Airplane!: "Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition

Airplane!: "Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition (1980)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Julie Hagerty, Robert Hays, Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges
Extras: Commentary Track, Trivia Track, Long Haul Version, Theatrical Trailer

When studios re-release titles these days that they had out on DVD previously I am getting very suspicious. Generally, either one of two cases happens. Either it is a simple ploy to get into people's pockets once again making them shell out hard-earned money for a single new feature because the studio has exhausted its catalog and needs to refurbish films to meet Wall Street expectations, or it is an attempt to give a title new shelf life because retailers typically do not stock older releases. Both, of course, do not really serve the customers very well. Only occasionally do these releases offer up real new value at this point. Now, in the case of "Airplane!" the original release didn't offer any extras other than a wonderful commentary track by the directors and writers. As such, any additional supplements are welcome, and this version – while still not really a full blown Special Edition – features some more extras that make the film even more enjoyable.

After writing "The Kentucky Fried Movie" for John Landis, "Airplane!" was the first film of the Zucker/Zucker/Abrahams collaboration which the three also directed. So successfully in fact that they kept doing these whacky no-holds-barred comedies for quite some time, one topping the others. In "Airplane!" they set the tone for their future films and also established Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges as two actors who would work with them in these zany comedies for years to come.

When, among half the passengers, the pilot, co-pilot and navigator of a passenger flight all fall sick with food poisoning it is up to passenger Ted Striker (Robert Hays) to overcome his demons and make for a safe landing. Striker is a veteran war pilot – from World War II no less but still in his late 20s – who is haunted by a disastrous decision he had to make during the War, killing a number of people in its wake. He never overcame his problems and now, at the rudder of a commercial airliner, his nerves are in tatters. Only his girlfriend, stewardess Elaine Dickson (Julie Hagerty), can rattle him and make sure he is focusing on the problems at hand as everything on the plane is getting hair-raisingly out of control.

Tongue-in-cheek throughout, "Airplane!" created a new breed of comedies in 1980 where slapstick, witty dialogues and hilarious antics go hand-in-hand at 60 laughs a second. The film has been ranked as one of the 10 funniest movies ever made by the American Film Institute and viewing it for the umpteenth time, I can still understand, why. The gags just don't get old. I am still laughing at all the things going on in the background, a train conductor calling "All aboard!" in front of the airplane, the inflatable auto-pilot and the recurring "What's that?" jokes. The only thing I can possibly imagine being funnier than "Airplane!" would be "Airplane!" with Jim Carrey…

Paramount Home Entertainment is offering a good-looking transfer of the movie here. It is mostly clean and clear ,though occasional grain is evident. It is mostly a result of some optical effects that had to be applied to these shots and are a limitation of the original material. Colors are rich and solid, without bleeding. Skin tones are always faithfully rendered, making for a great presentation. The black levels are deep and create solid shadows that don't break up while highlights are balanced and never bloom. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts mar the transfer.

The audio tracks is offered up as a 5.1 channel remix, created form the original mono elements. While it is not overly aggressive, it still serves its purpose well and knows when to successfully engage surrounds for best effect. Dialogues are well integrated and the frequency response has been improved over the original mono track, making sure the film never sounds dated or harsh. A Dolby surround mix is also included on the disc as well as a French track in mono. Strangely the original mono track in English that was part of the previous release has not been included here.

As extras the release contains the same commentary track that was found on the previous DVD. It features Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker as they re-examine their work. It is an incredibly well done commentary, full of jokes, information and insight. The three always find something new to point out which may have escaped your notice while watching the movie before.

As new extras, this version features the "Long Haul Version." Here, deleted scenes have been re-integrated and various interview segments have been spliced into the film for more information. These interviews feature even actors who played some small parts in the film only, as they discuss their roles and significance of these characters in the overall scheme of things. It is actually very well done and contains a lot of additional information and insight into the film. While, of course, it disrupts the flow of the film, it is great to see all these people look back at this landmark film and telling their stories how they got involved and how they contributed their part. Very well done!

Also included on the release is a trivia track. Here trivia facts about the production of the film, the actors and other issues are superimposed in the film as you watch it. Once again, a film so rich in small details is perfect for this sort of thing and in "Airplane!" you will find new trivia facts on every corner. The release is rounded out by the movie's theatrical trailer.

"Airplane!" is the quintessential spoof on all disaster movies, and it is as funny today as it was 25 years ago. Paramount has added some cool new features to this release making it definitely worth another look even if you already own the previous DVD release, especially since it also comes with a very friendly $19.99 price tag. Relive the funny of "Airplane!" on this DVD, and maybe find a few more funny things you may not have noticed before. I know, I did.