Paramount // 1987 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 28th, 2011
"Those aren't pillows!"
John Hughes is gone but not forgotten; few filmmakers garnered as loyal a following as the late, Chicago-born writer/director did. Through a slew of '80s teen films (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science), a smattering of adult fare (She's Having a Baby) and blockbuster hits (Home Alone), Hughes' mark is all over Hollywood. One of the director's most cherished works is the perennial holiday favorite Planes, Trains and Automobiles starring Steve Martin and John Candy in two quintessential roles. The film is now available for the first time on Blu-ray exclusively at Best Buy.
Tense, nervous Neal Page (Steve Martin, Cheaper by the Dozen) is a man on a mission: get home to Chicago to see his wife and children for Thanksgiving. On a routine business trip, Neal finds himself in the midst of traveler's hell, when his flight is cancelled and all other modes of transportation are fraught with complications. Enter Del Close (John Candy, The Great Outdoors), a loud and boisterous shower curtain ring salesman with a heart as big as the trunk he travels with. Del offers to help Neal out, which turns out to be the biggest mistake of Neal's life. Through seemingly endless misadventures in seedy hotels, local diners, exploding rental cars, and delayed train rides, Del ends up making Neal's simple trip home one endless nightmare after another.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles comes close to being a perfect comedy. Seriously. This is a flat out great movie with wonderful performances and exceptional writing and directing. It's hard to find much if any fault with the film's take on trying to get home in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. It's a movie that works because the ideas contained in it are universal to so many people; how many of us can't relate to a) being stuck while traveling, and b) dealing with someone who drives us absolutely bonkers?
The two leads generate so much comedic electricity they could power a city for two months straight. Steve Martin is at his prickly and anal retentive best as Neal Page, a man so tightly wound that (to misquote another movie), "you couldn't pull a bowling pin out of his ass with a tractor." Martin's reactions to Candy's bumbling Del are priceless. Del is a down-on-his-luck schlub who can't stop making social mistakes. Candy makes Del more than a caricature -- which would have been the easy way to play him -- but a three dimensional man with personality warts and a back story of grave importance. Although Martin's character doesn't reach the dizzying highs of Del, he still manages to bring heart to a man you first sympathize with, then start to pity.
John Hughes's screenplay is filled with moments that play as perfect scenes of comedy. When Neal has to traverse the bathroom after Del has had his way with it, it's pure gold (just watch as Martin's toes squish and squirm around the floor and try to tell me you didn't get the giggles). A scene with Hughes regular Edie McClurg (who played the ditzy secretary in Ferris Bueller's Day Off to great effect) as a car rental agent is the film's most oft-quoted and memorable moments, and for good reason -- even those who deplore swearing have to admit Hughes hits just the right tone by using the F-word multiple times (and the final exchange is absolutely priceless). I hate to throw around the term "endlessly quotable," but that's exactly what Planes, Trains and Automobiles is.
As the last twenty minutes rolls around, the screenplay suddenly turns soft. Hughes decides the two men have had enough and brings both of their stories to a conclusion, featuring a swelling soundtrack that tugs so hard on the heartstrings you think they just might snap from the strain. Yet the film earns its emotionally gratuitous finale; the final moments may be slightly manipulative, but I just didn't care -- I wanted to see these two men arrive wherever the movie's dénouement places them.
It's bittersweet to think that two of the three main talents who created Planes, Trains and Automobiles aren't with us anymore. John Candy was a bigger than life star who lit up the screen, even when he was clearly starring in a turkey (and make no bones about it, he did star in some stinkers). John Hughes' time had come and gone by the time he passed, but his legacy was so mighty that even the Oscars paid touching tribute to a man who made movies not just for teenagers but for anyone who ever was a teenager. Both of these men are greatly missed, but leave behind a body of work second to none. Combined, their funniest and most heartbreaking might just be Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
The Blu-ray is presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition, and the overall effect of this transfer is very good, if not great. While the image is certainly far sharper and better than the previous DVD releases, this isn't as substantial an upgrade as I'd hoped. Then again, part of the fact may be this isn't some effects heavy, polished big budget blockbuster; for a transfer that's nearly 25 years old, I don't have any major complaints.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and is serviceable to the material. This is an often front heavy mix, without a lot of deployed effects (to be fair, they aren't really needed). Also included on this disc is a Dolby Mono mix in Portuguese, alongside English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
The bonus features from the previous special edition DVD have just been ported to this new Blu-ray version. Fans get "Getting there is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles" which features archival material as well as new interviews with some of the secondary actors and executive producer Neil Machlis, a brief look at the short life of John Hughes ("A Tribute to John Candy"), a very attractive tribute to John Hughes ("John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast featuring 'John Hughes: The Voice of a Generation' and 'Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of John Hughes'"), and a single deleted scene entitled "Airplane Food" (in HD).
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a rare comedy treat; lots of laughs and lots of soul. It's well worth checking out, as the holidays begin to sneak up on you.
It doesn't matter how you get there, just make sure you arrive safely at your
destination to see Planes, Trains and Automobiles!
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scene