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Warner Home Video presents
The Aviator HD-DVD (2004)

"He owns Pan-Am. He owns Congress. He owns the Civil Aeronautics Board. But he does not own the sky."
- Howard Hughes (Leonard DiCaprio)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: November 05, 2007

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda
Other Stars: Danny Huston, Ian Holm, Jude Law, Gwen Stefani, Adam Scott, Matt Ross, Kelli Garner, Frances Conroy, Brent Spiner, Rufus Wainwright
Director: Martin Scorsese

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language, and a crash sequence
Run Time: 02h:49m:55s
Release Date: November 06, 2007
UPC: 085391186298
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The DVD Review and Extras Review are by Dan Heaton.

Howard Hughes is widely recognized as the eccentric billionaire who isolated himself from society for lengthy periods of his life. He also is remembered for attempting to build the gargantuan Hercules transport plane, widely known as the Spruce Goose. Often missed within this basic perception are Hughes' innovative contributions to the field of aviation. Battling an unknown affliction recognized today as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the brilliant businessman produced several classic films and bolstered flight technology into the modern era of international travel.

The Aviator energetically recreates the Golden Age of Hollywood during the '20s, '30s, and '40s in which Howard Hughes gained international success. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the young maverick and delivers a nuanced performance throughout the film's nearly three-hour running time. The story begins with Hughes struggling to complete his war epic, Hell's Angels, which became the most expensive cinema production to date upon its 1930 release. Although derided as an out-of-control disaster, the ambitious film eventually achieved success and remains impressive when viewed today. Hughes even took to the air himself and filmed the battles up close, which lead to one of this film's memorable sequences. This section also reveals a glimpse at Hughes' obsessive nature when he decides to redo Hell's Angels for sound after the release of The Jazz Singer. Only a few hints appear concerning his OCD, and the indications will only increase as time progresses.

Hughes' father gained considerable wealth through the invention of a unique drill bit for the production of oil, and his son often utilized this wealth in dangerous fashion. Hell's Angels was a major gamble, and the risks remained while Hughes focused on the aircraft. The burden of keeping the company's finances intact rested with Noah Dietrich (the always-capable John C. Reilly), who consistently warns the boss concerning his crazy ideas. The amazing truth was that many of his ideas worked brilliantly, including Hughes' shattering of the flight speed record. In response to this grand achievement, his "it'll go faster" quote reveals the arrogant drive to succeed that would eventually overwhelm him. DiCaprio plays this brashness perfectly and also manages to overcome the childish persona that might have held him back in the past.

Along with his success in movies and aviation, Howard Hughes also dated a plethora of famous and beautiful women. The two most significant in his younger life were Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), and both actresses shine. Blanchett (Elizabeth) once again displays her ability to transform herself into nearly any character type with her entirely believable depiction of the exuberant Hepburn. The bright red hair, freckles, and over-the-top charm are all present, but the most convincing moments involve the personal interaction with Hughes, who adores her. Gardner's relationship with Hughes was not as serious, but Beckinsale's scenes with DiCaprio are also effective. She helps to bring him back from the brink of madness with her calming demeanor, which differs considerably from Gardner's public persona.

Martin Scorsese has always thrived when he depicts brilliant, but flawed figures whose hubris eventually leads them into extreme difficulty. His work appears energized by Hughes' larger-than-life persona, which allows the director to utilize grand, sweeping shots that succeed much better than Scorsese's bloated work in Gangs of New York. Following a disastrous mistake in judgment caused by overconfidence, Hughes' OCD begins to grasp control over his psyche. The film's final hour includes an extremely difficult sequence that showcases Hughes' internal demons brought to the forefront. Scorsese deftly brings us into this tortured psyche, which makes these moments feel unique. DiCaprio also avoids making the performance into a caricature and brings sympathy to the character.

Along with the internal conflicts, The Aviator also presents Hughes' battles with Senator Ralph Owen Brewster, played exceptionally by Alan Alda. This conflict allows Hughes to compose himself for a fight against the corrupt government forces that would hijack the airline industry. Their conflict in the courtroom is one of the film's most powerful moments because Scorsese allows Alda and DiCaprio to act without overplaying the direction. Playing against type, Alda makes Brewster an understandable villain, especially considering our current government situation. This present-day relevance exists throughout the compelling story, which remains intriguing throughout its lengthy running time.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Scorsese uses the color palette in an ingenious way to show the passage of time, tying firmly into Hughes' passion for film making. The first part of the film, starting in the 1920s, is shot with orange and aqua colors dominant, in a passable imitation of the appearance of 1920s and early 30s two-strip Technicolor. But in 1935 (contemporary with Becky Sharp being released), the screen suddenly explodes into a full-blown three-strip Technicolor explosion of marvelous color. That technique is faithfully reproduced in the HD DVD, and one can't fault the first part for the orangish skin tones. That's obviously intentional.

