A man must struggle to travel home for Thanksgiving, with an obnoxious slob of a shower ring salesman his only companion.
'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 make 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 all the humor comes from the endless personality clashes of the two men, making it all the more unforgettable.
After nearly twenty-five 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 delivers 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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' to Blu-ray in similar packaging as their "Those Aren't Pillows" DVD release, but exclusively available at Best Buy stores. The Region Free, BD50 disc comes inside a blue eco-keepcase with a lenticular cardboard slipcover and artwork that's different from the one in the case. When in the player, the disc goes straight to the main menu with a silent poster still of the two stars in the background.
The John Hughes comedy classic hits Blu-ray with a generally satisfying if only somewhat troubled picture quality. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) is a definite upgrade over previous releases, showing better definition and resolution overall.
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 audio appears to fare 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.
Paramount ports over the same set of supplement as the "Those Aren't Pillows" DVD edition for Blu-ray, but also throws in a couple ofexclusives.
'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 Blu-ray comes with not-so perfect but much improved picture and a better audio presentation. The supplements are the same as the previous DVD release, but also include a couple added HD bonuses that fans should treasure. In the end, the package is a worthy upgrade and fans should be quite pleased.