They sure don't make comedies anymore like they used to. Airplane! is that quintessential must watch for any fan of the Abrahams-Zucker-Zucker brand of comedy, where they have perfected the art of punning and comedic irreverence, where everything and anything goes and you'll have to keep your eyes and ears peeled for the barrage of jokes, slapstick and punchlines that come in from the blind. Even after today this film still cracks me up for the countless of jokes from the get go.
The crux of the story (yes there is one!) is the romantic dalliance between a cab driver and one time air force pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) who tries to reconcile with estranged girlfriend, stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty). Not taking no for an answer, he follows her onboard her flight to Chicago, and in between boring passengers with flashbacks to the good ol romantic days, his lack of confidence in flight gets called upon as all the pilots get put out of action through a bout of food poisoning.
And it's a tremendously busy flight with a myriad of caricatures in the passengers that do things that are plain implausible it's funny. Not only that, we also get ground crew trying to guide the plane to touchdown at the airport, and one of the inane characters Johnny, played by Stephen Stucker, responsible for many of the literal comedic and nutcase moments. And of course there are famous names attached to the film such as Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves and even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the basketballer, all eyes are of course on Leslie Nielsen as the doctor on board Dr. Rumack, who immortalized the line "and don't call me Shirley", with his signature deadpan reaction, and who would go on following this film to make the Naked Gun series with the filmmakers here.
One thing that strikes you when watching this film in retrospect, despite its comedic intent, is how lax air travel security tend to be back then, especially when cockpit visits are now totally banned. Buying a ticket at the last minute at the counter in similar fashion as what was done in the film also doesn't raise too many alarm bells, compared to what if one is to do the same today. And barging into the control tower, well I guess the rules have changed.
That aside, this film may look a little dated, but the brand of comedy the Zucker brothers and Abrahams have given to the cinematic world is priceless and extremely hard to emulate, try as hard as some hacks in today's era would in choking their film with impersonators and spoofing modern pop culture, which gets so tired after a while. Even up until today the puns in Airplane! is rock solid, and will still get me, as always. And keep that eye on the rolling end credits!
The Region 1 DVD by Paramount presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen format with audio in English 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in English and French, with scene selection over 26 chapters. There aren't much extras here other than the Theatrical Trailer (3:32) and the Group Commentary with Jon Davison, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker which is a definite must-listen as they share plenty of trivia about what happened behind the scenes with information thrown up all over the place, just like how they design their brand of comedy.