Steve Martin and John Candy star in John Hughes classic tale of holiday travel gone awry. Neal Page (Martin) is an uptight advertising executive trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. When his flight is rerouted to Wichita he reluctantly partners with Del Griffith (Candy) an obnoxious yet loveable salesman. Together they embark on a cross-country adventure that includes various modes of transportation hilarious mishaps and unforgettable rental car shenanigans. Planes Trains and Automobiles is a screwball comedy with a heart" (Roger Ebert Chicago Sun-Times).
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a laugh-a-minute joyride, right from its goofy opening sequence in the streets of New York to its heartwarming conclusion in the suburbs of Chicago. It's a fairly standard, and even predictable, road-trip comedy with the silliness of the odd-couple tension thrown in for good measure. But in the adept hands of John Hughes, who also wrote and produced the film, it remains an endearing charmer made up mostly of situational laughs and crazy high jinks, always with lots of heart at its center.
Steve Martin stars as uptight business man Neal Page who desperately wants to make it home in time to spend Thanksgiving with his family. His straight-faced performance is the perfect mix of a tense grump taking life very serious and a good-natured, well-intentioned man hiding beneath several crusty layers. Along with Roxanne which was released earlier that same year, Martin reveals there is more to his talent than the usual screwball antics he's best remembered for. And strangely enough, it almost seems as if today he is better remembered as this type of character.
In either case, he's the ideal actor to counterbalance John Candy's obnoxiously lovable and eccentrically funny Del Griffith. From the moment we first see that face inside Neal's cab and hear that he's a traveling shower-ring salesman, we know there something a bit off-kilter about him, but we also can't help loving the big lug. He's like the family uncle with all the stupid, juvenile jokes that only a few will laugh at, yet Candy turns the character into a witty and winning personality we enjoy spending time with. This is easily the much loved actor's most memorable performance.
From the outset, it's clear the two men are destined to meet and clash heads. Part of the film's joy is watching the clever ways filmmakers force them to travel together, and even more amusing, in the exact order as the title implies. After Del takes a cab which Neal stupidly paid money for from an attorney, the two sit uncomfortably close to each other in coach. When the plane is diverted to Kansas due to a blizzard in Chicago, they travel north by train, which suddenly breaks down in the middle of the tracks. The movie's funniest segments come from them continuing their journey via a car rental, with the scene of them driving on the wrong side of the highway being my personal favorite. Even after all these years, it's absolutely hilarious.
Admittedly, it all ends with a very convenient and anticipated learning experience for both Neal and Del, but after enduring that crazy ride through several states, the conclusion feels earned and satisfying, resulting in a believable friendship that took time to evolve. Rather than being a drawback, Hughes actually makes the script's predictability work by having two likeable and well thought-out characters at the center. There are several uproarious visual gags sprinkled throughout, but most of the humor comes from the endless personality clashes of the two men, making it all the more unforgettable.
After thirty years, Planes, Trains and Automobiles still delivers some gut-busting laughs, and it's to the credit of Steve Martin and John Candy as well as the writing/directing talents of John Hughes. During the latter half of the 1980s, Hughes was typed as a filmmaker of only teen movies. Automobiles was his first foray into strictly adult-oriented comedy, and the film essentially proves his ability to deliver the goods. Using a conventional buddy/road film plotline with absurd antics and appealing characters, Hughes made what could be considered the best and most endearing comedy of his career.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment celebrates the 30th anniversary of Planes, Trains and Automobiles as a two-disc Blu-ray combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy code. The Region Free, BD50 disc is housed inside a blue eco-vortex case with a DVD-9 on the opposing panel. At startup, viewers are directly taken a static picture of the cover art with the usual menu options along the bottom.
For this 30th anniversary Blu-ray, Paramount recycles the same generally satisfying if also somewhat troubled 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode from five years ago. Thankfully, that's not an entirely bad thing since the 1.85:1 presentation offers a definite upgrade over previous releases, showing better definition and resolution overall.
As I mentioned in that review, fine object and textural details are clean and distinct in nearly every scene. Colors appear significantly brighter and bolder, particularly in the primaries, while flesh tones look natural and appropriate to the weather conditions on display. Blacks are, for the most part, accurate and pretty deep with strong shadow delineation in low-lit interiors, though they do fluctuate a bit in a couple scenes. Contrast seems just a tad too hot as there are signs of posterization and highlights tend to clip noticeably in some sequences. This also leads to some ringing in several spots, and there are instances of visible noise reduction where either grain freezes or faces lose the finer textures.
In the end, this is still a marked improvement, but not a faultless presentation of a favorite Holiday comedy.
The same audio track has been ported over, but it fares much better than the video, offering a much wider and fuller experience than its legacy audio counterparts.
This is understandably a front-heavy presentation by design, but the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack does an excellent job with precise and terrifically intelligible dialogue. The soundstage feels expansive and very spacious, displaying a well-balanced separation between the channels. Off-screen effects are quite convincing with smooth panning and directionality, and the mid-range exhibits appreciable clarity and detail during the several moments of high-pitched action. Bass is pretty much as expected for a film of this age, but it's suitable and accurate when called upon. Rear activity is, of course, quite limited, but there are some light bleeds which nicely expand the soundfield.
This is a very enjoyable lossless mix.
The same set of supplements are also recycled for this new Blu-ray.
John Hughes: Life Move Pretty Fast (HD, 54 min): Broken into two sections, the makers offer a very entertaining and touching tribute to the filmmaker, who has become an iconic 80s figure for many people. The first part, called "The Voice of a Generation," brings together several of the actors and crew members who had the opportunity to work with him and get to know him. It also traces most of his career from writer at National Lampoon and film director to quite literally being the voice of a generation. The second segment, titled "Heartbreak and Triumph," is a continuation of the first that not only looks at Hughes's career and the many great films he left behind, but also discusses his writing and filmmaking style. Retrospective interviews, once again, give viewers some insight into the man he was as well as sharing experiences of working with him. This is a great piece altogether and one Hughes fans will thoroughly admire.
Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles (SD, 17 min): Basically, a promotional press conference with director John Hughes and stars Steve Martin and John Candy. While a few clips from the movie are shown here and there, the men answer questions pertaining to the production, story and everyone sharing their experience working on set. It's an easy to digest piece with lots of amusing banter, but not truly worthwhile either.
John Hughes for Adults (SD, 4 min): Recycling a few answers from the above conference, this very short piece talks about John Hughes as a filmmaker with other, more recent interviews from crew members and one vintage clip with Kevin Bacon, who appeared in She's Having a Baby, released a year after this film, but which, interestingly, Neil's wife is seen watching on TV late at night.
A Tribute to John Candy (SD, 3 min): Precisely as it sounds, we get a few comments from cast and crew remembering the great comedy actor.
Deleted Scene (SD, 3 min): Titled "Airplane Food," the funny sequence has Candy sharing his knowledge of airplane food while Martin looks at his plate in disgust.
Plane, Trains and Automobiles is a terrific comedy from John Hughes, filled with tons of laughter and heart. It's essentially a zany buddy/road-trip feature of two polar opposites learning to deal with each other's faults while trying to make it home for Thanksgiving. Steve Martin and John Candy star as the two clashing personalities destined to travel together, making this a wonderfully memorable holiday treat. The new 30th anniversary Blu-ray comes with the same not-so perfect but improved picture quality and better audio presentation. The supplements are also the same as the previous Blu-ray. In the end, the package is a worthy upgrade for fans who patiently waited from purchasing the first release from five years ago.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.