(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Airplane!
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: With a plot and characters borrowed from the 1957 film Zero Hour!, this classic spoof takes aim at disaster movies like Airport 1975 and the sequels that followed, along with the Airport franchise. Ted Striker is an ex-pilot with a drinking problem and post-traumatic stress disorder who tries to repair a failing relationship by following his airplane stewardess girlfriend on her flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. But when food poisoning strikes the passengers and crew, Ted has to suck up his fear and insecurities to land the plane and save everyone on board.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: The spoof film is a dying artform, but in the 1970s and 1980s, some of the best comedies were parodies. That’s largely thanks to the work of director Mel Brooks, the improv troupe of Monty Python, and the filmmaking trio of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker). It’s the latter who made Airplane!, the parody that not only remains funny to this day, but is still hilarious even if you haven’t seen the movies it’s spoofing.
Perhaps the best thing about Airplane! is the cast, which is full of actors you never would have expected to be in a comedy spoof at this time. The presence of Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves and Robert Stack, play their roles as straight as possible, and that makes the silly nature of the comedy land so firmly. Then there’s the total randomness of Kareem Adbul-Jabbar playing the co-pilot, as well as the silliness of Stephen Stucker as the air traffic controller Johnny. But it’s then-unknowns Robert Hays and and Julie Hagerty as the two romantic leads who really sell this movie, each leaning hard into the cheesiness of their troubled romance, and perfectly capturing the spirit of the movies being spoofed.
The kind of jokes in Airplane! are leaps and bounds above what modern audiences know as spoofs. The likes of Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, and other comedy trash are the worst executions of parody, and they lack the cleverness and subtle jokes that sometimes don’t get noticed until after multiple viewings. For example, check out the amazing trick shot in the last 20 seconds of this scene:
I guarantee you there are people who have seen this movie dozens of times who have never noticed this gag. It’s almost unnoticeable, and it’s pulled off seamlessly. I just showed this scene to my parents recently and had to specifically point out to them the visual gag. There are loads of jokes like this throughout the movie, and that’s on top of all the regular jokes that are laugh out loud hilarious to this very day. There’s a wide range of comedy on display here, and it’s all hilarious.
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