Sunday, 20 February 2011

80s Movies: Airplane! (1980)

It's possibly the single greatest compliment to Airplane! that I actually almost began writing about 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation, then realised there was a much better, much sillier movie to mention instead. Then again, depending on your opinion of Chevy Chase et al, you might not see that as much of a compliment at all.

In its own right, though, Airplane! is a pastiche of old disaster movies that has stood the test of time. The vast majority of its jokes are good proper silliness, rather than political or social commentaries tied too closely to the early 1980s, making it, if not 'fresh', then at least as enjoyable to watch now as it ever was.

Airplane! is probably the first place many people around my age saw Leslie Nielsen - and I think you can tell if that's the case. Older people will happily bring out that nugget of trivia that he used to be a 'straight' actor before he did the rubber-faced comedy, while younger film fans will probably know him more as Lieutenant Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun.

The Plot

It's a simple enough plot. An assortment of ages, ethnic minorities and varying levels of lunacy are on a plane together, when the pilot is taken ill. In fact, anyone who had the fish is basically doomed. For everyone else, it's a battle simply to land the plane and survive.

Robert Hays is Ted Striker, former ace combat pilot who now suffers from what you would probably call post-traumatic stress disorder, along with a drinking problem. His former flame Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) is a stewardess on the flight and serves as the lead female role in the movie.

Nielsen, meanwhile, is Dr Rumack. The character's IMDb profile claims "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley!" is "possibly the funniest line ever in a film". It's telling analysis of Airplane! to think that, if you were to argue against that praise, you'd probably do it with another line from the same movie.

Going back to the plot, though - there's really not much relevance to what actually happens in terms of the story. It's just a common thread holding everything together (think the exact opposite of 1977's Kentucky Fried Movie). However, it does serve to make the viewer actually care about the characters, making a happy ending desirable.

The Classic Quotes

One of the most widely and easily quoted movies ever made, Airplane! delivered some real classics. Here's just a few:

Elaine: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your stewardess speaking. We regret any inconvenience the sudden cabin movement might have caused. This is due to periodic air pockets we encountered. There's no reason to be alarmed and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?

Randy: Excuse me sir, there's been a little problem in the cockpit.
Striker: The cockpit... what is it?
Randy: It's the little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that's not important right now.

Striker: Surely you can't be serious?
Dr Rumack: I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

Dr Rumack: Captain, these passengers don't have much time. How soon can we land?
Captain Oveur: I can't tell.
Rumack: You can tell me, I'm a doctor.
Oveur: What I mean is, I don't know.
Rumack: Well can't you take a guess?
Oveur: Not for another two hours.
Rumack: You can't take a guess for another two hours?
Oveur: No, what I'm saying is we can't land for another two hours.

80s Movies

In February, POPSICULTURE are dedicating the month to a look back at the iconic films of the 1980s - a decade whose films continue to draw massive audiences when they are shown on TV. To follow posts in this series, check the 80s Movies label or sign up to the dedicated RSS feed.

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