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Airplane! Don't Call Me Shirley Edition

Packed with as many jokes per minute as most stand-up routines, 1980's Airplane! — Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker's raucous spoof of '70s disaster movies (as well as a specific 1957 B-movie called Zero Hour!) — has spawned countless imitators in the 25 years since its debut, all while remaining the undisputed champion of the "stupid funny" genre. Not too shabby for a film dreamed up by three guys from Milwaukee who started out planning to mock late-night TV ads and ended up with (according to the American Film Institute) one of the top ten comedies of all time. Although, like the films it's based on, Airplane! is an ensemble picture, there is a main character: Ted Striker (Robert Hays, in what is still his most memorable role), a washed-up fighter pilot whose attempts to win back stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty, ditto) are trumped by bad fish and, consequently, imminent air disaster. Also along for the ride are solemn Captain Clarence Oveur (a brilliantly cast Peter Graves, a veteran of the very movies Airplane! is spoofing), scene-stealing Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen, whose career was reinvented thanks to this role), high-strung stewardess Randy (Lorna Patterson), heart-transplant patient Lisa Davis (Jill Whelan), the two jive dudes (Norman Alexander Gibbs and Al White), and plenty of other passengers, many with very familiar faces. Meanwhile, back on the ground, Captain Rex Kramer (Robert Stack) and Steven McCrosky (Lloyd Bridges) do their part to avert tragedy and sell punch-lines. And punch-lines there are aplenty. From those that have become part of the pop-culture fabric — "Don't call me Shirley!," "I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue!" — to gems that seem to tickle your funnybone afresh every time you watch the movie ("Oh, stewardess, I speak jive," "Give me Ham on Five, hold the Mayo"), Airplane! is a virtual quote-machine, never wasting a chance to make the audience laugh. As a result, according to Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers, there really isn't much deleted footage to show off on Paramount's 25th Anniversary "Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition DVD. Instead, the disc offers three different "enhanced" ways to watch the movie: with an audio commentary by the directors and producer John Davison, with a trivia track that pops up behind-the-scenes facts about the film (handily, these two options can both be turned on at once, with the trivia blurbs appearing while you listen to the commentary), and, in the "Long Haul Version," with frequent pauses for cast and crew interviews. While it's too bad that the interviews can't also be accessed independently, the Long Haul Version is sure to be interesting for fans who've watched the movie so many times that multiple interruptions won't be distracting or confusing. Also included are the theatrical trailer and a collection of Paramount previews. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) holds up decently; audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks in English, French Mono, and English and Spanish subtitles. Keep-case with paperboard sleeve.
—Betsy Bozdech

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