Case Number 12481

THE AVIATOR (HD DVD)

Warner Bros. // 2004 // 170 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 29th, 2007

The Charge

For some men, the sky was the limit. For him, it was just the beginning.

Opening Statement

Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio's tag-team take on the life and legacy of Howard Hughes flies to high-def. Can it stick the landing?

Facts of the Case

The biopic picks up on the set of Hughes's war epic Hell's Angels, a multi-million dollar project that made the Houston industrialist a celebrity to be reckoned with. Hughes (DiCaprio, The Departed) is determined to take Hollywood by storm with his blockbuster, and it works, gaining him admittance to the hippest of the hip and connecting him with the spunky Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth).

Despite his Tinseltown success, for Hughes, his first love is aviation and this takes the center stage throughout most of the movie. We see the numerous innovations Hughes implemented during his lifetime, as well as his eventual battle with Pan Am Airlines over intercontinental routes and, ultimately, the U.S. government and a smarmy senator (Alan Alda, M*A*S*H*).

Then there's that whole urine-in-a-bottle thing.

The Evidence

This is big-ass filmmaking at its most big-assest. Scorcese has crafted a fantastic throwback to the '20s and '30s, showing us both the glamour and glitz (and inanity) of Hollywood and the down and dirty world of dawn-of-the-commercial-airline-industry politicking. The sum total is a large, always-interesting dose of pro-filmmaking.

Scorcese has chosen to focus his lens on three elements of Hughes's life: Hollywood, aviation and his debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder. Thankfully, all three are extraordinarily interesting in their own way and as someone relatively unfamiliar with the life and accomplishment of Hughes (I was aware of the gnarly toenails and pee collection like everyone else) I was transfixed during all 170 minutes of the runtime. And what's most amazing is that this was just the tip of the iceberg for Hughes; covering his whole existence -- and major parts were excised in the film, like Hughes's marriage to Ella Rice -- would likely have turned into a 12-DVD undertaking.

I found the aviation aspect of the film the most intriguing, unaware of the breadth of his accomplishment to the industry. And the shady goings-on of Congress and Pan Am make for some compelling drama, and the most riveting portions of the film. In a close second is his struggle with OCD, rendered through Scorcese's expert eye as a nightmarish condition. Finally, the sequences with Hughes cavorting about Hollywood were entertaining, but was more a less a testament to the fact that there have been weirdo famous people making movies for over 80 years.

The acting is, as you'd expect, top-shelf. DiCaprio does well, though I thought he delivered a better performance in The Departed. Cate Blanchett ended up owning the Hepburn character, though I found her portrayal more like an impression at first. I eventually got into it, though ultimately felt un-persuaded of the importance of her role in the film. I think her stuff could have been trimmed, considering her relative unimportance during the home stretch. On the other hand, my wife really enjoyed her screen time, so whatever floats your boat I guess. She did win an Oscar so I guess that's one point to wife. And props to Alda, who I thought stole all his scenes.

So it's ambitious, visually-stunning, superbly-acted and hugely interesting entertainment from Marty and the boys. And with its rebirth on HD, the film has never looked or sounded slicker. Start with the new 1080p, 2.40:1 widescreen treatment, a humdinger of a transfer. This is hugely colorful movie with a wide spectrum represented, from the deep green of the Hollywood bathrooms to the auburn of Blanchett's hair to the yellow of Hughes's, er, never mind. Anyway, everything looks fantastic, crisp and detailed and deep. Skin tones are solid and the CGI scenes (airplanes, most of them) look super. Supplementing the outstanding picture quality is a strong and clean 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus audio mix. The plane scenes stand out the most, though the period-specific soundtrack is memorable.

The wealth of bonus features from the standard DVD release make the trip to the next generation -- commentary by Scorcese, a making-of featurette, a look at Hughes's role in aviation history, a "Modern Marvels" episode, featurettes on visual effects, production design and costuming and scoring, a feature on "the age of glamour," interviews with Alda and DiCaprio and a still gallery. No high-def specific material is a disappointment.

Closing Statement

A great movie and a great high-def technical presentation. The extras, recycled as they are, still impress.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Give this man some clippers.

Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 90
Extras: 85
Acting: 90
Story: 95
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)

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

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Portuguese
* Spanish

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

Distinguishing Marks
* Director's Commentary
* Twelve Featurettes
* Still Gallery
* Trailers

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0338751/combined