There's very little grain visible, which makes one wonder if digital noise reduction was applied. If so, it was done sparingly because fine detail is still quite good. The dogfight sequences during the shooting of Hell's Angels have a nice 3-D effect. There are a couple of minor issues: a bit of edge enhancement is visible during the test flight of the aluminum plane, and some posterization is visible in the stylized skies during other test flights. These are fairly minor complaints, however, and on the whole this looks very nice indeed, with very good textures and plenty of fine and shadow detail.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The DD+ track has reasonably good directionality, and the sound of the flight sequences is often unsettling. The clarity of quieter moments is where the disc really shines: the quiet crackle of the fire during the dinner with Hepburn's family is amazingly realistic. Howard Shore's score has a lovely soaring feeling that corresponds to the themes of the film, and it has solid presence without being obtrusive. The period music sounds first-rate, with the Glenn Miller rendition of Moonlight Serenade having an audible clarity I've never heard on it before.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
3 Documentaries
10 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and producer Michael Mann
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
  2. Soundtrack spot
Extras Review: Only the trailer is presented in high definition.

Feature-length Commentary
Director Martin Scorsese, Editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and Producer Michael Mann describe varying aspects of the production during this interesting feature-length commentary. Recorded separately, the speakers do leave some silent breaks, which is not a major surprise giiven the lengthy running time. Scorsese speaks most frequently and offers plenty of compelling material with his typical enthusiasm.

Deleted Scene: Howard Tells Ava About His Car Accident
This two-minute scene includes a discussion between Howard Hughes and Ava Gardner about a $20,000 payoff to the family of a car accident victim. It's an interesting moment, but the lack of a commentary does not reveal the reason for its deletion.

Life Without Limits: The Making of the Aviator
This 11-minute promotional featurette contains cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and film clips. Most of the material is basic fluff, but it does provide a different perspective on the dedicated DiCaprio than his typical public image.

The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History
Beginning at the Aviation Hall of Fame, this 14-minute feature presents enthusiasts expressing their admiration for Hughes. Authors and the actors provide a quick overview of his interest in aviation and accomplishments. Although a bit short, this piece offers solid facts and works effectively.

Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes—A History Channel Documentary
Running 43 minutes, this extensive documentary focuses on the technological advances gained through Hughes' innovations. It moves well beyond the film's time period and conveys his contributions to satellites and other modern-day devices. Hughes Aircraft also designed the Surveyor, which played a key role in filming the moon's surface. This feature offers impressive background into Hughes' success and the failures caused by his disorder.

The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Consultant Dr. Jeffrey Schwarz offers a solid explanation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which went undiagnosed during Hughes' time. This 14-minute featurette also includes comments from OCD patients concerning their own personal difficulties.

OCD Panel Discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, and Howard Hughes Widow Terry Moore
This 15-minute conversation is dominated by Dr. Schwarz, who is an intense guy but obviously knows his stuff concerning OCD. The key is to discover a mindful awareness to override the messages caused by the disorder. The inclusion of Moore is an interesting one, but she injects only a few comments of the piece. The best aspect involves DiCaprio discussing how playing a guy with OCD affected his own state of mind.

An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda
This feature is easily one of the best on the disc, as it showcases two talented actors discussing their craft informally. This 28-minute presentation gives us an excellent perspective on how actors think and work. Both DiCaprio and Alda appear to be committed professionals who lack the huge egos of many figures in Hollywood.

The Visual Effects of The Aviator
Visual Effects Supervisor and Second Unit Director Robert Legano discusses his basic job duties during this 12-minute featurette. His comments provide great insight into the stunning recreation of the Hell's Angels footage. He also describes the combination of CGI, models, and other elements to generate the finished product.

Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Feretti
Production Designer Dante Feretti has worked with Martin Scorsese on most of his recent films, including Kundun and Gangs of New York. This six-minute featurette showcases his dedication to recreating old Hollywood and the considerable enjoyment that he derives from his profession.

Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell
This brief three-minute feature quickly covers the wardrobe variations generated by Sandy Powell, who definitely looks like a costume designer with her flashy dress and stylish, tinted glasses. Original drawings of specific outfits are intercut with the film clips.

The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator
Chief make-up artist Morag Ross and hair stylist Kathryn Blondell present their contribution to the picture in an eight-minute piece. They specifically discuss Gwen Stefani, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Beckinsale, and also present Max Factor's influence on the time period.

Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore
Composer Howard Shore presents his process of studying the time period and its music in this seven-minute featurette. For this film, he composed themes that related to Hughes' personality and status in the story.

The Wainwright Family—Loudon, Rufus, and Martha
This quick interview with Loudon Wainwright III covers the inclusion of him and his two grown-up children in this film. Each singer covers a different time period and injects a distinctive style into the performance.

Additional Extras
The remaining supplements include a 20-second soundtrack spot and an extensive still gallery. This collection of color photographs can also run as a slide show, with each picture staying on the screen for a short time.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

The Aviator earned 11 Oscar nominations and received honors from numerous critics as one of the year’s best films. While biopics can easily offer the typical conventional scenes, Scorsese and writer John Logan avoid nearly all of these pitfalls and deliver an original picture. Packaging with an impressive collection of extra features, this release deserves a high recommendation, and it comes across in spectacular beauty in this HD rendition.


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