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The manager of an international airport struggles to deal with a bomb threat and a blizzard.
For more about Airport and the Airport Blu-ray release, see Airport Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 17, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes
Director: George Seaton
» See full cast & crew
Airport Blu-ray Review
Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a melodramatic flight.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 17, 2012
Though it's often been credited as having helped to spark the so-called "disaster movie" genre, at the time of its release Airport wasn't really thought of that way. It was instead a massively anticipated film adaptation of what was then one of the all time bestselling books of its era. Author Arthur Hailey had found a niche for himself with his "industry-centric" novels that explored the ins and out and behind the scenes dramas of various workplaces. He had had a major success a few years previously with Hotel, which was also adapted into a (middling successful) film, but Airport really (excuse the pun) took off, catapulting Hailey into the virtual stratosphere of popular novelists. While the film's "mad bomber" (actually sad bomber in this instance) scenario which is a major aspect of Airport certainly is part and parcel of the disaster genre (and seems more frightening today than it probably did in 1970, when such things were unheard of), the film is actually a much more sweeping melodrama that spends as much time on a whole series of other plot arcs, including a blizzard, an unwanted pregnancy, and a mild mannered elderly stowaway who could have been Catch Me if You Can's Frank Abagnale's sweet but conniving grandmother. Hailey's "slice of life" approach, bringing a gaggle of disparate characters together under stressful circumstances, also became a rote trope of the disaster genre, but in Airport the calamity of an airliner in distress after an explosion serves as merely the climax to the film, rather than its sole raison d'être. The film became one of the all time box office champions of its day, ultimately surpassing Universal's previous record holder Spartacus as the studio's top money making enterprise. And of course the film did end up spawning a whole series of often unintentionally hilarious sequels which were crammed snugly into what had by then become a rote and completely predictable disaster formula.
The fact that the so-called "disaster" in Airport doesn't happen until the film's closing half hour or so (out of a two hour-plus running time) is perhaps the most salient piece of evidence that this isn't a typical disaster film. What Airport is, however, is a big, glossy, "all star" production that has the shiny patina of the Ross Hunter imprimatur all over it. The film in its own way harkens back to another "hotel"—namely, MGM's iconic Grand Hotel—a film which helped invent and cement the "all star" approach, replete with intersecting character bits for a variety of big name stars. Looking at Airport now from the vantage point of some 40 years after its release, the film seems surprisingly quaint at times, positing an airport where everyone knows everyone else, where a pilot's jilted wife is a close personal friend of the airport's general manager, and where the main customs agent is similarly friendly with a public relations person from an airline. It was probably not very realistic even in 1970, but it can seem positively surreal in 2012. Certain other aspects of the film have not weathered the ravages of time and the TSA very well, notably the linked stories of a stowaway passenger and a would be bomber.
The major players in Airport include Dean Martin as the philandering pilot Vern Demerest, who is ignoring his long suffering wife (Barbara Hale) in favor of a comely young stewardess named Gwen (Jacqueline Bissett), who reveals she's pregnant in one of the film's many melodramatic subplots. Demerest is on board a flight with Gwen, acting as a "check pilot" for the flight's actual captain (Barry Nelson). Also on board is a sweet little old lady named Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes, who won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for the film), who happens to be a "professional" stowaway, and an emotionally distraught man named D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin), who has purchased a hefty insurance policy and has brought a bomb on board the plane with the intention of bringing the flight down and ensuring his family gets a sizable cash payout.
Meanwhile on the ground we have more interpersonal drama between the airport's general manager, Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster), his estranged wife Cindy (Dana Wynter), and a tough but vulnerable PR person for Trans Global Airlines, Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg). Bakersfeld is trying to deal with a major blizzard burying the (fictional) Chicago area airport, a snowstorm which has left a plane perched precariously stuck on a runway, making certain take- offs and landings impossible. Bakersfeld recruits a legendary TWA engineer named Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) to help him get the plane unstuck, something that becomes more imperative when the flight with Guerrero suffers the results of his plot. Meanwhile, Mrs. Guerrero (Maureen Stapleton) is in hysterics at the airport, having figured out what her desperate husband is up to.
