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Planes, Trains & Automobiles(1987)
A man must struggle to travel home for Thanksgiving, with an obnoxious slob of a shower ring salesman his only companion.
For more about Planes, Trains & Automobiles and the Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blu-ray release, see Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 1, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon, Ben Stein
Director: John Hughes
» See full cast & crew
Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blu-ray Review
Humor and heart: who could ask for more?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 1, 2011
I can't wait to see what happens next.
In the great tradition of Comedies of errors, Planes, Trains & Automobiles offers audiences a wild ride where everything that could go wrong does go wrong in the noble but ever-obvious futile effort to return home to Chicago from New York for Thanksgiving. Through all the madness, however, it tells a heartwarming story of developing friendship and the importance of kindness in the midst of nonstop chaos. It's one of John Hughes' best films -- if not the best -- a distinction made all the more impressive considering his short but incredible body of directorial work, which includes Comedy masterpieces like Uncle Buck and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, not to mention the somewhat more Drama-oriented coming-of-age detention film The Breakfast Club. Like its name suggests, Planes, Trains & Automobiles has a little bit of everything, including a pairing of Comedy masters whose instant chemistry is the stuff of genre legend and, even through the incessant humor, are the film's rocks, its true secret to Comedy success. Additionally, the movie's simplicity, charm, and heartwarming and honest little touches round it into a complete and unforgettable picture that's as moving as it is gut-busting funny with every watch.
Neal Page (Steve Martin) just wants to get home for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, home is in snowy Chicago, and he's trapped in a business meeting in New York. He fails to flag down a cab, despite his best efforts both monetary and otherwise, and he winds up missing his plane. Seated across from him in the terminal and awaiting the same later flight is Del Griffith (John Candy), a shower curtain ring salesman who lugs around an oversized trunk, the same man who "stole" Neal's cab hours earlier. As fate would have it, they're also seat mates aboard the Chicago-bound flight, but they're diverted from the Windy (Snowy) City to Wichita where stranded travelers have booked every room around, that is every room except for the one that Del just so happened to grab upon landing. And so Neal's and Del's daylong journey together becomes a shared night in a cheap motel. Little do they know that their stay together -- which sees Del trash the place with his slovenly habits and Neal unload his frustrations on his fellow stranded traveler -- is but the first stop on a journey of self-discovery, blossoming friendship, and a whole lot of travel mishaps.
The various mishaps of Planes, Trains & Automobiles are cause for great comedy and incessant humor, but the strengths don't just come from the individual events. Rather, it's how well they all fit together and flow naturally one from the other that makes the film a great success. This isn't simply a picture where things just happen. It's far smarter than that, a creative masterpiece of a movie that's as well thought-out and obviously put together people who seem to know all-too-well the ins-and-outs of travel, not only during the holidays but in a more general sense. Both the expected and the unexpected happen. It's not just flight delays and a shortage of money, but some truly ingenious situations that are innocently scary, incredible, and even flat-out gross. But the movie doesn't resort to potty humor. It's funny in a more classical style, one of the last bastions of truly great comedy before the genre's devolution into nothing but sex and raunchiness and crude jokes. No, this is humor about the day-to-day operations of this thing called life. It's genuine and built around that age-old principle of "it could happen to you!," which gives added weight to and earns extra laughs from every very-plausible situation and scenario that pops up through the course of the film.
