Planes, Trains and Automobiles was once listed by Roger Ebert as the only movie that his family watches as a custom every Thanksgiving. Fans who also cherish this comedy as a holiday tradition now have a new reason to celebrate, as Paramount’s Blu-ray release of Planes, Trains and Automobiles hits stores November 6, 2012.
John Hughes, who tragically passed away in 2009 at the age of 59, acted as writer, producer and director for Planes, Trains and Automobiles. A filmmaker primarily remembered for his explorations of teenage angst in movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink, this was Hughes’ first R-rated film. Although this rating can be attributed entirely to a brief but hilarious scene in which an enraged Steve Martin drops the f-bomb 18 times in one minute, the movie does find itself preoccupied with more adult themes than you would find in typical Hughes projects like Weird Science, as stars Steve Martin and John Candy deal with the anxiety, obligations and even loneliness of middle-aged men.
Comedy legend Steve Martin plays a reserved, stressed-out, upper-class family man trying to make his way from New York to Chicago in time to spend Thanksgiving with his wife and children. That’s the same route being taken by John Candy’s character, whose personality traits are the polar opposite of Martin’s; he’s loud, boorish and aggressively outgoing. Despite Martin’s best efforts to avoid Candy, the two men find themselves constantly thrown together by circumstances (mostly) beyond their control.
Rewatching this for the first time in a couple of years, it struck me that this film is not perfect. Some scenes are more memorable than others, and the movie contains its fair share of hackneyed jokes, as well as a very ‘80s-sounding and incredibly awful music score.
What saves the movie from being defined by its faults is the fact that despite its clichés, the characters themselves never devolve into caricature.
Martin and Candy prove that in addition to the comedic chops required for their roles, they also possess the dramatic skills necessary for this movie to be genuinely touching. Though ostensibly a farce, at its heart, this is a movie about two seemingly incompatible men forging a friendship in spite of their differences, and becoming better people because of it. As corny as that sounds, when you watch the movie, I think you’ll agree that it works.
As for the Blu-ray itself, presented with an AVC encoded 1.78.1 widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition and a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is given a better look and a crisper sound than it has received on previous DVD releases.
Most of the special features here were originally on the “Those Aren’t Pillows” DVD edition. They include a 17-minute making-of documentary (Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes Trains and Automobiles) that mixes footage of a 1987 press conference featuring Steve Martin, John Candy and John Hughes with some contemporary interviews featuring other cast and crewmembers involved with the film. The 4-minute supplement John Hughes for Adults features more of the same press conference, and the 3-minute supplement A Tribute to John Candy has cast and crewmembers reminiscing about the late, great comedy star, who passed away in 1994. Finally, the 3-minute deleted scene Airplane Food is a funny sequence cut from the film that features some jokes about (you guessed it) airline food.
The best supplement on this Blu-ray is the new, 54-minute, HD documentary John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast (which they divide into two parts – John Hughes: The Voice of a Generation and Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of John Hughes). It intersperses various Hughes interviews from the past with some modern reflections from friends and stars like Mathew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Jon Cryer (Pretty in Pink) and Lea Thompson (Some Kind of Wonderful). The documentary is a genuinely insightful and affectionate tribute to the filmmaker, and Hughes fans will love it, although it focuses more on Hughes’ teen movies than on Planes, Trains and Automobiles itself.
All in all, this is a Blu-ray I would definitely recommend. Though it may work best as a Thanksgiving tradition, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the kind of comedy that can be enjoyed anytime of the year, since both its humor and its heart are rooted in two characters whose relationship is both satisfyingly authentic and enduringly timeless.