July 2nd, 1980, a comedy from the minds behind The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) opened wide and forever took hold within the zeitgeist: Airplane!. Now you’re likely thinking, “Surely, you can’t be serious that it’s been 40 years since Airplane! debuted,” and if you already know what the follow-up response will be, then you’re likely one of the many people touched by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker’s comedic spoof classic. Not only is Paramount releasing a 40th Anniversary edition of the film, it’s the seventh release in their newly minted Paramount Presents label, of which films like Ghost, Pretty in Pink, Fatal Attraction, and Flashdance are already included. Like those, this iteration of Airplane! is remastered from a 4K transfer — supervised by the writing/directing trio — and includes three new bonus features. So if you’re thinking about upgrading from DVD or haven’t yet picked up a copy to join your physical collection, this release offers the perfect balance of new look and features to make the purchase worth it.
When veteran airman Ted Striker (Robert Hays) learns that his girlfriend Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) is leaving him, he rises above his post-traumatic stress anxiety over flying and purchases a plane ticket so that he can try talking to her in between her duties as a flight attendant. Adding to the drama once in the air, the captain, portions of the flight crew, and several passengers succumb to food poisoning. As the only experienced pilot on board, it’s up to Striker, with help from Dickinson, to land the plane, saving all aboard in the process.
Based on the tiny bit of shock Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker express during the newly added Q&A from January 10th, 2020, the fact that people are still gathering together, sharing their film with new generations, after 40 years is incredible. They couldn’t have foreseen amid writing the script, finding a studio, gathering the actors, and shooting the thing that it would have the kind of staying power that it does. Yet, when my 5-year-old saw the front of the slipcover featuring the trademark airplane tied in a knot, he got extremely excited because it’s just like the one that hangs on our holiday tree. He hasn’t seen the film yet, likely won’t for some time, so he doesn’t quite understand the automatic response when someone proclaims they’re being serious. Or how one instinctually starts pantomiming making a hat, a broach, or a pterodactyl when asked “what do you make of this?”. Or the strange giggle fits when someone states that they have a drinking problem after so obviously missing their mouth with their glass. These are just a few of the references whose use in today’s meme and gif culture are utilized more often than anyone might imagine. Then again, as the trio tells it, it makes sense when you consider that Peter Graves originally turned the role down because he thought Captain Clarence Oveur was some kind of pedophile with a line like “Joey, have you ever been in a … in a Turkish prison?” which the character says to a young boy visiting the cockpit. With a line like that, who wouldn’t push back on taking such a role? As they explain it, Graves was likely only looking at his own lines and, when isolated, the humor is totally lost. And Airplane! is not a film that can be looked at with just one performance, one joke, one moment. It is a series of micro-escalations that never break the rules the film sets forth for itself. Instead, the film just pokes, prods, and needles the rules until the audience is a puddle of laughter.
Considering the film is 40 years old, chances are that audiences are both well familiar with the film and have enjoyed the previous bonus features from other releases. So what makes this Paramount Presents version worth it? First, the transfer is fantastic. Like other Paramount Presents edition, Airplane! doesn’t feel like a new movie so much as it looks refreshed. Even as Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker are making jokes out of the various aerial dramas of the 1970s, which means transcribing the same muddy browns for the airport and airplane interior, as well as the low-production value look of the exterior plane, the transfer doesn’t look stuck in that time, as older iterations may via wear and tear. It’s not just that the Blu-ray is a new release, untread upon by time, it’s that the images are clean, clear, and fresh, giving off a sense that Airplane! is a new release of the era. (The jokes are still 100% on fire, so that certainly helps convey a certain timelessness.) As for the bonus materials, new owners are treated to two new featurettes: one with the three filmmakers and one aforementioned Q&A. Clocking in at eight minutes, the Filmmaker Focus is an entertaining mini-discussion of the film as it exists in film history. It’s a fun, and sometimes funny, featurette that offers a bit more insight into Airplane!. Where you really get your money’s worth is the Q&A from January 2020. At just over a half hour, this feature lets you hear a variety of stories from the creative team that won’t surprise you in the slightest, even at their strangest. One fantastic story comes with an extended explanation from in-attendance actor Al White, one of the Jive Dudes, who discusses the process of working with Barbara Billingsley as the Jive Lady. It’s a hilarious Q&A with plenty of touching moments coming from an obviously appreciative audience.
While fans of Airplane! rarely need an excuse to enjoy the screwball classic, even though meager, the new additions to the 40th Anniversary edition plus the transfer make the cost worth picking up. Keep in mind that you should check your previous versions to see what else you currently have while deciding, but if this sounds like the version for you, pick it up, put it in, place your seat in the recline position, and make sure to skip the fish.
Airplane! 40th Anniversary Special Features
- *New* Filmmaker Focus: Writers/directors Jim Abraham, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker on Airplane! (8:42)
- *New* Q&A with the directors of Airplane! at the Egyptian Theatre. Hollywood – January 10th, 2020 (34:50)
- *New* Isolated Score
- Commentary by Writers/directors Jim Abraham, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and producer Jon Davison
- English track, 5.1DTS-HD Master Audio
Available on Blu-ray and Steelbook collectible editions beginning July 21st, 2020.