Blu-ray Review Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blu-ray Review

MatthewA

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A frustrated man (Steve Martin) trying to get home to his Chicago family from his New York business trip finds himself traveling with a friendly, gregarious shower curtain ring salesman (John Candy). In Planes, Trains & Automobiles, John Hughes’ riotously funny script is blessed by its two stars’ unerring comic timing, making the film one of the most consistently funny holiday comedies. Identical to last year’s Best Buy exclusive release, Paramount’s Blu-ray offers substantial extras, but it subjects the transfer to excessive DNR.



Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)


Studio: Paramount


Year: 1987


Rated: R


Length: 93 Minutes


Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1


Resolution: 1080p


Languages: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital Mono, Portuguese Dolby Digital Mono


Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese


MSRP: $22.98


Film Release Date: November 25, 1987


Disc Release Date: November 6, 2012


Review Date: November 28, 2012




The Movie:


4.5/5



Murphy’s law states, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” As Chicago ad man Neal Page (Steve Martin) tries to get home from his New York business trip to spend Thanksgiving with his wife (Laila Robbins) and children, the law takes effect as soon as he leaves for LaGuardia Airport. First, he loses his cab to an unnamed man (Kevin Bacon), then he loses another cab to a man named Del Griffith (John Candy), a shower curtain ring salesman from Iowa trying to get back to his wife Marie. Neal only sees his suitcase, but runs into him again at the airport, only to find him seated next to him on the plane. But after a snowstorm in Chicago forces the plane to reroute to Wichita, the two men have to find a way to get home for Thanksgiving. The means of transportation they choose put their disparate personalities to the test: Neal is tense, uptight and fastidious, while Del is garrulous, clumsy, but well-meaning with a much-more optimistic outlook on life.



Looking back on the 1987 Thanksgiving season with the benefit of a quarter century’s hindsight, a lot has changed since the film’s original release. Airports have ramped up security in the past decade. And the cars have gotten less boxy and angular. And it’s been awhile since Family Ties, another Paramount property that receives an obvious plug in a US Magazine cover, was on the air. And cell phones have gotten much smaller and more versatile since then, making it substantially easier to call for help. But Planes, Trains & Automobiles remains a raucously funny comedy of errors.



The film marks a change for John Hughes, moving away from the teen-oriented Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off towards movies about people of his own generation. It also foreshadowed the phenomenal success of 1990’s Christmas-themed Home Alone, which changed the trajectory of his career and made his work more kid-friendly*. Here, in this R-rated comedy, he makes no such concessions to the youngest members of the family, mining comic gold from profanity, homophobia and the leads’ explosive personality clashes. The film is essentially a two-man show, but these two men, who had already established themselves as comedy gods by that time, happen to be at the top of their game. Both are cast to type, but their personalities fit the roles perfectly. John Candy’s goofy earnesty is the perfect contrast to Steve Martin’s perpetually frustrated arrogance, but they bring even more to the characters underneath John Hughes’ expertly crafted script. Candy, in particular, excels equally well in the dramatic and comedy scenes, making it easy to empathize with the character after Martin browbeats him. Both men have their virtues and their flaws—Del can prove surprisingly sneaky when times get tough—but they change each other with their reactions to the film’s expertly timed set pieces. Hughes also fills the film with a talented supporting cast, particularly a pair of memorable scenes with Michael McKean as a policeman and Edie McClurg as a rental agent.



Most importantly, the film works because the situations ring true. Anyone who has ever had to travel on the holidays can identify with the nagging fear of something going wrong and how to react in such a situation. The humor is both character-specific and universal, which is why the film has passed the first test of time: it still plays as well as it did 25 years ago. The film was a minor box-office hit, coming in 21st for the year and grossing $49,530,280 against a $15,000,000 budget. Since then, it has become a holiday favorite through home video and cable TV.



*Growing up in the 1990s, I identified Hughes more closely with his post-Home Alone work.



The Video:


2.5/5



The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While the film’s color looks adequate and accurate to the source, it’s just not a very colorful film. The picture has dark blacks and average contrast and saturation. Unfortunately, Paramount has fallen back into its old, bad habits of overdoing the DNR. Grain is there, and some fine details sneak through, but the grain patterns look unnatural. It’s not the worst example of bad DNR—some of which came from Paramount itself—but it’s shocking when one compares it to the deleted scene in the supplement section.



The Audio:


4/5



The film’s soundtrack is presented as a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track. There is some good surround separation, but most of it comes from Ira Newborn’s synth-driven musical score—the weakest part of the film—and the film’s selection of pop and R&B hits. Still, the sound effects are well-balanced across the channels, getting a boost in the most explosive parts, and the high ends are crisp.



The Extras:


4/5



All extras are in 1080p HD unless noted otherwise.



Getting There is Half the Fun (480p, 16:38): The film’s director and stars discuss the film in a press conference for its original release, while contemporary interviews with other cast and crew fill in the rest of the story.


John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast: A two-part memorial retrospective of the director: Voice of a Generation (27:39) discusses his working trial, while Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of John Hughes (25:52) reflects on his impact on the films of the last three decades.


John Hughes for Adults (480p, 4:02): More from the press conference. Here, Hughes discusses the jump from teen-oriented films to adult-oriented ones.


A Tribute to John Candy (480p, 3:01): Not the only member of the crew to leave us too soon, this short featurette from the 2006 DVD pays tribute to the late comic star. Co-stars remember his sense of comic timing and his character.


—Deleted Scene: Airplane Food (3:24): Del discusses the subtle nuances of different airlines’ bills of fare. A grainer picture than the film proper, it suggests what the film could have looked like without excessive digital interference.



Final Score:


3/5



Planes, Trains & Automobiles is the perfect display of expert comic timing in the service of a great script that strings the story’s hilarious set pieces together extremely well. Despite the extensive extras, Paramount’s regrettable use of DNR keeps this from being the film’s definitive home video presentation.
 

jim_falconer

Supporting Actor
Joined
Nov 11, 2004
Messages
781
I watched this blu on Thanksgiving Day, and it is just a perfect comedy from start to finish. If not the two performers best roles...it has to be in their respective top 5.
 

Dave H

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Aug 13, 2000
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Classic comedy and these two guys at their best IMO, but just ashame they had to DNR it like they did.
 

Dick

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Rick
Didn't care for the "pillow" joke, which seemed incredibly contrived and used for cheap laugh (and not at all believable to boot), but otherwise I found this a wise, witty and compassionate film with two delightful performances.
 

cafink

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Apr 19, 1999
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Carl Fink
Dick said:
Didn't care for the "pillow" joke, which seemed incredibly contrived and used for cheap laugh (and not at all believable to boot), but otherwise I found this a wise, witty and compassionate film with two delightful performances.
I feel the same way about a couple of other gags in the film, like Steve Marin being picked up by his testicles and his high-pitched voice. I still love this movie to death, though, and watch it every Thanksgiving with my parents.
 

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