It's more than just a road trip-gone-wrong Comedy, though. Planes, Trains & Automobiles works so well thanks to the magical pairing of veteran comedians Steve Martin and John Candy and the effortlessness with which they play every angle their parts demand, from pure anger to absolute compassion. The dynamics that both pull them apart and slowly bring them together serve as the glue that makes the movie complete. Martin's understated misery that ferments and slowly boils into a rage -- twice -- and Candy's happy-go-lucky, take it in stride, go-with-the-flow attitude make them the perfect odd couple. As their trip drags on and as the casualties on their mental well-being mount and their hope and money disappear, they come to understand that it's the differences that make them stronger as a unit as they deal with one crisis after another. Their story encapsulates what it's all about to be human. The differences are at first a cause for resentment, mistrust, annoyance, and general grief, but as reality sets in and their shared time together becomes more than a necessary nuisance, their understanding of one another grows and their basic human goodness overwhelms both their initial negative impressions and the constant bleakness of their circumstances and bad luck. This is a movie about bonding and compassion between the most unlikely of friends and amidst the most unusual string of events, and combined with the picture's ending that's at once both heartbreaking and heartwarming, it's no wonder that Planes, Trains & Automobiles is as endearing, joyous, satisfying, touching, and yes, funny as just about any other movie out there.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blu-ray, Video Quality
The bad news is that Planes, Trains & Automobiles is another Paramount catalogue title that suffers through some unsightly noise reduction. The good news is that the end result is nowhere near as atrocious as what was seen in another recent release of a 1980s vintage film, Footloose. Indeed, Planes, Trains & Automobiles displays obvious noise reduction that yields pasty skin textures and frozen grain fields that, like Footloose, tend to move around in globs as if pulled and warped by an unnatural attraction between human and solid surface. Fortunately, the image isn't a total loss. Fine detail is still fair, even on some facial textures. The transfer also manages to reveal in great detail the texture of Neal's sports jacket and overcoat and the tiniest little signs of wear and tear on Del's rugged old beater of a travel trunk. There's a crispness and clarity about the image, and detailing is still boosted by the increase in resolution over standard definition. Still, the noise reduction is cause for concern, though in this case it's not a total deal breaker simply because it's not quite as severe as the abomination that is Footloose. Black crush is also a running problem, but there's not a complete loss of shadow detail in some of the darker scenes. Colors look good and represent the transfer's finest asset. Bright hues and dreary and cold grays alike are natural and pleasant. Lastly, the transfer is home to a few random pops and speckles, but nothing super distracting. Yes, this transfer is a disappointment. It's a bit better than it might have been if Footloose is representative of the bottom of big studio barrels, but it's nevertheless bad enough to warrant and wish for a remastered presentation somewhere down the road. Planes, Trains & Automobiles deserves nothing less.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Planes, Trains & Automobiles sounds a whole lot better than a Chatty Cathy doll. For the most part, this is a dialogue film that has little need for major sound effects or even prominent supportive elements. Fortunately, dialogue is strong, clear, and balanced, but the track handles its various odds and ends quite well, too, even if they're generally few and far between. Music plays with a wide, enveloping feel. Each note is crisp and satisfying, clear and accurate in every instance. City ambience in the early New York taxicab sequence is nicely integrated, with honking horns, background chatter, and the general chaotic din of last-minute, pre-holiday hustle and bustle. The same may be said for various crowded airport scenes, but with a slightly less pronounced volume. Both the track's ability to yield seamless directional effects and a strong low end are tested when a halting but still rumbly train comes to a stop in chapter ten. The effect is handled without incident. All said, this is a good performer, nothing sonically special but a fine track and a solid companion for a 1980s Comedy.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Planes, Trains & Automobiles' supplements are relatively few in number, but there's an enthralling two-part John Hughes retrospective that's nearly worth the price of admission by itself.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Planes, Trains & Automobiles is such a wonderful little movie. It's a Comedy first and foremost, but there's an underlying element that makes it even better than the sum of its laughs: its heart. This is really the story of a developing friendship and not just a display of one misadventure after the other. It's about coming together, working through problems, and gaining an appreciation for and understanding of the needs of others. It's the perfect movie to watch on a down a day, a day when the world seems to be closing in, when hope seems distant, when the future looks bleak. It's a movie that doesn't hide the fact that life has its ups and downs, but it also serves as a reminder of how people must choose to make it through the tough times, to look on the bright side, to never lose site of the end goal, to find the silver lining in the darkest cloud, to anticipate the best even in the midst of the worst. That's its real strength, and there's nothing more noble than that. Paramount's Best Buy exclusive Blu-ray release of Planes, Trains & Automobiles features substandard but nevertheless watchable 1080p video, a quality lossless soundtrack, and some strong supplements. Highly recommended based on the strength of the film and in spite of the wishy-washy video.
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