Case Number 06937


Warner Bros. // 2004 // 170 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 6th, 2005

The Charge

Some men dream the future. He built it.

Opening Statement

Considered by many to be the greatest living director, Martin Scorsese has had enormous success with films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. In 2004, Scorsese brought to the screen the story of Howard Hughes, the enigmatic filmmaker/aviation pioneer who forever changed the face of flight. The film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards and went home with five, including Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett's portrayal of silver screen legend Katharine Hepburn. The Aviator finally arrives on DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

Filmmaker. Pilot. Genius. Madman.

All of the above words were associated with Howard Hughes during his productive, often tumultuous life. In director Martin Scorsese's The Aviator Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the legendary enigma, beginning from childhood into his moviemaking years on such films like Hells Angels and The Outlaw and into his later years as a pioneering aviator and madman. Along the way Hughes had many lovers, including Hollywood starlets Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale, Underworld), as well as both political and corporate enemies who would do at nothing to stop him from achieving his dreams and passions. Though Hughes would descend into his own mind in later years -- ending up a recluse while still running his business ventures -- there is no doubt he became one of the most unique figures of the past century.

The Evidence

The Aviator is a grand epic, one that possibly reaches too far and doesn't always succeed, but not for a lack of trying. Scorsese's biopic on Howard Hughes certainly feels like a labor of love. It's a movie that courses with passion, action, and drama, but in the end comes up short in emotion. But, maybe that's how it should be; in the end Howard Hughes life came up short when he sent himself into permanent exile.

There are film scholars, critics, and movie buffs that will tell you Scorsese is hands down the best director working in Hollywood today. While I don't necessarily agree with this, I do think that man is filled with more talent in his little pinky than most directors have in their entire body. To look at Scorsese's body of work is to peer into some of the best Hollywood has to offer. Even when Scorsese is at his "worst" -- and I use that term lightly, with films like Cape Fear, Kundun, and Bringing Out The Dead -- he's always interesting and thought provoking. This is the case with The Aviator; it's a movie that is highly entertaining but never quite measures up to Scorsese's past achievements.

The Aviator's story is compelling. Hughes was one of the 20th century's most fascinating figures. A man of unlimited talent and foresight, he eventually became a prisoner of his own mind by the end of his life. So mysterious was Hughes that in 1971 an "authorized" biography was announced, but the authors were imprisoned for fraud. During Hughes's lifetime he made movies that captured the imagination (Hell's Angels being one of the most expensive films ever made) and toiled endlessly on aircrafts, including a gigantic aircraft he dubbed "The Hercules" (AKA "The Spruce Goose"), which was designed to hold 750 passenger but flew only once for a distance of one mile in 1947.

With all of these facts in place, Scorsese has crafted a good -- but not great -- movie about Hughes's life and times. Though I was skeptical of his casting choice in Leonardo DiCaprio, I have to admit that after watching the film DiCaprio channeled the can-do spirit and sheer madness of Hughes's persona. DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar for his role, and while he may not have deserved the win, he most certainly deserved the nod. The supporting players are equally as good. Cate Blanchett captures Katharine Hepburn's candid humanity and gestures in a performance that deservedly won her an Oscar. Alan Alda (another of the film's nominees) is pitch perfect as Ralph Owen Brewster, a sleazy U.S. senator who takes Hughes to congressional hearings while having one hand inside the pocket of Pan Am Airlines owner Juan Trippe (played by a paunchy Alec Baldwin). Other standouts include John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights) as one of Hughes's loyal but concerned employees, and in a bit of inspired casting, pop singer Gwen Stefani as starlet Jean Harlow.

If Scorsese's direction is flawless, the same can't be said for the screenplay by John Logan (The Time Machine). There are spots in the script that drag on needlessly, and more could have been done to show Hughes's later years, a place that should have been ripe for drama. But these can be (mostly) overlooked considering the powerful performances and often exhilarating set pieces (one scene involving Hughes's famous near fatal plane crash in the 1940s is reproduced in chilling detail). Scorsese breathes life into the man that often gets confused with myth -- The Aviator is at its best when it focuses on Hughes's sad descent into psychotic behavior.

