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DID YOU READ

40 Years of “Airport”: “Airplane!” (1980)

40 Years of “Airport”: “Airplane!” (1980) (photo)

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In 1970, one movie invented the modern disaster film. After grossing more than $100 million at the domestic box office (adjusted for inflation, it made more than any of the “Lord of the Rings”), it spawned three sequels that stretched through the entire decade. But this landmark series is now almost totally forgotten, long eclipsed by the film that so brilliantly spoofed the genre tropes it helped define. In honor of its 40th anniversary, we’re looking back at the “Airport” franchise this week, one film at a time. Today, “Airplane!” said brilliant spoofer of said genre tropes.

Airplane!
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker

Nature of Air Emergency: The passengers of Trans American Flight 209 from Los Angeles had a choice for dinner: steak or fish. Those who chose steak now have another choice: find someone to land their plane after everyone who had the fish, including the pilots, takes ill with food poisoning or crash.

How Does It Hold Up? Aside from a couple of commercial parodies that mean nothing in 2010, pretty well. After watching all those real disaster movies, the thing that struck me rewatching this fake one is how little work the Zuckers and Abrahams had to do to turn drama into comedy. After you’ve watched “The Concorde… Airport ’79” it’s really not that big of a leap to “Airplane!” Actually of the two, “Airplane!” is the more realistic movie, and it involves an inflatable automatic pilot named Otto.

11122010_airplane2.jpgAfter spending a week with George Kennedy and the rest, “Airplane!” is like the first breath of fresh air after eighteen-and-a-half hours on the nonstop flight from Newark to Singapore. Aside from “The Concorde,” which seemed vaguely aware that it was a comedy disguised as an action drama, the “Airport”s are stuffy, stuffy movies. Charlton Heston doesn’t crack a single knowing joke as he rappels onto a moving plane and Jack Lemmon seems to think riding a lifeboat from the bottom of the ocean to the surface to set off a homing beacon in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle makes perfect sense. Even without the great gags like the “Who’s On First?”-esque pilot names (“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”), “Airplane!” would be hilarious just for pointing out the silliness of these disaster pictures. It encapsulates the entire “Airport” aesthetic in one perfect sight gag: Robert Stack dramatically punctuating a conversation by removing his sunglasses to reveal a second pair of sunglasses underneath. That’s “Airport” in a nutshell: bluster, machismo, and a total lack of self-awareness.

One of most surprising parts of this week was discovering just how good the first “Airport” was and how little its sequels took from it. The first film holds some genuine tension and human drama, and offers a pretty compelling look at the inner-workings of the air travel industry. The rest of the films are overblown exercises in excess. The arc of the series reminds me of the “Saw” franchise, which turned an original and complex morality tale into an excuse to build bigger and gorier human slaughterhouses. The formula goes something like this: Hollywood takes a fairly nuanced film, finds the most outrageous and sensational elements, and creates sequels showcasing only those parts. So a movie about an airport dealing with disaster begets movies about increasingly outrageous disasters.

11122010_airplane3.jpgAudiences may think they want bigger and better stunts and special effects, but the reason they were drawn to “Airport” were the rich human characters trying to endure and survive. On a technical level “Airplane 1975” and “Airport ’77” are far superior to “Airport,” but on an emotional level, they can’t hold a flare to it. Part of what makes “Airplane!” one of the best spoofs ever made is the fact that for all the wackiness and stupidity we identify with Ted Striker (Robert Hays) and Elaine (Julie Hagerty), and we care about whether they land that plane. They may be dumb, and their memories may be parodies of other movies, but Hays and Hagerty are so sweet and likable that we root for them in ways we never do for Heston or Lemmon.

Blustery and boring protagonists in humorless scenarios make the second through fourth “Airport”s joyless affairs, even with all the action and explosions. Obviously, an airplane disaster isn’t the most “fun” premise for an action movie, but there isn’t ever any sense of relief or pleasure when the planes land safely. That’s why “Airplane!” has endured. It’s fun to watch. We get pleasure when it lands safely, and we get more pleasure when it takes off again with Otto and his autopilot girlfriend at the helm.

Strange But True: According to IMDb, David Letterman auditioned for the role of Ted Striker.

Monday: “Airport”
Tuesday: “Airport 1975”
Wednesday: “Airport ’77”
Thursday: “The Concorde… Airport ’79”
Today: “Airplane!”

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…