As should be clear by this précis, Airport is not an especially subtle film, but it's hugely entertaining if taken on it own patently glossy terms. This was one of the crowning achievements of producer Ross Hunter's career (something which would soon be undone by his disastrous musical version of Lost Horizon, almost unbelievably about to be released on Blu-ray by niche label Twilight Time), and Airport bears the patently fake but glistening veneer that was a hallmark of most Hunter productions. Rather incredibly, Heflin and Stapleton actually do manage to invest the film with some relatively real human emotion (though Stapleton's breakdown toward the end of the film is unintentionally a bit funny). The rest of the performances are what might be termed "Hollywood professional": they're absolutely what you would expect from actors this seasoned, but they're also surface deep, partly due to the cliché ridden source novel, no matter how fantastically successful it was.
It may be a little hard for younger audience to relate to the sort of excitement that a film like Airport generated in its day. This was not the amped up hype of a big press push, a la any number of present day blockbusters. Instead, this was a slow build, started by a phenomenally successful novel, and then increased exponentially by the word that the film would be such a stellar affair. It's easy to look back on that era, and indeed on Airport itself, with a certain degree of jaded disdain, but as the old adage goes, "they don't make 'em like this anymore", an adage that was probably pretty much true even in 1970 when the film premiered. Airport may be a relic of a bygone age in more ways than one, but it still provides a viscerally exciting flight for those willing to give in to the film's perhaps antiquated charms.
Airport Blu-ray, Video Quality
Airport is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. This large format Todd-AO shot production (lensed by Oscar nominated Ernest Laszlo) looks excellent throughout this high definition presentation. A 65mm source like this wouldn't have exhibited excessive grain to begin with, so any "ameliorative" efforts by Universal's restoration team on this title don't show egregious effects of DNR, and in fact a layer of extremely fine grain is quite apparent throughout this transfer. (In fairness it should be stated that the film has a rather high number of opticals, including a lot of split screen effects, and grain does not increase exponentially during these sequences, evidence perhaps of Universal's trend toward "grain averaging".) While I have no definitive word as to whether this was sourced from the original Todd-AO elements or not, the image is sharp and well defined, with mostly excellently saturated color (a few sequences seem just slightly less robust than the bulk of the film, especially with regard to flesh tones). Fine object detail is excellent throughout this presentation, and contrast and black levels are also solid, making the long nighttime sequences pop rather nicely with good shadow detail.
Airport Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Airport features a good sounding lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that may surprise some viewers used to nonstop low frequency assaults with how relatively restrained its use of LFE is, especially considering the glut of airplane jet engines and even explosions that the film exploits. This was the last film that legendary composer Alfred Newman worked on, and he delivers a boisterous main theme which seems oddly reflective of some of Johnny Williams' science fiction television themes of the day, notably the second Lost in Space theme and the somewhat similar Land of the Giants. Newman also offers a sumptuous love theme, which became a major easy listening hit in 1970. The score is very well represented on this 5.1 mix. Discrete sound effects also are nicely splayed throughout the surrounds, including some great panning effects when a couple of flights take off. Dialogue is cleanly and clearly presented and the track is well prioritized, but it still may strike younger listeners as being fairly conservative by present day standards.
Airport Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Airport Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Airport was old fashioned even in 1970 when it was released, and that characteristic is only more noticeable now over forty years after the film's original release. Does that mean the film is worthless? Hardly. This is big budget, ultra glossy entertainment, slickly produced and directed and featuring a slew of well known actors playing to their own particular strengths. The film is undeniably about as deep as a piece of paper, but it's just as undeniably a fantastic piece of entertainment if taken on its own terms. This new Blu-ray offers excellent video and audio, and even though supplements are awfully slim, this release comes Recommended.
Airport: Other Editions
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Airport Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Airport Blu-ray - June 4, 2012
As part of its 100th Anniversary this year, Universal Studios Home Entertainment will offer special reissues of selected catalog titles, and the Airport Blu-ray will arrive in the September wave. Director George Seaton's disaster picture focuses on the turmoil ...
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