Airport (1970)

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Released 24-Dec-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Disaster Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (3:27)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1970
Running Time 130:58
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (71:38) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By George Seaton

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Burt Lancaster
Dean Martin
Jean Seberg
Jacqueline Bisset
George Kennedy
Helen Hayes
Van Heflin
Maureen Stapleton
Barry Nelson
Lloyd Nolan
Dana Wynter
Barbara Hale
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Alfred Newman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I suppose that if one was to nominate a genre of film that would typify each decade of the last century of film, the 1970s would probably be best known for the disaster film. As an avaricious consumer of films in those long-forgotten days of my youth in the 1970s, I well remember joining the queues for films such as The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. The granddaddy of the genre was perhaps none other than the film that started the decade off for the genre - Airport. Based upon the novel by Arthur Hailey, which I had read many times, Airport was probably the first film that I ever actually saw more than twice at the cinema. So successful was the film that not only did it spawn a trilogy of sequels (Airport '75, Airport '77 and Airport '79), and not only did it kick start the big disaster film genre for the decade, but it almost single-handedly resurrected the spoof as a box-office player of note. Returning to the film after the passage of many, many years is something of an eye opener, for looking at the film now it is difficult to see why it did so well. Incredibly dated, there really is not that much here in the way of engrossing story or deep characterisation and the whole thing is about as gripping as watching paint dry. But as a piece of 1970s nostalgia, this is perhaps unsurpassed.

    This is no simple story but rather an interweaving of several stories. You have the story of Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster), general manager of aging Lincoln International Airport in Chicago, trying to cope with a severe snowstorm and a Trans Global Airlines Boeing 707 blocking his main runway, with a deteriorating marriage to socialite Cindy (Dana Wynter) and burgeoning relationship with Trans Global Airlines Customer Manager Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) thrown in for good measure. Oh, and a brother-in-law in Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin) who is a pilot for Trans Global who cannot stand Mel's guts, and who provides one of the other intertwining stories - namely an affair with a Trans Global stewardess Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset) that has resulted in a pregnancy. They both happen to be on Trans Global's Golden Argosy service to Rome this night.... Then you have dear little old biddy Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes) who has a daughter who lives in New York but she does not have the money to fly from Los Angeles to see her. So she stows away on Trans Global flights (they are the best apparently) for free trans-continental journeys, knowing that the publicity cognisant airline will just fly her back to Los Angeles. Discovered again on a flight, she is removed but manages to wangle her way onto the Golden Argosy. We have one D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin), a business disaster area who believes that the only way he can help his family is to pawn a family heirloom of his wife Inez (Maureen Stapleton), buy a ticket on the Golden Argosy, take out an insurance policy and blow the 'plane up over the Atlantic Ocean. So exactly how much baggage can one pile onto an airport and into one flight? So far we have completely failed to mention Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), the mechanical genius brought in to try and clear the Boeing 707 blocking that runway - which has to be done of course before the ill-fated (and rather badly damaged) Golden Argosy service returns to the only open airport in the eastern part of the country, namely Lincoln International Airport, for an emergency landing.

    Not exactly a coherent story but rather a collection of intertwined vignettes, this might have been the height of movie-making at the beginning of the 1970s but looking back at it today in the light of thirty years, it is incredibly dated in every way. Apart from the cringe factors - try calling a flight attendant a stewardess today and an all-out strike would probably result - it is the massive changes in the airline industry that this reveals. Just the thought of that seating arrangement in the forward cabin of the Boeing 707 alone recalls a vastly different era of air travel. The lack of security so that a little old lady can just wander onto a flight.... the mind boggles! Still, for all the changes that the film so readily highlights (and there are many), there is still a decent enough piece of entertainment here. Of course, a 1970s disaster movie would not be complete without the obligatory all-star cast and the genre almost became a bastion of the last rites on the careers of many a big name. So here we have some names in Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg and Helen Hayes getting to strut their stuff before their use by date expires. In many ways, that was one of the great things about these disaster movies - we got to see a lot of these big names from a slightly bygone era showing that they could still do the job. Unfortunately, the film in every other way does not reach any great artistic or technical heights and in particular the effects are so dated that it is easy to se why they were so readily spoofed later in the decade. They do not hold up very well at all in the light of that modest little film of 1977.