The Aviator is not Martin Scorsese's best work; even his most ardent supporters would most likely agree to that. But what it lacks in greatness it makes up for in entertainment, passion, and interest. Though Hughes's life was filled with much sadness and insanity, it makes for a great time at the movies. Scorsese has most certainly seen to that.

The Aviator is presented in a gorgeous looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I have nearly zero complaints about this transfer -- the colors are all sharp and bright while the black levels are deep and solid. The images in this transfer practically leap off the screen. Dirt, grain, and other imperfections are noticeable absent, making for a great looking picture that will surly please fans.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Much like the transfer, this is an excellent sound mix that features a lot of rumbling effects whenever Hughes is tinkering with his airplanes. During the film's climactic plane crash sequence, you can feel the bass rumble and the rear speakers roar to life. While the film is front heavy during the more dramatic moments, overall I am very happy with how this mix sounds. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles, as well as a Dolby 2.0 mix in French.

The Aviator is presented on two discs in a special collector's edition. The first disc houses the film and an audio commentary by a very chatty Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and producer Michael Mann. Scorsese is one of the best audio commentators around -- his love of movies shines through in every word as he discusses the genesis behind making The Aviator, as well as the casting choices, script, effects, and production. While Schoonmaker and Mann chime in once in a while, this commentary truly belongs to Martin Scorsese and his wide array of anecdotes and stories.

The second disc is where the bulk of the supplements are located. There are multiple featurettes on this disc, too numerous to go over in-depth. Here is a quick rundown of what's been included on this set:

* "A Life Without Limits: The Making of The Aviator": a 12-minute look at the film that includes interviews with DiCaprio, Scorsese, Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Alan Alda, among others.
* "The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History": Various aviation enthusiasts discuss what Hughes's role in aviation ended up being.
* "Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes -- A History Channel Documentary": an educational look at the real Howard Hughes; factual and interesting without all that silly Hollywood fiction getting in the way.
* "The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder": OCD expert Dr. Jeffery Schwartz, among others, talk about the afflictions that haunted Hughes, especially into his later years.
* "OCD Panel Discussion": This panel discussion includes Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Hughes's widow Terry Moore, among others, discussing Hughes's OCD and how DiCaprio solidified some of Hughes's popular "tics."
* "An Evening With Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda": a question-and-answer session with the actors discussing their roles in the film.
* "Visual Effects of The Aviator": a self-explanatory feature that looks as the special effects (including lots of CGI) that were used in the film.
* "Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Ferretti," "Costuming The Aviator," "The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator," and "Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore": The film's production designer and producer Graham King talk about what it took to bring the Golden Age of Hollywood back to the big screen. In the second feature on costumes, designer Sandy Powell discusses her work on clothing the actors and extras. In "Age of Glamour," viewers are allowed a peek into Morag Ross and hair stylist Kathryn Blondell's work on the film. The final piece focuses on composer Howard Shore's work on the music score.
* "The Wainwright Family: Loudon, Rufus, and Martha": A very brief look at the Wainwright family and their work as singers in the film.

Finally there is a single deleted scene from the film that runs just under two minutes, a long collection of stills and production shots from the final film, and a soundtrack spot for The Aviator CD.

Closing Statement

In the annals of Scorsese's films, The Aviator may not go down as one of his greatest, but it will surly go down as a very good movie (and an Oscar winner to boot). Warner Brothers has come through with an excellent transfer, a fantastic 5.1 sound mix, and enough supplements spread across two discs to drive you nearly batty.

The Verdict

The Aviator flies!

Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 100
Audio: 96
Extras: 99
Acting: 95
Story: 92
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)

* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 170 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary Track by Director Martin Scorsese, Producer Michael Mann, and Editor Thelma Schoonmaker
* 12 Featurettes
* Deleted Scene
* Still Gallery
* Soundtrack CD Spot

* IMDb

* Official Site

* Wikipedia: Howard Hughes