By: Erik Swift
David Abrams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker became a top comedy writer-director team upon the 1980 release of “Airplane!” Previously collaborating on “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” their second production is one of the greatest farces to ever fly across the screen. Paramount Pictures has done DVD justice to essential comedies of late; re-releases of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Tommy Boy” and “Stripes” were vast improvements over slim premieres. However, the volume of material on the ‘Don’t Call Me Shirley’ edition of “Airplane!” is a staggering 180 from its 2000 version.
Its story isn’t incredibly important. A flight crew and its passengers are infected with a midair bout of food poisoning, and washed-up pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) and stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) are the lone hope to land the plane. The catch is that the two just ended their relationship and Ted’s flying skills have diminished since a botched mission in Vietnam. Inside of 90 minutes the pair wrestles personal demons, assault religious zealots, and endures a perverted captain and autopilot. It spoofs every Seventies disaster flick from “The Towering Inferno” to “Airport” and “Jaws,” and its jokes are as predictable as anything Ryan Seacrest appears in, but those laughs don’t stop.
An unrelenting deluge of memorable one-liners (“Have you ever seen a grown man naked?” “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit…”), a nutty blend of passengers with personality and the casting of dramatic actors Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves and especially Leslie Nielsen against type instantly formed a classic. What’s been done to “Airplane!” on the ‘Don’t Call Me Shirley’ edition that kicks is the option to watch a long-haul version, which links to deleted scenes and interviews every few minutes. This is great for a film most people know inside and out, and creates a new experience with familiar material. Learning that David Letterman was gunning for the role of Ted is horrific, and despite the Zuckers’ and Abrahms’ opinions, the “Hi, Jack” outtake is a riot. Hays’ encounter with John Travolta during the filming is surreal but typical of a movie that turned The Bee Gees and disco into punch lines and Barbara Billingsley badass. Is it that disturbing that “Airplane!” is a quarter-century old? Hell no, suckah! With generic crap like “Flightplan” out there, “Airplane!” has never looked or been fresher.