Friday, March 5, 2010

Seminal movies: Airplane!

TCM is showing a series of movies about airplane problems tonight, including the classic comedy Airplane!, at 10:00 PM ET.

I think everybody knows the plot, so the question then becomes one of what makes it a seminal movie. Airplane! probably did more than any other movie to make the spoof genre viable in Hollywood. Sure, there had been some other spoofs before. Mel Brooks made High Anxiety, his look at the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, a few years earlier. Also, there's Brooks' Young Frankenstein which was even earlier, as well as movies like Murder By Death. And, some of the great cartoons from Warner Bros. and MGM back in the 1940s are clearly lampooning their studios' products.

But there's something about Airplane! that's made it well-known to the point that it's entered the cultural consciousness in a way that the other movies haven't. It was only after Airplane! that spoofs really started to become common: Airplane! spawned a sequel; there was the series of Naked Gun movies, followed by things such as Loaded Weapon and Scary Movie. More than that, though, are some of the scenes. One of the most famous would be the "Surely you can't be serious" joke; I think you all know the punchline. And when it came to the teaching of Ebonics, one of the ways critics lambasted the idea was to use Barbara Billingsley's famous "Miss, I speak jive" sequence from Airplane!. There is also a lot of other great word-play and sight gags, with perhaps my personal favorite involving a bunch of reports and a bank of pay phones.

As for the spoofing, Airplane! has often been compared to Airport and the other disaster movies of the 1970s. There is a good deal of that in the movie. But Airplane! is an even bigger homage to Zero Hour!, which will be following at 11:45 PM. Both movies have been released to DVD.

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