Flying High! (Airplane!) (1980)

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Released 15-Jan-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Theatrical Trailer
Audio Commentary-Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, John Davidson & Jim Abrahams
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 84:05
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Robert Hays
Julie Hagerty
Lloyd Bridges
Lesley Nielsen
Robert Stack
Peter Graves
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Elmer Bernstein


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, the final tag.

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

Plot Synopsis

    Airplane!, released in 1980 in this country as Flying High!, is described rather humbly by the trailer as quite simply "the most incredible adventure the screen has ever seen!". Indeed, "the screen has never been so big!".  Well alright, maybe these accolades are just a little overdone for this film, but it is undisputedly, and surprisingly for its three creators at the time, now a cult comedy classic, worthy of its place in the hall of most successful and respected comedies of recent times. Personally, I would go so far as to classify this film as the second most important and influential comedy of the last twenty five years - edged out only by The Life of Brian released a year earlier in 1979. Flying High! was single-handedly responsible for introducing audiences to an entirely new kind of comedy (altogether) and spawning its own unique genre of comedy satire. This style was subsequently to be copied and expanded upon in many different guises, both by its creators and countless others, but alas never again with the same freshness and appeal.

    The movie should certainly need no real introduction or plot synopsis here, as I doubt there would be anyone reading this review who has not already seen or at least heard of the movie before, such has been its widespread appeal across audiences of all different types around the world. On the off-chance there is anyone out there who doesn't have any idea what I'm talking about (maybe you were brought up in an isolated tribal colony over the last 25 years and only recently rejoined civilisation), then for the record Flying High! is a seriously corny and intentionally B-grade satirical send-up of just about any Airport disaster movie you care to recall, as well taking the opportunity to also send-up several other well-known films along the way, including everything from Jaws to Saturday Night Fever.

    Written by the comic genius of the "ZAZ" trio - David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker - the plot for Flying High! is in fact by-and-large drawn directly from the 1957 film B-grade film Zero Hour!, written by Arthur Hailey - a man who later went on to pen the more commercially successful disaster novels Airport (1970) and Airport '80: The Concord (1979). Indeed, you may be very interested to learn that Zero Hour!'s main hero was in fact a character named Ted Stryker! and furthermore that the plot involved a routine airline flight turning into a major emergency when the crew and passengers succumb to food poisoning! Now wouldn't it be interesting to go back and take a look at this particular little film, in hindsight?

    You may also be very interested to learn that Flying High! almost never was. The ZAZ trio explain in their audio commentary that the concept dated back to 1974, when they were originally writing a series of late-night TV commercial comedy send-ups. Needing a "filler" to  break up this long series of commercial sketches, and to give the impression to the audience they were indeed watching late night TV, they also wrote a short airline disaster movie spoof as something to link the main comedy, being the commercial gags. However on the advice of others who found the B-grade airline movie spoof much funnier than the commercials, the trio was eventually persuaded to pursue the airline concept as a full-length feature film.

    After doing this and then suffering a rather inauspicious premiere of the film, I'm sure the ZAZ trio more than anyone would have been surprised at exactly how successful this film went on to become, both as a sleeper at the box office and then enjoying a long and fruitful life on video release. After resisting much pressure to immediately go on and do Flying High II (which was made and released 2 years later without them anyway), the ZAZ trio went on to write and direct the even zanier and successful Top Secret! (1984), Ruthless People (directing only, 1986), The Naked Gun (1988) and its two sequels and Hot Shots! (1991) and its sequel (Jim Abrahams only), among other individual writing, directing and producing projects. Wow!, now that's a successful career, all spawned from Flying High!  Of course, the comic career of Leslie Neilson was also forged (some might say doomed) by his absolute nailing of deadpan delivery in this film. All this from a deliberately low budget, B-grade movie concept that almost never came to being? Surely you can't be serious?....

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Do you want the good news or the good news? Paramount has done an excellent job on this transfer and, considering the age of the source material, the video quality comes up better than you've ever seen this movie before.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. After suffering through countless repeat viewings of this film on pan and scan video, as I'm sure many of you have too, I found it an absolute joy to finally see this film again at (close to) its original theatrical aspect ratio.

     The luminance of this transfer is as good as this film is ever going to get, with both sharpness and shadow detail quite stunning considering this is a 25 year-old low budget film. Yes, there is definitely a noticeable softness to the resolution, but this is solely a source issue and not any deficiency in the transfer process. Background resolution is perfectly adequate where it is required, and resolutely indistinct when the directors intend it kept out of focus, in order to maintain the deliberately B-grade look or keep the eye drawn to the foreground for gags (for example Ted buying his "smoking" ticket at 9:30). A similar comment may be made in respect of foreground resolution, that is that any softness is a deliberate source issue, rather than any transfer deficiency. Take for example the deliberately soft and hazy resolution in the bar/dancing scene (Chapter 6), an intended effect to convey the seediness of the bar venue, and then compare this to the starkly sharper resolution in the scene immediately following, when Ted and Elaine are dancing alone later that evening. A softness in resolution is particularly noticeable in many scenes with quick facial movements or quick pans, but again, this is all source issue and to be expected. There is no low level noise in the transfer.

    A similar story applies with chrominance in the transfer, although colours may be just a little more washed out than originally intended, due to the age of the print. It must be borne in mind that this film was shot using a deliberately muted colour palette and using deliberately harsh, direct lighting in most scenes, to help portray the traditional "B-grade" movie look and feel. Don't go expecting bright vibrant colours in this transfer; they aren't there and they aren't intended to be. You will find skin tones deliberately washed-out and the background colours and colours of characters' clothing muted and dull (just love Ted Striker's brown corduroys!). On a properly calibrated home-theatre TV, you will also see the colours in this transfer much closer to what was originally intended, instead of what we are all probably a lot more used to seeing from those countless videotape viewings in the 80s, with the TV colour turned up way too high!  Having said that, yes it is apparent that we are watching an old and slightly faded film print here.

