Believe it or not, there was a time when parody movies were actually good. Before we were stuck with cinematic embarrassments like Epic Movie, Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, and the dreadful Disaster Movie, we had classics like Hot Shot, The Naked Gun, and the all-time comedy classic Airplane!. Airplane! is considered by most people to be the funniest movie of all time. Is that true? Does a statement like that hold any water? Yes. Yes, it does.
Airplane! is by far the funniest movie ever made, or at the very least, one of the funniest movies ever made. Watching it is like watching lightning get captured in bottle… in slow motion. It’s so perfect in execution, it’s so incredible that they never made a sequel to this. It’s just so perfect that if a sequel were to be made, it would be terrible and would never be able to live up to this film’s success, AND could possibly ruin all the good that came from the first film….Yep, thankfully no sequel was ever made…
Anyway, Airplane!‘s story is pretty simple. The passengers and crew on a small flight suffer from food poisoning, and it’s up to our ragged hero Ted Striker (Robert Hays), and his former love Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty), to bring the plane down safely and to save the lives of everybody on board. But while the story’s concept is pretty straightforward, it is as ridiculous in execution as you can get. And it’s this ridiculousness that makes Airplane! so damn funny: ridiculous jokes are played out in ridiculous ways, yet every line of dialogue and every joke is played completely straight.
It is a well-known fact that the film’s three directors -David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams- told every actor to read their lines as they were in a drama, and it’s this piece of direction that sells this movie to its core. A watermelon falls from the sky and explodes, but nobody notices. A man tells a heartfelt story of his tragic past, while another man sets himself on fire. Two airport announcers casually go through a nasty divorce while no one notices. Air traffic controllers try to get an emergency situation under control while one man does his laundry and another man hangs from the ceiling snorting glue. Situations like these are played so well and that’s not even including the comedic genius who almost singlehandedly sold this movie: Leslie Nielson. Everything he says and does is a stitch. You WILL laugh each and every time he talks. It’s just a guarantee.
Another timeless aspect of Airplane! is the production value. A lot of parody movies down the line got less and less money as things went on. I’m pretty sure the budget of Disaster Movie was a couple million dollars. Adjusting the budget for Airplane! in today’s money, however would produce quite the surprise. There was a lot of high quality VFX (for the time) and sets used for this movie and not only is each location believable, but real thought was put into how it was designed. And yes, that is also including Air Israel; beard and all. In terms of presentation, Airplane! really nails this down.
Given the movie’s impeccable execution, it’s almost as if the filmmakers here cared about making a good, funny movie, and not just a cheap cash-grab. Sounds kind of foreign now, given the state of modern spoofs, but despite that, a movie that tries this hard and pays off this well should be commemorated. Or, at the very least, acknowledged so that we may laugh until our lungs turn white.
Believe me, I’m trying to think of some negatives for this movie, because all I keep doing is talking about how good it still is thirty years later. Does it have any flaws? Well…no. No, not really. Every joke lands hard and fast. The story, while ridiculous, is equally engaging. Nothing drags. Nothing feels…needless. All the performances are incredible. Shocking as it may be, sometimes you just come across a movie without flaws.
This could be because of the film’s tone cancelling out any supposed “problems,” or because the filmmakers actually got it right. Airplane!’s situation comes from the former. So perfect is the execution that anything and everything that could be considered a problem is just cancelled out by the tone and atmosphere. I would love to talk more about it, but I think I’d just end up spoiling some of the best jokes or worse: stop young people from watching it. That would be like forcing them NOT to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s heresy. Heresy of the highest order!!
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Stars
Airplane! is a timeless comedy that still holds up well to this day. It’s not like Scary Movie where the jokes feel dated within a matter of months. Or even like Disaster Movie where it’s a giant pile through and through. Airplane! was made with love and care and that shows in the movie. Everyone who grew up during the 70s and 80s or have already watched it will enjoy watching it again. But for those of you who have yet had the chance, please do so. Surely you have no idea what you’re missing?