the three writer-directors and the producer sounds like a dream, and unfortunately it doesn’t really live up to its expectations. There are a few bouts of silence, and the guys even crack a joke about how boring they are and how everyone expects them to be funny. Even so, there are some funny anecdotes, such as the fact that Karim Abdul-Jabbar only appeared in the film so that he could buy a thirty grand rug! The commentary is a nice feature, and Paramount would have been fools not to include one, but don’t expect it to rival the Naked Gun commentaries.
Trailer: It’s surprising to note how successful Airplane! was, based on the trailer, as it manages to include the majority of the best gags yet somehow portrays the film as shockingly unfunny. It’s a good thing such a thing as word-of-mouth appeal exists.
Airplane! is a film that most of us have seen, but if you haven’t seen it before, then DVD is the perfect opportunity to experience for the first time every gag you never thought was possible. If you don’t find it funny, it’s only because the film has been ripped off to death ever since.