Aviator (The)
R4 - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Shane Roberts (1st August 2005).
The Film

Martin Scorsese‘s latest film is a big, golden age of Hollywood style epic telling the true story of Howard Hughes, one of that era’s most infamous and legendary figures.
Beginning in 1928 when Hughes, at only 23, directed his first film Hell’s Angels, a WW1 film that ended up costing US$3.8 million - a record at that time, and ending in 1947 with the double challenges of attacks in court by the US Government and his attempts to design, build and fly the ‘Hercules’, the largest airplane ever built. In between, he bought airlines, produced more movies and romanced some of the most popular starlets of the time, all the while fighting a steadily worsening obsessive compulsive disorder that threatened his sanity.
I have always thought of Martin Scorsese as a brilliant director but even though I really enjoyed The Aviator, I was also a bit disappointed. It lacked the intensity and emotional involvement of his previous films like Raging Bull, Good Fellas and Taxi Driver. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards this year and winning 5 (for Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing and Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett), Marty once again missed out on a Best Director Oscar that he has never won, but deserved for any or all of the three films mentioned above.
His direction was as stylish as ever with great backup by cinematographer Robert Richardson (Casino, Kill Bill 1 and 2) and production and costume design by five time Scorsese collaborator Dante Ferretti and Sandy Powell. This was especially true during scenes involving a crash through the rooftops of a Hollywood suburb and Hughes’ directing and filming a dog fight scene for Hell’s Angels from the open gun turret of an airplane in the middle of the action.
Although the film’s direction was spot on and the ‘look’ was nailed, it was John Logan‘s (Gladiator, The Last Samurai) script where I was most disappointed. Most of the characters were pretty vaguely written, especially Hughes himself. Leonardo DiCaprio was excellent at playing the arrogant, determined and later crippling, compulsive sides of the character but we are not really shown the reasons behind a lot of this behaviour such as his childhood with a cleanliness obsessed mother, which probably lead to his disorder later in life is only touched on briefly in the opening scene. It is also only the great character acting of John C. Reilly as Hughes’ business manager/father figure Noah Dietrich and Alec Baldwin as a rival airline owner Juan Trippe that make their characters interesting. Alan Alda‘s turn as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster was also given an Oscar nomination (which I am not sure that he deserved) was not much more than a basic villain.
It seems there was just too much story to fit into one film. Howard Hughes‘ life is legendary because he attempted, achieved and suffered through more than most people do in three life times. Including all of this and rounding out every character involved (even in a running time of 2 hrs, 40 mins) must have been close to impossible.
Overall, The Aviator is a great film for Scorsese fans and anyone who enjoys biopics about extraordinary people.

Video

Presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this anamorphic transfer is excellent. Before I get into any further detail it’s important to remember that Scorsese wanted the ‘look’ of the film to be like they were shot with film of Hughes’ period. This is primarily evident in the film’s color grade. Now, the transfer is clean and crystal clear, sharpness is dead on and detail is shown to a magnificent degree especially in the beautiful sets. Blacks are bold and shadow detail is impeccable, there are no obvious flaws that I could detect from this transfer.

Audio

There is only audio track on this film and that’s an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The dialogue is crystal clear and distortion free, the atmospheric surrounds just draw you into the film and immerse you completely. Sound effects are mixed very well throughout every channel and there are many aviation sequences that jump right out, the heavy engine sounds of the Spruce Goose will put your sub woofer through an extensive workout. The score is equally impressive making good use of the 5.1 sound space, Shore's music drops you right in the era the film is portraying and heightens the feelings and emotion. A DTS track would have blown the roof off, but this DD 5.1 track certainly does the trick.
The film also features optional subtitles in English and English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

DISC ONE:
The only extra seen on the first disc is the feature-length audio commentary by director Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and producerMichael Mann. All three participants where recorded separately and edited together to make this track. All three involved come to the table with a truckload of information regarding the film, its history, the cast, the script, and also the era in which the film is based in. The track is basically part scene-specific and part historical lesson on the 30’s and 40’s film eras. Although there is a decent amount of background to the film the track was a little too dry and matter of fact. You will learn a lot from this but you may also find yourself skipping through to the next chapters every now and then.

DISC TWO:
The first extra we have on the second disc is the deleted scene, entitled Howard Tells Ava About His Car Accident running at 1 minute 40 seconds this is basically an extension to an already existing scene in the film where Howard gives Ava an expensive necklace that she refuses claiming she is not for sale. The portion deleted sees Ava proclaiming how much a person is worth that leads Howard to answer with $20,000, a price paid to settle out of court with the family of a man he killed in a car accident.

