Review by Michael Jacobson
Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec
Baldwin, Jude Law
Director: Martin Scorsese
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 170 Minutes
Release Date: May 24, 2005
works for you, Howard."
the kind of mighty spectacle we haven't seen much since the golden days of
Hollywood. And truth be told, we
really didn't see anything quite like it's kind back then, either.
It plays more like a sense memory of a time that never really existed,
with Technicolor skies and silver planes that ravished them with grace and
it is, first and foremost, the story of Howard Hughes (DiCaprio)...aviator,
filmmaker, industrial pioneer. He
was all of those things and more, yet under the watchful eye of director Martin
Scorsese, he seems like a gambler first and foremost. He may have been the richest man in America in his day, but
he took outrageous risks with his money, pushing his fortunes to the breaking
point and beyond, and lived life seemingly with the sword of Damocles always
hanging over his head. Yet he
managed to beat the odds time and time again with a stubborn charm.
It's no wonder Scorsese seemed to feel a kinship for him.
was eccentric and more...as his fame and reputation grew, his personal demons
did, too, and at certain points in The Aviator, we wonder if they're
going to destroy him. He suffered
from obsessive compulsive disorder, was phobic about germs, and as his success
grew, so did his paranoia. At one
point, he's poised to use a small airline called TWA to take on the entire
world, but at the same time, he gets trapped in the men's room because he's too
panicked to touch the doorknob.
we first glimpse Howard as a youth getting his first lessons in germs, the film
mostly concentrates on the period of his life from his first great triumph to
his last one. It almost ends on a
high note, but after the exciting climax, our last glimpse of Howard is as his
mind starts to short circuit on him once again.
first great success was Hell's Angels, a film that cost an unheard of $4
million in the late 20s, and one that the obsessive Howard spent four years
trying to perfect. The press and
Hollywood were ready to pounce on it as the greatest screen folly of all time,
but Hughes' radical dogfight footage made the movie an event picture everyone
had to see.
the other end of the spectrum was his Hercules aircraft, a 2,000 ton flying boat
with a wingspan longer than a football field designed to carry troops and full
artillery safely over the oceans out of range of German submarines.
Again, it was thought that Howard was out of his mind trying to get
something so ridiculously cumbersome to fly.
Yet fly it did...if only once.
between, Scorsese explores the life of Howard as a man and an American icon...a
man who became successful by taking daring chances and breaking all the rules.
The fact that he did so with an increasingly debilitating mental disorder
and growing fear of the general public and the world around him is something
worth marveling at.
was a man who pushed the boundaries of cinematic tastes (his Scarface depicted
screen violence like never before, and The Outlaw was built from Jane
Russell's bosom up) and aviation as well, flying faster and further and higher
than any man before him. His
fortunes were legendary, but add all of that up, and here was a man who was
never really quite as glamorous as his gossip magazine stories made him out to
be. At one point, he's so withdrawn
that he can barely function. Yet,
continuing his legacy of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, he manages
to pull himself together and present himself to the world before a Senate
hearing that threatened to ruin him once and for all.
Was it luck, perseverance or skill?
Maybe all, maybe none.
had many beautiful women in his life, and The Aviator focuses largely on
two...Katherine Hepburn (Blanchett in her Oscar-winning performance) made for
wonderful pairing with him; while he was frequently introverted and
uncomfortable under the spotlight, Hepburn was flamboyant, larger than life, and
loud enough for the two of them. Later,
Ava Gardner (the luminous Beckinsale) was too tough a cookie for him to crack.
But she showed her true colors by reaching out to Howard when he most
film plays like a love letter to old Hollywood. It looks and feels like a grand Tinseltown epic from a time
when pictures were big and stars were bigger, but that's only a foundation.
He builds something even loftier using modern technologies and
sensibilities. Howard Hughes
himself could have only wished his planes and movies soared like The Aviator.
I can picture him hunkered thoughtfully in his private theatre,
viewing this movie and getting fresh ideas in his head about how to do it bigger
and bolder, if not necessarily better.
Oscar winning cinematography creates the image of a Hollywood that never existed
except in our deepest fantasies. It's
like a picture postcard from a long lost time come to life.
This is the world we imagine Howard Hughes conquering time and time
the real anchor of the picture is Leonardo DiCaprio, who delivered his greatest
performance to date as the troubled Hughes.
Leo never hits a false note, capturing Hughes in all his glory and
torment. When he's in his most
frail moments, you can almost see the shutdown behind his eyes, as his body and
face collapse into messes of psychological tics and tremors.
It's a thorough character exploration with no stone unturned, and
DiCaprio's Oscar nod was well deserved.
course, the big story on Oscar night was not the film's five wins, most of any
movie of the year, but the fact that once again, Martin Scorsese was passed over
for the golden statuette. For me,
like many long time fans, it was a hard disappointment to swallow.
I loved this movie and still pick it as best film of last year, but more
than that, I thought if Scorsese ever had a chance to score the Academy Award,
this was the movie that would have done it for him.
Not only was it grand in scale, but it was such a wonderful recreation of
Hollywood's heydays that it screamed out for Oscar recognition for him...not to
The Aviator flies with or without Oscar gold for its director...it's an
old fashioned epic told in the most personal of terms, like looking through a
microscope and discovering a whole new universe. First and foremost, it's a smashing slice of entertainment
that you can watch over and over again.
I saw this film in theatres, I thought it had the best cinematography of the
year (and Oscar later agreed), and I was expecting sheer perfection on DVD.
This anamorphic transfer from Warner comes close to delivering it, with
all of Robert Richardson's colorful photography coming to glorious life on your
home theatre screen. However, the
near 3 hour running time with lots of big scenes lent to a little visible
compression in some of the quieter moments...a bit of haze can be seen on still
deep backgrounds. It's only now and
then, and not terribly distracting, but worth pointing out in an otherwise
stellar video offering.
This disc is also available in pan & scan, but please opt for
the widescreen version. Scorsese's
visual compositions deserve to be seen in their full scope ratio; you're
cheating yourself otherwise.
5.1 soundtrack packs a wallop with its many big sequences.
When Howard's airplanes roar through the skies, you'll feel the
vibrations of the engines. Big crowd sequences make use of front and rear channels, and
the subwoofer gives kick to the moments of action.
Spoken words are clean and clear throughout, and the audio is presented
with no noise or noticeable flaws.
One of this double disc set boasts a commentary track with Martin Scorsese, his
Oscar winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and producer Michael Mann, recorded
separately but edited together smoothly. Martin
does most of the talking, which will please film fans, as he's both a master and
fan of the medium and very generous with his thoughts and ideas.
Two features an additional scene and a total of nine documentaries that cover
the making of the film, the visual effects, looks at the real Howard Hughes
(including his influence on modern aviators and his mental afflictions) a
History Channel program on Hughes, and an evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and
Alan Alda, right after both actors got word of their Oscar nominations.
A soundtrack spot and stills gallery rounds out the features.