By the time the year 1987 rolled around, the now-legendary (and late) filmmaker John Hughes was pretty much on top of the cinematic world, having previously brought us four classic features that he both wrote and directed in just two years: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — to say nothing of the features he served as writer and executive producer for. But when he put pen to paper on what was to become the holiday-themed Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Hughes decided to abandon the teeny-bopper formula he helped to mold and focus on the complex world of adults.
Adults, mind you, without a shred of luck in the whole damn universe. But when the universe sees fit to give us the dynamic duo of Steve Martin and John Candy, there are very few life forms within the cosmos that would dare complain. Here, Martin plays Neal Page — an easily-upset advertising executive from Chicago who seemingly loses all of his luck once he tries to leave New York City to make it back home in time to spend Thanksgiving with his family. First, an athletic young fellow (Kevin Bacon, in a cameo) steals the last free cab — a taxi that would surely have been Neal’s had he not tripped on a large trunk carelessly left out on the street.
Said trunk, as it turns out, belongs to a jolly giant named Del Griffith (Candy) — a traveling shower curtain ring salesman (I’m sure such people exist) who has an incredibly optimistic look at life, especially considering all of Neal’s bad luck seems to be flung in Del’s direction like what might happen were one to incur the wrath of an army of cheeky monkeys. The patronage of Lady Misfortune becomes stronger one Neal and Del inevitably wind up traveling cross-country together — as the odd pairing is besieged by thieves in the night, a rental car that winds up getting torched, having to sleep in the same bed (“No, Ray!” [private joke, kids]), and another rental car that just isn’t there — which results in one of the most memorable meltdowns ever committed to celluloid, pulled-off as only the good Mr. Martin could.
But Steve Martin is not the only one giving his all here. The late great John Candy also delivers a powerful performance as the happy-go-lucky but secretly tortured salesman who yearns for nothing more than a little friendship in the world. Ultimately, Hughes bestows an appropriately exultant finale upon both characters and viewers alike. The lesson learned: everything pretty much happens for a reason. And, in this instance, that reason is cinematic gold. Though most of the movie’s runtime is devoted to its two incredible stars, special note should always be given to supporting performers Edie McClurg (as one strong-willed rental car agent), the always-wonderful Michael McKean (as a bewildered state trooper), and bit parts by Ben Stein and an uncredited William Windom.
Released in late 2012 to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday, Paramount’s Blu-ray of Planes, Trains and Automobiles was a welcomed catalogue title indeed, though the fact that the release was heavily scrubbed down by that ever-dreaded Digital Noise Reduction procedure some studios sadly insist on doing is more than disappointing. That said, however, the 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC coded title boasts some fine detail and a distinct and fairly strong color palette. The accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless soundtrack is an improvement over its visual cohort, though anyone expecting something truly outstanding for an ’80s comedy might be trippin’ on something other than Del’s trunk — if ‘ya catch my drift, kids.
Special features for this “Those Aren’t Pillows” Edition — seriously, that’s the disc’s subtitle; a leftover joke from an earlier SD-DVD release — include several featurettes and a deleted scene. Most of the items in question were seen in the aforementioned 2009 special edition DVD, and consist of an excised scene, and the short moving picture items, “Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “John Hughes for Adults,” and “A Tribute to John Candy.” New to this release is a two-part featurette “John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast,” which focuses on the career of Hughes himself — who unexpectedly passed away in 2009 just two months before the Special Edition DVD was released.
So, while the Blu-ray presentation of Planes, Trains and Automobiles isn’t the hottest-looking item in the universe, and most of the special features have been recycled, that latter item should be worth it to any Hughes fan alone — to say nothing of the fact that this classic was made before Hughes stooped to making features that were more kid-friendly, such as Home Alone and Curly Sue.