Following that is a featurette entitled A Life Without Limits: The Making of The Aviator runs for 11 minutes 34 seconds and is basic EPK style featurette with behind-the-scenes clips and interviews with the major players and crew. It provides a general overview of the entire production and the filming process without going into too much detail.

Next up is a featurette entitled The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History which runs for 14 minutes 4o seconds and is a biographical piece about Hughes’ influences on the aviation world, the technology he pioneered and the importance of it today. The featurette includes interviews with biographers and aviation experts.

The documentary on this DVD is provided by The History Channel and is entitled Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes - A History Channel Documentary that runs for 43 minutes 38 seconds. This is an account of the life of Hughes and his ventures into aviation, his personal and professional struggles as well as his battle with OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This documentary takes us further into the life of Hughes than the film does and sheds light on the man’s genius, providing us with a deeper understanding of what made this man tick.

The next featurette entitled The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder runs for 14 minutes and 9 seconds, it is here we learn that DiCaprio spent time with OCD patients and contacted OCD expert Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz. This is an inside look at what OCD sufferers go through on a daily basis and how DiCaprio’s performance in the film benefited from being around these people and the research he put into playing this challenging role.

Following next is the OCD Panel Discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Howard Hughes's Widow Terry Moore featurette. This piece runs for 14 minutes 53 seconds and as the title suggests is a panel discussion about the disorder in front of an audience. They discuss the challenges of portraying a character like Hughes with OCD and how much to show and the progression of his disorder that eventually led to locking himself in a screening room for extended periods of time. They also discussed the research that went into playing the character from real archival footage of Hughes and from learning about the disorder from Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz as well as observing patients.

An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda is the next featurette that runs for 28 minutes 7 seconds, and features the two stars at a post-screening Q&A, the actors field questions from the moderator discussing various aspects about the film and each other's performances, Alda’s Oscar nomination, The fact the DiCaprio’s been attched to this film for 9 years, the choice of Scorsese to direct and many other topics.

Next up is The Visual Effects of The Aviator featurette that runs for 12 minutes 3 seconds. Special effects supervisor Robert Legato takes us through the different effects techniques used in this film that include miniatures for the spy plane crash as well as the Spruce Goose, CGI effects for some of the planes, as well as green screen background plates, matte paintings etc. that where all used to help sell certain shots.

Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Ferretti is a featurette that runs for 6 minutes and is a look at the partnership with Scorsese and his long-time production designer Ferretti. He discusses the elaborate sets designed and built for the film, and their progression from 20’s design aesthetics to the 40’s. One of the most impressive sets built for the film is a copy of the famous Chinese theater in Hollywood was built in Montreal for the Hell’s Angels premiere sequence in the film.

Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell featurette runs for 3 minutes 35 seconds and is a brief look at the work of the costume designer on this film, we get to look at the different costumes made for DiCaprio, Blanchett, and Beckinsale and how they reflect the time period as well as the progression of Hughes’ style from the early 20’s to his basic suit and sneakers combination of the 40’s.

The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator featurette runs for 8 minutes 6 seconds and features interviews with make-up artists Morag Ross and hairstylist Kathryn Blondell. The two discuss the make-up and hair styling process for this film. The research that went into creating the looks for the ladies by looking at old studio shots and films from the era as well as Max Factor ads from the period.

Next up is Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore featurette which runs for 7 minutes 13 seconds and is a behind-the-scenes look at the scoring process for this film. Shore discusses the different musical themes of the film and the creation of the music to add highlights to Scorsese’s vision.

Following that is The Wainwright Family - Loudon, Rufus and Martha a featurette that runs for 5 minutes 5 seconds and features an interview with Loudon Wainwright III who plays one of the singers at the Coconut Grove night club. Wainwright also tells us about his son Rufus and daughter Martha’s involvement in the film and on the soundtrack.

A promo spot follows for the film’s soundtrack CD that runs for 19 seconds.

Rounding out the extras is an extensive photo gallery consisting of 77 images taken during the production of the film.

Overall

Not the best Scorsese film but certainly an enjoyable one, the film’s visual style is not only impressive but the decision to shoot the film in styles, stock and techniques available to filmmakers of the eras portrayed was an excellent choice.
Warner’s DVD is packed with a solid transfer and an excellent soundtrack, the extras are chock full of goodies for you to sort through.

The Film: B- Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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