Warner Bros. // 2004 // 170 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // December 6th, 2007
Some men dream the future. He built it.
Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Marge became addicted to gambling and Mr. Burns opened up a casino and started growing his hair and nails all long while he wore Kleenex boxes for slippers? Well, The Aviator is kind of like that, except it's live action and Nelson, Jimbo and the guys aren't threatening Robert Goulet to come to Bart's treetop casino. So how is The Aviator on Blu-ray?
Written by John Logan (Gladiator) and directed by Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull), the film looks at the life of Howard Hughes. Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed) was an inventor, a movie producer, and generally tried anything that appeared to present some sort of challenge. The film focuses on a specific period of Hughes' life, starting in 1927 when Hughes attempted to make the film that would later become Hell's Angels, and culminating in 1947 when Hughes flies the formidable and much hyped H-4 "Hercules," a.k.a. "The Spruce Goose." In between points A and B, he dated Hollywood leading ladies such as Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsdale, Underworld), he set the airspeed record, flying over 350 miles per hour in the H-1 Hughes Racer in 1935, flew around the world in under four days in 1938, buying Trans World Airlines while doing so. He survived a crash on the experimental XF-11 in 1946 and sparred with Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda, M*A*S*H*) in the Senate over Hughes' questionable use of defense contract money for planes that would never be built.
One thing is for sure, that when it comes to preconceived notions, you've got to check them at the door when it comes to Martin Scorsese films. Not having a clue about this movie, I thought that Scorsese was using DiCaprio as his new personal muse. The Scorsese-Robert DeNiro collaboration seemed to be drawing to a close, with Scorsese and DiCaprio working on Gangs of New York for quite some time together, and was released to decent, though not earth-shattering reviews. So now I've seen this film, after seeing The Departed, and if you were ever wondering my thoughts on this partnership of the 21st century, I'm finally giving it my endorsement.
In the interest of full disclosure, I actually watched the film in two parts. I thought that a nearly three hour film about a guy who built fast and/or big planes was a little bit daunting. So I stopped about an hour in, at the point when Hughes flew around the world and bought TWA. Up to that point, I just felt a little disappointed in the film. Hughes up to that point was enamored with the realization of trying to get Hell's Angels to screen, and if I wanted to see a film about someone who liked film, I'd watch A Personal Journey, as the main participant is...Martin Scorsese.
The last two thirds of the film focused on Hughes' life outside of filmmaking, where he battled the head of Pan American Airlines (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock) and Senator Brewster, that's when things for me began to get more engrossing. And yeah, Hughes' lifelong battle with obsessive compulsive disorder becomes prominent also. DiCaprio does a great job in the role, in large part because he's arguably the 20th century's biggest enigma. In a film loaded with stars, DiCaprio clearly brings his A-game, like he did in The Departed, and it shows.
Warner serves up The Aviator on a VC-1 encoded transfer for 2.40:1 widescreen viewing. The film looks to have some sort of color adjustments, although upon further discovery in the commentary, the early parts of the film were shot with two and three color Technicolor film, so there's some muted color palettes from time to time. A good example of this is when Hughes and Hepburn are playing golf, the green is toned down and muted a bit, but the red of the flag is red to the point of having a slight pinkish hue. The overall picture is quite clear and reproduces excellent detail, and is well worth the viewing. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is okay although it's not too special, though I was quite pleased with the panning of some of the sounds over the front channels into the rears.
The extras are the same as those found on the standard definition DVD, starting with a commentary from Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and Producer Michael Mann (Heat). Scorsese is a fantastic commentary participant and this is no exception. He takes up most of the time on the commentary, discussing his influences in the film, about Hughes the character, and about aviation as a whole. His tangents are even worth listening to as well, discussing ancient Rome and things like Icarus, even discussing old experiences like watching an old print of Hell's Angels in the mid-'70s in California with his running buddies Brian De Palma, Paul Schrader and Steven Spielberg. Schoonmaker discusses breaking down the shots in parts of the film and Mann contributes the odd nugget of information. Things tend to lose steam in the second half, but overall it's well worth your time. Following that is a host of featurettes on the film. You've got a 10-minute making of look at the film, followed by a slightly longer examination on Hughes' impact on aviation. A History Channel documentary on Hughes' life is included, and a couple of pieces on his OCD are next, including a roundtable discussion with DiCaprio, Scorsese and Hughes' widow Terry Moore. Next is a series of rapid-fire looks at the visual effects, production designs, costumes, hair and makeup and score. Alda and DiCaprio are the participants of a half hour long question and answer session, and there's a deleted scene and a trailer that complete the disc.
Had it been any other year, Scorsese's film would have cleaned up at awards time. The Aviator won five Oscars, and was nominated for six more. But it was matched up against Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, and the performances of the actors in that film were just that, performances. In The Aviator, one could make the case that everyone was better because of the various techniques and visual effects employed.
Never having seen The Aviator before, I can't really speak to whether this is an upgrade or not from the previous version, but the disc looks good and the story that's told is quite convincing, and eventually is paced rather well. It's well worth checking out if you haven't.
Marty could never stand in front of this court so long, so off you go, right on your plane with a not guilty verdict in hand.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 170 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track by Director Martin Scorsese, Producer Michael Mann, and Editor Thelma Schoonmaker
* 12 Featurettes
* Deleted Scene
* Still Gallery
* Official Site
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Original DVD Verdict (HD DVD) Review
* Wikipedia: Howard Hughes