Planes, Trains and Automobiles Blu-ray Review
Every major holiday, and even some minor ones, have a flagship movie that must be played ad nauseam on TNT and TBS during their respective time of year, and even though they’ve been sliced and diced in the editing room to make them “appropriate” for your delicate television eyes and ears, they will be watched by even the people who own the uninterrupted version staring them in the face on shelf right next to their dust laden DVD player. The undisputed holiday champ, Christmas, bombards audiences each year with what seems to be a ever growing list of classics including CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989), New Year’s Eve has WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989), Groundhog’s Day has GROUNDHOG’S DAY (1993), Valentine’s Day forces men all across the country to watch SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993) for the umpteenth time, The 4th of July forces women all across the country to watch INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) for the umpmillionth time, Halloween releases its rouges gallery of awful films that become more funny than scary with each passing year and even Groundhog’s Day has, well, GROUNDHOG’S DAY (1993) . . . did I say that one already?
And what of the king of the feast? When most people are being completely honest, they will admit Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday because they get to pig out, watch football and best of all, no shopping, at least not until just before the sun rises the next day. But does Christmas’ gateway have a signature film to call its own? There may not be many gems to choose from, but if you were to be stranded on a desert island, it would be remiss to not take along PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987).
Advertising executive Neal Page (Steve Martin) is trying to accomplish the very simple task of traveling home to Chicago from NYC for Thanksgiving, but when his flight is forced to land in Wichita due to inclement weather he has no other choice than to accept a forced friendship with an annoying but good hearted salesman, Del Griffith (John Candy), who has unwittingly plagued Neal from the moment he left his office in New York. As each method of transportation implausibly fails, the mismatched pair end up cramming a lifetime of a tumultuous friendship into only a few days, ultimately learning more about themselves than each other.
The bountiful amount of accolades that coronate this film as the hallmark of Thanksgiving Day also place it in the top tier of the legendary duo’s individual bodies of work. For the late, great John Candy, this is probably the role most people will declare as his “Starry Night.” Candy exhausts everything in his comedy arsenal for this performance and builds it upon a character with an incredibly emotional foundation, exemplifying just how truly underrated the pure acting talent was that he possessed.
Steve Martin’s Neal Page marks one of the first “straight man” characters portrayed by Martin in his film career, which ironically have become his most commercially successful roles. However, the nearly flawless script written and directed by the king of the 80’s comedy himself, John Hughes, does pave avenues on this trip from hell for Martin to break out into his signature comedy styling under the guise of pure frustration and exhaustion. Most notably in the infamous car rental scene that has gone down in the annals of comedy as the single greatest use of a certain four-letter work that rhymes with “luck,” and the sole reason for the film being bestowed with an “R” rating. It’s also every frequent traveler’s ultimate fantasy of what they would really like to say when a company screws up their reservations. That timeless scene also ensures that PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES will forever remain a “must own” for any true fan, although it is still very entertaining to watch the scene on network TV and witness some of the worst editing that would make even a kitten wielding a light saber YouTube video look like an Oscar contender.
Like the London Symphony Orchestra playing with out-of-tune instruments, it’s the perfect execution of chaos that ultimately makes this film work so well. Sure the premises that plague the main characters may be somewhat outrageous and even more so to happen all at once, but none are completely out of line with reality and at least some form of one or more of the unfortunate scenarios have and still do torment frequent travelers to this day. But what really secures PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES as a “hall of fame” caliber film, is it also manages to impressively capture the essence of what truly makes Thanksgiving the purest holiday, free from the fog of gifts and the murky waters of religion, it’s a blueprint for the highest quality of the human condition.
That and the hilarious “F-Bomb” scene.
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: The video for this Blu-ray is an immediate upgrade over any of the HD cable channels the film has ever been viewed on. The sharpness and color have been cleaned and upgraded but the film retains the natural skin tones, especially the feeling of the cold weather backdrop. It’s not perfect as, there are some noticeable areas where the film noise was removed, but it’s still the best this film has ever looked.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: The audio is also a huge upgrade over any previous presentation, even more so than the video. The dialogue is key in this film, and this track does an incredible job highlighting it while keeping all the off-screen sound effects intact.
Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes Trains and Automobiles (17 min): A promo press conference with John Hughes, Steve Martin and John Candy. The trio answers questions about the production of the film. There is some funny banter between Candy and Martin but only worth the time if you’re a superfan of either.
John Hughes: Live Moves Pretty Fast (54 min): This feature is separated into 2 parts, “The Voice of a Generation” and “The Legacy of John Hughes.” This is a really nice tribute to one of the most influential directors/writers of all time. Totally worth the time and since Hughes passed away in 2009, this is a very fitting replacement for a director’s commentary.
John Hughes for Adults (4 min): A short featurette that focuses on Hughes solely as a filmmaker with some recent interviews with crew members and Kevin Bacon.
A Tribute to John Candy (3 min): A much too short piece that remembers one of the greatest comedic actors of all time.
Deleted Scene: “Airplane Food” (3 min): An extended view of one of the funniest early scenes in the film as Neal (Steve Martin) is forced to listen to Del’s (John Candy) extensive knowledge of airplane food while he’s trying to eat on the plane.