"Don't Call Me Shirley" Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves
Directors:  Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  87 Minutes
Release Date:  December 13, 2005

"Jim NEVER vomits at home..."

Film ****

Airplane! started out as a twenty minute centerpiece to a spoof film a la Kentucky Fried Chicken, but evolved into one of cinema’s greatest comedy phenomena.  The trio known as ‘ZAZ’, Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, turned a short parody of airline disaster movies into one of the most groundbreaking and funniest films ever made.  And to think, when listening to the commentary track, how many studios apparently didn’t even want to touch the project!

The story centers around the recently broken romance of Ted Striker (Hays) and his stewardess girlfriend Elaine (Hagerty).  His fear of flying, brought on by the war, has kept him from moving on with his life.  But he buys a ticket and boards Elaine’s fated flight to try and win her back, only to end up the sole hope of landing the plane when the crew and most of the passengers take ill after eating bad fish!

That’s the plot in three sentences.  The comedy, however, would take pages to discuss in full.  My mental counter went on while watching this movie for the hundredth-plus time, and I found that the filmmakers never let more than 30 seconds pass without a new joke…most of the time, it was even less than that!  An amazing tribute to just how well conceived and thought out this picture was.  To see it is to watch three guys going for broke and rolling sevens.

The film started many precedents for the ‘ZAZ’ team, including the use of broad physical comedy and the never ending puns (“Surely, you can’t be serious.”  “I AM serious.  And don’t call me Shirley.”), but also the use of big name stars in small roles, or even cameos.  Who could forget Lloyd Bridges as McCluskey (“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue,”), or Robert Stack as Kramer, the expert pilot who tries to talk Ted down.  And, of course, Peter Graves as the pilot, Captain Oveur (“Joey, ever seen a grown man naked?”).  

But keep an eye out for some hysterical cameos, too:  Jimmie Walker, Maureen McGovern, Ethel Merman, and my personal favorite, Barbara “June Cleaver” Billingsley, offering a little help in the translation department.  Priceless!

The bottom line is, if you love comedy, then the day Airplane! came to DVD is as red letter a day as you could ask for.  Now you CAN enjoy that second cup of coffee at home, and laugh it up with one of the funniest movies ever made.

Video ***

The picture is an improvement over all previous VHS incarnations, and in anamorphic widescreen to boot!  Although there is a slightly muted feel to the colors overall, as is often the case with films from the 80s, I’d have to say they look much brighter and more natural than I’d ever seen before.  Darker scenes, which sometimes looked a little hazy or murky on my tape copy, come across much better here, with no evidence of grain, compression, or breakup and a much better sense of clarity.  Images are generally sharp and crisply rendered.  Overall, a very satisfactory presentation.

Audio ***

This disc boasts a new 5.1 remix, and like most older films that weren’t made for digital surround, the overall effect is simply to open up the audio a little more.  There isn’t much in the way of discretion to the rear channels or the subwoofer…in fact, there’s not a lot of bass in this soundtrack at all.  Elmer Bernstein’s classic score sounds better and more dynamic than ever, and dialogue is always clean and clear, though occasionally a bit thin sounding in the quieter moments (again, a common trait of late 70s and early 80s films on video).  The best REAL use of 5.1 I heard had to be the opening, when the plane rockets up out of the clouds—that shot puts you right in the middle of the action.  Overall, though, no real complaints.

Features ****

The disc starts with a rather good commentary track by Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker, along with producer Jon Davison.  These guys manage to offer plenty of tidbits of useful information in between the jokes and tall tales, and though peppered with a few short pauses, still an enjoyable and informative listen.  

But that's just the beginning of what this new special edition has to offer.  You've seen trivia tracks before, but none as good as this one.  Not only do the pop-ups offer plenty of fun trivia and a bit of comedy of their own, they're also animated from time to time for even more entertainment value!

Perhaps best of all is the Long Haul Version, which adds about an extra hour to the viewing time, but is well worth it.  When the TA logo pops up, you're whisked away to new interviews with Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker, along with cast members like Robert Hays, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Joey and his family, the jive-talking dudes and more.  Their reminiscences are insightful and hilarious.  You'll also see a few deleted scenes here and there.  It's the most fun way to watch an already-fun movie you can imagine!

Oh, and the new menu screens are absolutely priceless as well.


Airplane! hasn’t lost its ability to entertain and inspire breathless laughter after twenty years.  This terrific new anniversary special edition DVD is a comedy classic that belongs in the collection of anyone who enjoys uninhibited laughter, or just likes movies about gladiators.

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