The second spoof film from frequent collaborators Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker is probably their most famous and most successful. Parodying the disaster movies of the previous twenty years and using 1957s Zero Hour! as its basis, Airplane! is frequently mentioned amongst the top comedies of all time. When both pilots become ill on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago there is only one man (Robert Hays) aboard who can land the plane. He though is an ex-Military Pilot who has never recovered from his wartime experiences and is only on board to try and save his relationship with his Stewardess girlfriend (Julie Hagerty).
I saw Airplane! a long time ago and had remembered bits and pieces but I enjoyed it a lot more on this viewing. The film is packed full of jokes but having watched it alone I subsequently wish I’d watched it with others.
Like most films in the parody genre there is an awful lot of farce and silliness but also the occasional sophisticated joke. There are also aspects which haven’t stood the test of time such as two black characters that talk Jive and need subtitling. Even for 1980 this feels a little outdated. The gay character is also horribly caricatured. Even so there is more than enough absurdity and fun to satisfy even the most stringent of comedy fans. It would be silly to try and pick out all of the funny moments but a few of my favourite included the “Don’t call me Shirley” line, repeated good luck wishes and the autopilot Otto. As I say though the film is full of great lines, absurdist situations and preposterous sight gags. When a stewardess tells the passengers to get into crash positions for example, everyone on board falls about the plane, limbs flailing and tongues hanging as though they had actually crashed. While going through turbulence the camera pans first to a plate of jelly and then to a woman’s ample breasts, both of which are ‘jibbling’. I don’t think it is quite as full of sight gags though as the Director’s’ other film I saw recently, Top Secret! but I think the jokes are on the whole more successful.
Although I enjoyed watching the film I think I had as much fun the following day recounting situations and lines with the guys at work. Airplane! is the sort of film which I’m sure would be made even better with a group of friends and preferably friends who had already seen the film. It’s a social sort of film. Since its release it has become the sort of film which is constantly quoted as all the best comedy films are.
I don’t really have many complaints to make about the film. It’s obviously not the sort of film that would win awards for acting or cinematography but the incredible script more than makes up for its failings elsewhere. Leslie Nielson also gives a decent performance and the straight faces on the rest of the cast deserve some credit too. Also, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in the film! Aces! Overall Airplane! is an extremely funny film which I urge you to watch the next time you have friends over.