    Pleasingly, there are no MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Nor are there are any material film-to-video artefacts, apart from some very trivial aliasing and some very mild instances of colour pulsing in some scenes (see 7:20).

    Film artefacts are present, as you may well expect, in the form of innumerable and persistent little film flecks and the odd negative artefacts, but these are all at the minor end of the annoyance scale and none too distracting. Certainly it would appear that some effort has been put into cleaning and restoring this print to good effect, otherwise I would have expected to see some more pronounced film artefacts for a print of this age.

     Now, to the subtitles. Umm, where are they? An English subtitle track is present on thi disc yet, when turned "on", no subtitle streaming appears! But don't worry, you still get the translations of the all-important "Jive" language, in glorious bright yellow font!

    This disc is single-layered.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The quality of the accompanying audio transfer on this disc can be described as perfectly satisfactory.

    There is only one audio track available, being English Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448 Kb/s). Like the audio track for the recently released Top Secret!, I feel that calling this soundtrack a "5.1 mix" is misleading to say the least - I would more carefully categorise this DVD as having a "discrete Dolby 2.0 Surround" audio track. Even then, the surrounds are employed only very minimally, as a slight embellishment for some of the music score and songs and for the rare surround sound effect. The surround channels remain silent, or at least remain at such a low volume as to be effectively silent, for about 80% of the feature.

    A couple of points to make about this comment, though. First, this is of course a very dialogue-driven movie, and so to that extent what is most important here is how well the audio track conveys the dialogue. It does this very well, with all lines clearly audible and no missed punch-lines from muffled or hard-to-hear centre-channel, albeit that the original dialogue does sound a little harsh compared to more modern recordings. Second, it must be borne in mind that the original theatrical audio mix for this film was a fairly harsh stereo mix and that appears to be basically what we have been presented with here. The re-mixing for the DVD release appears to have been restricted to only a minimal touch-up of the original mix. This is perhaps for the best, and in keeping with the flavour of the film; certainly it would have been out of place to include an all-new, aggressive, fully immersive 5.1 mix along with what is meant to be a B-grade movie.

    There are no problems with audio sync on my player.

    The music score was written by Elmer Bernstein and is a very clever mixture of some deliberately abrasive B-grade themes and stings (as Bernstein was requested to write by the directors) and some more serious and complementary musical pieces. The main theme is quite catchy and apt.

     The subwoofer gets very little work in this audio track and it is only called upon now and then to accentuate some of the knocks and  bumps in the sound effects.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A slightly disappointing list of extra inclusions on this disc, but perhaps this is simply due to the fact that there really isn't anything else around that could have been included.

Menu

    The menu design on this DVD is plain old dull. OK, it's probably meant to go with the intended style of the film, but still it is disappointing. All menu screens are presented in 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced and are still screens with no audio underscore. I think a little more effort in the menu design would have been appreciated by fans.

Original US theatrical trailer (3:16)

    This is of average quality only for this type of extra, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. As is often the case with film trailers on DVDs, no real effort has gone into cleaning up the print of this trailer at all. It is very grainy and very hissy. Still, it's always interesting to see how a film was originally previewed to audiences before its original release, and this trailer is no exception, so it remains a worthy inclusion.

Group Commentary - Directors David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker and Producer Jon Davidson

    The inclusion of this extra will be the icing on the cake for most fans of this movie. Unfortunately, like the commentary for Top Secret!, I can't put my hand on my heart and say that it's the most exciting or successful director's commentary I've ever heard, as much as I'd like to. These are all clearly very funny guys, however making director's commentaries is not their strong point, as the trio readily admit themselves. The commentary seems to be either a feast or a famine, suffering on the one hand from instances of the directors all talking over each other in their excitement as they reminisce among themselves, or else on the other hand many quiet spots as the directors sit back all trying to think up some interesting anecdotes, or just enjoying the jokes again themselves. Still, the commentary is well worthwhile, as there are some extremely interesting topics discussed here, including the history of how this project came about and was then developed and premiered, how quickly and cost effectively the film was made, and how the actors were originally unsure about how to approach the film or exactly what was required of them; all fascinating stuff. It is definitely more of a casual talk-along type commentary than any serious exposition of the technicalities of making the film.

    As a comment, it would appear to me that this commentary may have actually been recorded before the Top Secret! commentary, as the Top Secret! commentary included the idea of a moderator to ask questions and draw out the directors on topics of interest. It would appear they must have learned from their first commentary experience on Flying High! and then improved on the execution of the concept for the next one.

    Like the Top Secret! commentary, this one would have also benefited from a subtitle stream to indicate who is talking when.

R4 vs R1

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

    The good news is that Region 4 has not missed out on any extras or substantive inclusions with this DVD release.

    The disc is already available in both Region 1 (NTSC) and Region 2 (PAL). Based on the review data available, it would appear that the Region 4 release misses out on:

    It is annoying that we did not receive at least the English subtitles, however apart from this, unless you speak or require other language tracks or subtitles, Region 4 is not missing out on anything material.

Summary

   Flying High! is, in my opinion, one of the all-time classic comedy films of the last 25 years. The release of this film on DVD has been eagerly awaited by many Region 4 fans, me among them. It is great to report that Paramount have done a great job here, with an excellent video transfer (for such an aged print), a perfectly satisfactory audio transfer and a list of extras that is small but contains an all-important directors' commentary.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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Comments (Add)
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