Two things become crystal clear while watching “Airport” in high definition.
The Oscar voting system must have been severely compromised in 1970 for the film to garner 10 nominations – including a Best Picture nod.
More importantly, why did the creative the team behind “Airplane!” wait a full decade to zing one of the most self-important films in screen history?
Yes, “Airport” matters not just for its starry cast (Burt Lancaster, Helen Hayes, George Kennedy and Maureen Stapleton) but because it ushered in the “Disaster Movie” era. So, the next time you’re nephew forces you to watch “2012” on cable you’ll know who to thank.
“Airport’s” Blu-ray edition, out today as part of Universal’s 100th anniversary party, takes us back to the snow-encrusted landing strip overseen by the hard-charging Lancaster.
The actor plays embattled airport manager Mel Bakersfield, a poor soul stuck trying to keep his Chicago-area airport running in the middle of a snow storm, budget concerns and personal dramas.
Mel’s mission is complicated by a sorta-kinda flirtation with an employee (Jean Seberg), an overzealous chief mechanic (Kennedy) and a mad bomber (Van Heflin, “Shane”) looking to leave his wife (Stapleton) with a fat insurance check.
And then there’s Hayes playing a rascally old woman who lives to cheat the airlines by riding for free. It’s a throwaway role for the acting icon, but one that somehow earned her a Best Supporting Actress statue all the same.
Based on Arthur Hailey’s popular novel, “Airport” hit theaters in 1970 but feels like a product of an earlier era. The acting, sets and atmosphere all scream 1950s, but the film fails to capture the cinematic magic from that decade. It’s a stultifying clone, and a laughable one at times.
When you watch a priest slap a hysterical airline passenger you’ll wonder if you didn’t pop “Airplane!” into your Blu-ray player by accident.
Dean Martin swaggers into the frame every few minutes as a playboy pilot, his presence adding neither levity nor gravitas.
To its credit, “Airport” captures the intricacies of keeping a major airport running, and that attention to detail pays off as an airplane tries to survive a potentially catastrophic incident.
“Airport” attempts to spice up the drama with split screen visuals and air traffic controllers appearing in oval-shaped frames. If you thought the acting by the leads was sub-par, wait until you see these stuffed shirts recite dialogue as if auditioning for a science manual voice over gig.
“Airport’s” Blu-ray release is essential viewing – assuming you want to find out where “Airplane!” swiped most of its funniest bits.
The Blu-ray edition features no “Airport”-centric extras, but we do get a tribute to Universal’s ’70s era films, including far superior fare like “The Sting” and “Jaws.”
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies