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169 minutes | Rated: R
LIMITED: Friday, December 17, 2004
WIDE: Saturday, December 25, 2004
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Ian Holm, Alan Alda, Kelli Garner, Adam Scott, Gwen Stefani, Danny Huston, John C. Reilly, Jude Law, Jane Lynch, Frances Conroy, Willem Dafoe, Edward Herrmann, Sam Hennings, Josie Maran, Matt Ross, Brent Spiner, Yves Jacques
This film is on the Best of 2004 list.
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 25%
WIDESCREEN: A MUST
The visuals of this film deserve to be seen in their original format, but otherwise the film plays compellingly on the small screen.
This two-disc edition is brimming with fantastic behind-the-scenes goodies. One feature tracks Hughes' background and his still-influential place in aviation history. Another details the film's special effects, and goes into fascinating minutiae about the combination of miniatures and CGI (and the artistic choices between them) to depict many of the most pivotal moments in the story, and how computer imagery was used to create clouds and dirty-up "archival" footage. Another interviews production designer Dante Ferretti about creating the film's spectacular vision of old Hollywood. There are similar tidbits about the costumes, makeup, hair and musical score too.
Accompanying the film are three interviews with fast-talking Scorsese, editor Thema Schoonmaker and producer Michael Mann that are woven together and passed off as a commentary track. These sessions are combined fairly seamlessly and are loaded with stories about the film's production, insights into performances and imagery (Scorsese talks about paying homage to 2-strip Technicolor, for example). But the track just doesn't have the life you get from more traditional commentaries recorded as the filmmakers watch the movie.
One quibble: on Disc 2, the menus bring up only three links at a time, with annoying little animations between screens, so if you want to watch the 10th featurette, it's a hassle to get to it.
OTHER NOTABLE BONUS MATERIAL
• A great episode of the History Channel's "Modern Marvels," detailing how Hughes influenced everything from jet liners to hospital beds to helicopter design to weather satellites to Moon landings to DirecTV. • A somewhat self-congratulatory, but otherwise solid, making-of with DiCaprio detailing all his research, Blanchett talking about the challenge of playing Hepburn, etc. • Two PSA-like featurettes about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with doctors, patients, DiCaprio, Scorsese and Hughes' widow. • One deleted scene.
One thing this DVD is sorely missing is the film's terrific theatrical trailer.
SOUND & PICTURE
2.35:1, Dolby 5.1
Both are beautifully mastered.
SUBS: English, French, Spanish
DVD RATING: ***1/2
OTHER REVIEWS/COMING SOON
With Scorsese at the controls and DiCaprio's best performance yet as Howard Hughes, 'The Aviator' soars
Eschewing every pitfall of the biopic genre and delving deeply into the essence of both Howard Hughes' genius and his slow burn into madness, Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" is a film of grand scope and masterfully intimate nuance, portraying a wild young mustang of a man who lived a fast life on an epic scale.
Presenting Hughes' view of the world as one in which nothing is impossible and the most momentous, groundbreaking decisions come instantly and instinctively ("What would controlling interest in TWA cost me?"), the film's crux is not the psychosis the man is best known for today, but his gift for sparing no expense to pursue novel visions no one else could see.
"We gotta reshoot 'Hell's Angels' for sound," Hughes decides on a whim in an early scene, after having already spent four years and millions of his own dollars perfecting his first foray into filmmaking -- a World War I epic featuring dozens of biplanes in an ambitious, jaw-dropping dogfight scene, parts of which Hughes shoots from a plane he flies into the fray himself.
Scorsese's recognition of a kindred spirit gives this film a visceral vim and vigor. Focusing on Hughes' late 20s and early 30s, when he was a major force in American industry and a growing force in show business, "The Aviator" is pulsating with its subject's restless spirit, and at the heart of it is Leonardo DiCaprio, giving the most imposing -- and first entirely adult -- performance of his career.
The actor, like his character, is constantly working on several levels at once, personifying Hughes' charm (he dated movie stars like Ava Gardner and Jean Harlow, played by Kate Beckinsale and rocker Gwen Stefani), his savvy in the budding airline industry, his obsessively cutting-edge foresight in aviation design, and a constant, subtle specter of paranoia and microphobia that will eventually give way to reclusive mental illness.
In scenes like the one that finds Hughes watching dailies from the "Hell's Angels" shoot -- his face lit from the screen and all tied up in knots of purposeful dissatisfaction -- DiCaprio gives hints not only of instability growing in his mind like a tumor, but also of the fact that Hughes can feel it growing.
In nightclubs he orders "Milk please, in the bottle, with the cap still on it," knowing how crazy that sounds. He fights the urge to wash his hands again and again (in an almost masturbatory fashion) but loses the battle every time. His eyes blink feverishly when he's under pressure. He squeezes his knees absentmindedly. He begins repeating words and phrases compulsively and clasps his hand over his mouth, desperate to make himself stop.
But Scorsese doesn't make a show of any of this behavior until the madness cannot be ignored and threatens to overcome Hughes. The gradual decent is part of the story's organic flow, as are Hughes' daredevil spirit as a pilot (he crashes many of his own experimental planes, once with a terrifying outcome that helps kick his phobias into high gear) and his eccentric romance with Katherine Hepburn, played as a scene-stealing, upper-crust force of nature by the amazing Cate Blanchett.
Her deliberately fictional characterization is a witty, prickly-sweet, ingenious amalgam of Hepburn's most piquant and charming screen personas, and while the film is spectacular in many ways, it's Blanchett people will be talking about as they leave the theater.
It is a testament to Scorsese's brilliance that "The Aviator" can contain such a performance while hitting every important and infamous highlight of Hughes' most pivotal period -- designing Jane Russell's cantilever bra for "The Outlaw," the resulting battle with the motion picture censorship board, the fight against Pam Am's attempt to monopolize international air traffic and smear Hughes' name (while taking advantage of his mental ailments), Hughes turning the tables on crooked officials in a senate hearing on corruption -- all without feeling encyclopedic or hackneyed for a single moment. The director even picks the perfect moment in the inevitable downward spiral to leave the film, and the character, hanging on by a very thin thread.
Writer John Logan ("Gladiator," "The Last Samurai") does much better work here than he ever has, couching his story in the splendor and spectacle of 1930s Hollywood but keeping it grounded in deep-seated emotions. Composer Howard Shore provides a terrific tension through a score crackling with snappy castanets and plucked cellos. And Scorsese brings it all together with gorgeous, surreal cinematic quality that unpeels the intellect-wrapped instability of Hughes' mind like layers of an onion -- and yet he's able to bring Hughes and the film back out to reality at will.
"The Aviator" is a film in which actors, director, composer, cinematographer, editor -- and even the characters -- are at the top of their game, and the results are as sensational as anything Howard Hughes himself could ever have dreamed.