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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/22/00

Planes, Trains & Automobiles
1987 (2000) - Paramount

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Planes, Trains & Automobiles Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/A-/F

Specs and Features

92 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Neal: "I've been spending too much time away from home."

Del: "I haven't been home in years."

Planes, Trains & Automobiles has been on my "Most Wanted DVDs" list since the format's inception back in early 1997 (has it been that long?). This film has remained one of my favorite comedies for years now. But after my most recent viewing (on DVD, courtesy of Paramount), I've seen Planes in a whole new light. It's been reborn in my mind, and this time around Planes means so much more to me than a fun Thanksgiving holiday farce.

On the surface, Planes, Trains & Automobiles is John Hughes' incredibly funny look at the pitfalls of traveling during the dreaded Thanksgiving week. But if you peel back the comedic layers of this film, you'll see that it's really about the immeasurable value of friendship. Neal Page (Steve Martin) is on a business trip in New York, two days before Thanksgiving, and wants nothing more than to get home to his family in Chicago. What's supposed to be a routine flight from New York to Chicago turns into the trip from hell, when Neal crosses paths with the obnoxious, yet well-meaning, fellow traveler Del Griffith (John Candy). Despite his annoyance for Del, and a terrible clash of personalities, Neal hooks up with the jolly shower curtain ring salesman, and they share disaster after disaster with planes, trains, and... er, automobiles, all in the attempt to get home in time for turkey. But the rush home for Del has less to do with a simple turkey dinner and more about his desire for a reunion with his wife (who he hasn't seen in quite a while). Will they get to cut the bird, or will they be stuck with leftovers?

In the end, after several twists and turns plot-wise, Planes, Trains & Automobiles becomes one of comedy's more tender and emotional films. In fact, by the closing credits, all traces of comedy disappear, and the film's theme becomes one about the importance of friendship and about how love is what makes a family. The reason this message hits me so hard, is that Del has spent the last two days trying so desperately to be Neal's friend, despite Neal's impatient and rude attitude. On the surface, it would seem that Del is the obnoxious one in this film, but this summation is not so easy to keep by the end of the movie. And the last moments of this film actually brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat. Ira Newborn's elegant, poignant score only enhances this emotion.

John Hughes is one of my favorite storytellers and one of my favorite filmmakers. During the 1980s, Hughes turned out some great films (Planes, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, et al). But once the 1990s rolled around, he started writing Saturday matinee drivel aimed at eight-year-olds (Home Alone, Curly Sue, Baby's Day Out, etc...). I've already said goodbye to any hope that Hughes will make another movie as good as his early work, however I still treasure what he did two decades ago. Perhaps if he started directing more of what he's been writing, the movies would fare better with me. But the scripts have got to stop talking to third graders.

Hughes' ability to write timeless stories is what continually attracts me to his films and, ultimately, I believe this is what attracts so many others. It also doesn't hurt that his films are usually very funny and chock full of easily repeatable and addictive dialog. Until we're able to instantly teleport to grandma's house for Turkey Day, anyone who has ever travelled during Thanksgiving week will be able to identify with Planes, Trains & Automobiles on some level. And the overall theme of the importance of friendship this film conveys will always be universal, no matter in which millennium the audience lives. Additionally, I have a sneaking suspicion that even my grandchildren will find Ferris Bueller funny and be able to identify with his philosophies. It doesn't matter that Hughes' best films scream of the 1980s (some of these films didn't visually age well costume and hairstyle wise, did they?), it will be the timeless stories and easy-to-identify-with characters that will endure the decades.

Unfortunately, this isn't the best looking video on DVD. Considering their pristine presentation of another Hughes' hit (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) on disc, Planes is something of a disappointment. The main problem, is that the print the studio used for the transfer isn't of the greatest quality. Color saturation and accuracy is good and the blacks are deep and true. And the film is (at least) presented in anamorphic widescreen. But there's also plenty of irritating print damage (dust, dirt and scratches), along with heavy grain and even some digital compression artifacting. Fine picture detail is also wanting in some scenes, and a little too much edge enhancement was used to compensate for this. On the other hand, the new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is the biggest surprise on this disc. Ambient effects are very well conveyed, especially during the airport scenes. Dialog is smooth and well integrated into the environment, as is the wonderful score by Ira Newborn. Low frequency has never been an issue with the film, so don't expect many rumbles from this 5.1 mix. The audio is great for what it is - too bad the video isn't as good.

Early word was that the DVD of Planes, Trains & Automobiles would feature a gallery of deleted scenes. But, for whatever reason, they weren't included on the final disc. Don't expect a theatrical trailer either, because there isn't one to be found. Hughes fans were treated to a wonderful commentary track by the writer/director on Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but not here. I really wish Paramount would stop turning out so many overpriced, featureless discs. As we've seen with Sleepy Hollow and Mission: Impossible 2, they can get DVD right when they put their minds to it. Let's hope such discs become standard from them in 2001, rather than the exception to the rule.

When all is said and done, Paramount's SRP of $29.99 (for a disc with absolutely zero extras) is excessive. If the studio had charged $15 or $20 for this disc, I'd be singing a different tune. I really love this film, so I suppose the disc is still worth a look. Just be aware that there isn't exactly a lot of value for your money here.

Greg Suarez
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