Each new Martin Scorsese film is greeted with the anticipation of a religious ceremony, but he has been for so long dubbed the "greatest living director" that it's easy to forget the string of oddly disappointing films that counter that statement. Isn't it fair to say that Scorsese has devolved from greatness to just a proficient craftsman? Isn't The Aviator (2004) a premiere example of Scorsese doing studio hackwork? In biopic fashion, the movie starts off with a psychology-explaining prologue which shows the young nine-year-old Howard Hughes being bathed by his mother, who coaches him in the concept of quarantine. The rest of the film covers Hughes's life from 1927 to 1947, once he's become the heir to the profitable Hughes Manufacturing Company. Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is introduced as a dynamic but bull-headed man, but the film is told in sequences: Hughes is shown as an outsider in Hollywood, dressed inappropriately and laughed at by Louis B. Mayer. Next Hughes essentially redesigns an airplane, and solves a major problem with aviation photography. But just as he finishes shooting his epic, sound comes in, and causes reshoots. Next, Hughes woos Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett). He also buys TWA and tests the H-1 jet plane. Like almost every other plane he pilots, Hughes crashes the prototype, but the worst landing comes with the deflating collapse of his relationship with Hepburn. But Hughes has other projects: a wartime transport plane called the Hercules, the titillating western The Outlaw, and buying a fleet of cross-country airliners. After a dalliance with a starlet and the beginning of a "street fight" with Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) of Pan American Airlines whose proxy, senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda), does most of the swinging Hughes dates Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale). As Hughes's compulsive disorder increases, he reaches a crisis point when he crashes his experimental plane the XF-11 in a near fatal accident. Surviving that, but losing Ava, Hughes is finally pushed over the brink when his files are subpoenaed and he is called to answer charges of war profiteering. But finally he does emerge, and beats Brewster and Trippe on the public stage. His final triumph is to fly the Hercules, now nicknamed the "Spruce Goose," but his success is short lived. The Aviator is biopicky, all sweep and summary and dramatic "meaningful" moments that come in short scenes. It's not bad, and Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan at least allow the viewer to feel that Hughes is accessible. DiCaprio, in a marvelous actorial turn, makes Hughes's illness tangible, meaningful, and moving. Though there may be a passionless core to the film, a "bad" Scorsese movie is better than a "great" movie from, say, Joel Schumacher. Warner Home Video's two-disc DVD release offers a beautiful anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Disc One features a commentary with Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and producer Michael Mann, but the bulk of the supplements are on Disc Two: A deleted scene (2 min.), "A Life Without Limits: The Making of The Aviator" (12 min.), "The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History" (15 min.) "Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes, A History Channel Documentary" (44 min.), "The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder" (14 min.), "OCD Panel Discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, and Howard Hughes Widow Terry Moore" (15 min.), "An Evening With Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda" (28 min.), "The Visual Effects of The Aviator" (12 min.) "Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Ferretti" (6 min.) "Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell" (4 min.), "The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator" (8 min.) "Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore" (7 min.), "The Wainwright Family: Loudon, Rufus, and Martha" (5 min.), a soundtrack Spot, and a still gallery. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
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