    You may well have noted that the word dated figures quite prominently so far in this synopsis. There is good reason for that - the film is terribly dated. Still, it is a long way from being the worst film ever made and if I remember correctly it garnered a bunch of Oscar nominations (Helen Hayes won for Best Supporting Actress). As a slice of 1970s nostalgia, it cannot be missed. As a film, well let us just say that the only thing that it really has going for it is the fact that it comes at a very wallet-friendly price, for I doubt that the reality of returning to watch the film is going to match the memory of what it was like. It sure did not for me.

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Transfer Quality


    Well if the film is dated, it is fair to say the transfer is dated too, but I suppose that we should be very grateful - at least it is a widescreen presentation in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio that closely approximates the 2.20:1 aspect ratio of the original film, and it is 16x9 enhanced (both of these are by no means givens in the batch of films recently released by Universal at this $19.95 price point). This is a film that has always been poorly done by on home video in the USA and it was only with the 30th Anniversary re-issue on DVD last year that it got its first widescreen home video release there.

    It does not matter where you look here, you see the effects of time. The image itself has a rather tired, faded look to it and the overall impression of the transfer is one of quite modest sharpness and detail. Everything seems to blend together a little and I would be loathe to see this on a television with only a decent CRT - this needs something really decent in the tube department to be watchable I would guess - or on an improperly setup RPT. The shadow detail reflects every one of the thirty one years this film has been around and is at best described as adequate. Rather incredibly, there is nothing much in the way of grain here, although that is perhaps a reflection of the somewhat consistently soft image. It is by no means unwatchable but I have seen films older than this with significantly better image qualities.

    The colour palette is best characterised as faded, for my memory was that this was a slightly more colourful film on initial release. Still, at least the transfer is consistent in this regard and there is nothing approaching oversaturation to worry about. You would not be looking here for anything approaching a vibrant transfer I can assure you. The whole transfer could do with a serious dose of saturation and tonal depth to the colours in order to compare with other films of both earlier and later vintages.

    There were no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer, and apart from some relatively minor shimmering that most would probably not notice, there did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. The only real instance of aliasing that I noticed was at 89:18. As you can guess however, there are plenty of film artefacts on offer here, with some rather large dirt marks that are hard to ignore.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 71:38. It is a bit obvious but not that disruptive to the flow of the film.

    There is a modest selection of subtitle options on the DVD and the English for the Hearing Impaired efforts are quite good. They are nicely presented, quite legible but unfortunately missing little chunks of dialogue all over the place. Nothing overly important was missed, but on a couple of occasions whole sentences seemed to be missed.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks on the DVD, being Dolby Digital 2.0 mono efforts in English and German. I stuck with the English efforts. If the key word with the video transfer was dated, then the key word with the audio is unremarkable.

    Dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is usually quite easy to understand. There appeared to be no issues with audio sync in the transfer.

    The original music score is from Alfred Newman and a rather unmemorable effort it seems to be - and yes I know it copped an Oscar nomination, which I will never understand. It very much sounds like a score done by numbers - you know the sort of thing where the slightly tense bits in the film have the same music that you have heard a hundred times before in any number of B-grade films.

    Aside from the fact that it is mono and therefore a 50 cent tin can is probably all you need in the way of speakers, not the thousand dollar or more efforts used in your system, there is nothing to say about the soundtrack. A bit harsh at times but no real worries.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    I suppose that given the budget-medium price point of the DVD, any expectations regarding substantive extras were over-ambitious.


    16x9 enhanced but other than that quite unremarkable.

Theatrical Trailer (3:27)

    Since this is the age before the two minute resume of the film for people who don't have the time to see the film, we harken back to an earlier age of film promotion here that seems very incongruous nowadays. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is pretty ropey looking and has a plethora of film artefacts to further degrade the viewing experience.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There are two DVD releases in Region 1. Both are characterised by the lack of extras. The original release was a bare bones Pan and Scan abomination that highlighted a continuing cheap and nasty approach to a home video release for the film. This release was supplanted by the aforementioned 30th Anniversary release, which at least had the good fortune to be in 16x9 enhanced widescreen, although still with no extras. Interestingly, despite the 138 minute length of the film (in NTSC form) the latter release is apparently squeezed onto a single layer, single sided DVD. Even though the Region 4 release is by no means perfect, available reviews would indicate that it would be the version of choice since we at least get an extra, and the price is certainly right.


    The granddaddy of the 1970s disaster films, Airport is a very dated film in every way. Still, at the price it certainly cannot be disregarded as a nostalgic look back at that decade in terms of film.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, January 13, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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