Thursday, December 1, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Blu-ray Review

Written and directed by John Hughes, the hilarious classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles stars Steve Martin and John Candy as a businessman and traveling salesman forced together by circumstance as they try to get home in time for Thanksgiving.  The Blu-ray features a brand new, in-depth retrospective on John Hughes’ career that includes new interviews and explores his indelible impact as a writer and filmmaker.  Additional features include “Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains And Automobiles”, “John Hughes For Adults”, a tribute to John Candy and a deleted scene.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

Nobody does road trip movies better than John Hughes did with his contributions including: Vacation, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and this movie – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  All of them are some of my all time favorites and they are all extremely funny in different ways except one…all of the humor is derived from well written characters.  Hughes could do visual gags with the best of them (just watch Neal and Del drive on the wrong side of the road), but the core reason his movies are funny is due to his ability to create such well defined characters and then put them through their paces.  Whether it’s Clark Griswold, Ferris, Uncle Buck, or Neal and Del, they all ring true and are so recognizable that we not only relate to them on some level, but we can also feel and laugh with them as well.
In this buddy/road trip movie, it has Neal Page (Steve Martin) trying to return home in time for Thanksgiving from a business trip in New York.  Neal is high-strung and prone to losing his cool but underneath his cranky exterior is a nice man who loves his family.  Neal’s life gets a lot more complicated with the introduction of Del Griffith (John Candy) into his life.  From the first time they meet, Del seems to cause nothing but problems for Neal.  First, Neal trips on his trunk while racing for a cab and then inadvertently steals a cab that Neal just bribed someone to take.  Of course, this being a road trip movie, the two cross paths again when they share the same flight that gets diverted from Chicago to Kansas because of a blizzard in Chicago.
Desperate to find a way home, the pair take a train ride which breaks down and then share a rental car and more comic misadventures that force them to share a queen size bed (“those aren’t pillows!”), having all of their money stolen, a near death experience thanks to Del’s careless driving, and the loss of their rental car when Del’s cigarette makes the car catch on fire.  Through it all the men bicker and split up only to have circumstances force them back together again.  The myriad ways that fate forces them back together is pretty clever since they add a reason why these two completely different people would continue to travel together.
Throughout the movie, Neal’s sole focus is to return to his family by Thanksgiving while Del’s plans are a little more unclear.  Del doesn’t seem to have any family other than a wife named Marie that he talks often about.  When the two men finally get back to Chicago after a three day ordeal they part ways.  Upon reflection later however, Neal pieces together the truth about Del and realizes that Del is alone.  It turns out that Marie died eight years earlier and Del has nowhere to go which is why he was so happy to have Neal’s companionship which was better than nothing at all.  Their shared experience has changed both men for the better and a true friendship is born.
This movie is both hilarious and touching and contains some of the best (if not the best) acting from Steve Martin and John Candy.  Both men portray their characters with conviction and their clashes are believable and funny.  Steve Martin excels at playing wild and crazy sarcastic characters and while Neal has his moments, this is a more grounded and real performance from Martin.  Neil is a decent guy but when circumstances push him too far, he doesn’t handle it well.  John Candy is equally good in this, as he always excelled at playing these kind of obnoxiously friendly characters.  He may have some rough edges, but Del has a heart of gold and has the potential to being a good friend if ever given the chance.  This movie is heartwarming, funny, and my go to movie during Thanksgiving.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is a nice upgrade over the previous DVD release.  Details are more visible, colors are more sharply defined, and while not a perfect picture it looks pretty good.  Texture details are a lot more visible now and you will see every thread of Martin’s tweed jacket.  Colors are improved as well, with each one looking more vibrant than before.  Black levels also look appropriately dark and inky.   Flesh tones look natural and consistent but you can definitely see the effects of DNR used.  While it’s not as bad as some other movies, it is obvious but not enough of a concern for me not to recommend this  Blu-ray although I did lower my score somewhat.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles‘ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix comes off better than its video counterpart.  Dialogue is clear and balanced in this front channel heavy mix.  This has a well balanced sonic landscape that allows the music and ambient noises surround the listener.  There’s some nice panning and directionality of effects that add to the immersive feel of the mix.  For a comedy movie that’s almost twenty-five years old, this sounds really good.

Special Features (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

While I enjoyed all of these extras, I wish there was even more included for this release.  With the loss of Hughes, I think this is probably the best we are going to get.  The excellent new two part retrospective on John Hughes is in high definition and almost an hour long altogether.
  • John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast
    • John Hughes: The Voice of a Generation – A look back at the life of John Hughes by several cast members from his movies.  We get to hear their thoughts on him and learn the details of his career path that led him to becoming a director and a spokesman for many people.Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of
    • John HughesHeartbreak and Triumph – This featurette is devoted to exploring Hughes relationship with his actors and a look into his writing style and methods.  It also recounts his difficulties of working in Hollywood and his departure from the industry and his eventual unfortunate death.  Both of these are very touching and a fitting tribute to his genius.
  • Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains And Automobiles – A press conference with John Hughes, Steve Martin, and John Candy where they talk about the movie, the script, and making it along with some clips from the movie.  This is a fun watch especially since I’m a big fan of all three men.
  • John Hughes for Adults - Originally pigeon-holed as a writer-director for teen movies, this explores Hughes foray into adult themed movies.
  • A Tribute to John Candy – Some comments from his past cast and crew members that worked with him and their fond recollection of him and his talent.  I miss the big guy!
  • Deleted Scene – A scene titled “Airplane Food” where Del shares his knowledge of airplane food much to Neal’s disgust.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is one of John Hughes’ best movies (which is saying a lot) as it is filled with heart, laughter, and some very funny slapstick.  Both Steve Martin and John Candy are in top form for this comedy and combined with the clever script by John Hughes and his expert direction makes this movie a classic!  This Blu-ray also represents a jump up in quality over the previous DVD release which is always nice.  The new tributes to both John Hughes and John Candy are also a welcome addition to this Blu-ray.
Order your copy today!


  1. It was one of our favorites, too! Good review!!

  2. Thanks for the nice comment! I'm glad you liked it!

  3. this sounds like a good trains o scale movie for this season. i will be watching this one.