Planes, Trains and Automobiles [Blu-Ray]
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of the funniest movies of the 1980s, and unlike many of director John Hughesí films from that era, it holds up very well even today. While itís not a movie that cries out for a Blu-ray release, it certainly canít hurt to get it out again in a new format. If you havenít seen it yet, now you can in somewhat glorious HD.
At the time he wrote and directed Planes, Trains and Automobiles, John Hughes was known primarily as writer/director focused on teens. Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Buellerís Day Off, and several others looked at the life and romantic entanglements of the high school set. Itís a bit surprising, then, that his best movie is about two middle-aged men and doesnít feature any dialogue spoken by anyone under 35.
The plot is simplicity itself: advertising executive Neal Page (Steve Martin) attempts to get home to Chicago before Thanksgiving and is unwillingly saddled with shower-ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy), who proceeds to get on his very last nerve. Nealís trip is thwarted by the well-meaning but oafish Del, the weather, and those fine folks in the travel industry who never fail to make a bad situation worse. With Delís annoying optimism in his ear as one mode of transportation after another goes to hell, Neal slowly boils until he lashes out at Del in a funny and poignant scene.
Itís hard to say if Martin or Candy has ever been better, but as with Hughesí script, their performances could make an argument as the best work of eitherís career. Both actors have a challenge of being true to their character without becoming unlikable while delivering some of the funniest lines written around that time, and they both hit every right note. Itís a grown-up comedy without being snooty and doesnít mind throwing in some lowbrow humor (ďThose arenít pillows!Ē) when needed.
Hughes does seem to have left much of Nealís relationship with his wife Susan (Laila Robins) on the cutting room floor, which makes their phone calls seem like part of a whole we are missing, but thatís small potatoes here. Neal and Del are the only characters who really matter, and while there are funny cameos everywhere from the likes of Kevin Bacon, Edie McClurg, Michael McKean, and Dylan Baker, itís the relationship between the two men that brings all the biggest laughs. The frustration of the events as you try to travel for work are hit perfectly (believe me, I know), and while there isnít a big ďmoralĒ at the end of the day, there is a humanity element that Hughes brings to the character of Del that makes you want to treat your fellow man with more consideration and understanding in times of stress.
You donít have to be a middle-age businessman on the road to get a lot of laughs out of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Itís sometimes not mentioned the way it should be with some of the greats of the era, but itís also near impossible to find someone who doesnít like the movie. It should be a Thanksgiving staple in your household.
While Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a classic and should be in your collection, Iím not sure the Blu-ray release is a must-have. If you already have a previous DVD version, there is very little reason to upgrade. The picture quality is no great shakes. That may just be from this being a nearly 25-year-old movie, but it doesnít scream, ďWow, HD is awesome.Ē There is also no commentary track and most of the extras appear to be recycled from previous DVD releases.
While that all sounds very negative, itís not as though the extras arenít enjoyable. Itís just that most of them donít relate to the movie specifically, and there isnít much ďbehind-the-scenesĒ info in the various featurettes. The 15-minute (and poorly named) ďGetting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles,Ē contains portions of the original press conference for the movie, with Martin, Candy, and Hughes answering reportersí questions. Some bit players from the movie (McKean, the casting director) make additional comments in the present day (or rather, the present day when they shot this extra, probably 2009). Martin does not participate except in the old footage, which is disappointing, and other than McKean mentioning that his scene was meant to be longer and explaining some details of what was cut, there is nothing insightful in the whole featurette.
The only other extra that deals with the movie itself is a recycled deleted scene called ďAirplane Food.Ē It features the meal on the first flight that Neal and Del take. All the other extras refer in passing to the movie but feature either John Candy or, primarily, John Hughes. There are three featurettes about Hughes, two lasting almost 30 minutes apiece and one for about five minutes. The two longer extras are overviews of Hughesí career in the 1980s, disappearance from Hollywood in the 1990s, and death in 2009. Although his work on apparently non-Paramount films like Breakfast Club,
The disc is just not unique enough to be essential and the transfer isnít that impressive. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is, however, a great movie and if you donít already have it on DVD, this is as good a version as any.
Reviewed By: Ed Perkis
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