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    Apr 2002

    A DVD REVIEW: THE AVIATOR (Warner Brothers/Miramax)

    I went into this with much skepticism for two personally monumental reasons: I am a diehard Scorsese enthusiast, owning all of his work on Digital Versatile Disc, and yet thought (I know Im am going to catch a load of slack and flaming for this, but what can you do? Im a critic and its to be expected) Gangs of New York was his worst picture, which already left a bad taste in my mouth for this film considering the fact that DiCaprio returned in one of Marty's films, and the fact that I had always been absolutely fascinated with the Howard Hughes story --- but from a different perspective on his life, which was when he came into Las Vegas, took over the town pretty much with a buying spree of hotels, and then became a bandaged weirdo, locking himself in seclusion (hinted at in this film) allowing only his select mormon bodyguards to see him.

    And so going into Scorsese's The Aviator, I had some issues already cooking in my head which may have slanted my views on the picture a bit; in the end, it wasnt as bad as I thought it would be, but to me, and this is ONLY a PERSONAL opinion about the man and his work in cinema up to this point, Scorsese simply does better when he concentrates on mafia-related incidents which happened in the New York area (or, of course, in Las Vegas as chronicled in Casino); sure, there is no denying he has cranked out masterpieces like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, but it just seems like at the end of the day, The Aviator fell into the category, for me, that Gangs of New York did --- that this wasnt one of the better efforts of the brilliant director. Again, though, that could be because my thoughts were already somewhat skewed going into the picture with visions of Hughes and his Las Vegas legacy (which is not covered in this telling of his life).

    But, in the plus column, I must say that it is my opinion that Leo DiCaprio turns in one of his better performances in his meager career here; light years beyond what we had to endure in Titanic and even better than the somewhat getting-there role in Gangs of New York. His facial gestures, actions and performances as the young billionaire Howard Hughes are pretty much spot-on, according to written and online sources I researched regarding the man and his obsessive-compulsive behavior and such. I was actually INTERESTED in watching DiCaprio in this film --- something I cannot say for any of his other works, no matter how wet he gets the girls' panties when he's up onscreen (which has always been a head scratcher for me anyway).

    Scorsese, instead of tapping into the later years and his involvement in Las Vegas and how he supposedly "cleaned up" the town from the midwest mafia, has painted a portrait of the younger Howard Hughes here, a man who was fascinated by aviation first and foremost from a young age. We chronicle his younger years through DiCaprio, who plays the role quite well, displaying Hughes' downright obsession with getting things right and perfect in terms of running his own aviation/airplane manufacturing company, being a movie producer, and romancing a couple of gorgeous women inbetween, one of which is the absolutely beautiful and boner inducing Kate Beckinsale. As the film progresses, we see the different transitions Hughes went through during this younger period of his life, and Scorsese pretty much got this spot on, especially toward the end where DiCaprio is sporting a mustache like Hughes did and making the actor seem incredibly believable for these portions of the film.

    And so we are brought into Hughes' life via Scorsese and DiCaprio (who apparently, like DeNiro and Pesci, seem to enjoy working together now), as the film begins with him (Hughes) as a young boy being bathed by his mother standing up (an odd scene) and then witnessing a transgression into a young Hughes and his multi-million-dollar operations which include being a movie producer and the owner of an aviation company. This is an aspect of the film which I didnt give Scorsese too much credit for because it seemed a bit "rushed" to me in retorospect; before we know it, we are beaten over the head with images of Hughes (DiCaprio) and him suddenly owning planes and doing movies, and then later becoming the owner of Trans World Airlines (TWA) (which becomes a major subplot regarding relations with Alec Baldwin, who plays the president of Pan American Airways in the film); it all seems to happen too fast (and this is a typical long-running Scorsese film, at short of three hours).

    The film progresses to chronicle the completion of Hughes' first major motion picture, a silent picture about aviation and planes, and then transcends into showing just how obsessed this young mogul was with the world of aviation --- and in many ways Scorsese handles this quite brilliantly, with quick close up shots of DiCaprio and his reactions to what is going on around him as he slowly desceneds into a world of paranoia and obsessive compulsiveness, constantly washing his hands to the point they bleed (much like the up close/pull back hectic technique he used in GoodFellas); the cinematography is also very brilliantly handled in the scenes where DiCaprio is flying a plane in one of the movies his character Hughes is shooting, as we really feel as if we're up there in these old planes with these guys as they dive, shoot and zoom all about the screen; expertly done in my opinion.

    I am not going to give away too much more about the picture for those of you who have not had a chance to rent it yet, as I did last night, except to say this is a story, in a nutshell, of a young aviation mogul-turned-obsessive compulsive victim of which there is MUCH MORE to the Howard Hughes story after this part of his life which Scorsese didnt tap into intentionally; DiCaprio is in one of the better roles of his "career" and this is STILL not one of Marty Scorsese's better films, no matter how hard he tries to stray from the real-life-crime genre which he has such a master handle on (of course, no doubt, due to assistance by author Nicholas Pileggi, writer of the Wiseguy and Casino novels). The film is also peppered with top tier stars and solid performances by the likes of the aforementioned Alec Baldwin and deliciousy sexy Kate Beckinsale, Cate Blanchett, John C Reilly, Alan Alda and Jude Law.

    But to get an idea of Hughes' influence in Las Vegas during his later years of his life, and what kind of fascinating tale that is, try to get your hands on a copy of the absolutely fascinating two hour A&E documentary Vegas and the Mob (available on A&, which dedicates a whole portion to Hughes and his Vegas involvement; this was a documentary I gave Universal A LOT of **** for in their decision to leave it off of their recent Casino: Anniversary Edition.

    Warner Brothers, in a very odd marriage with Miramax for this production, has made Martin Scorsese's The Aviator available in a two-disc widescreen DVD set, boldy proclaiming on the front of the box "5 ACADEMY AWARD WINNER"; what I say is this: thank God we get no Warner snapper case here due to the two-disc packaging scheme.


    With slight letterboxing to the top and bottom of the image, this was a very clean, to my eyes, widescreen transfer from the WB, something I didnt find in the last disc I viewed from them, Constantine----while that title was not BAD to look at by any means, it just didnt look as rich and lively, color wise for one, as the transfer for this film. And, there SEEMED to be a very, very slight layer of grain running in the background of most of the scenes in Constantine, which I didnt detect at all on this transfer (this may be have been intentional in the case of Constantine; lets not argue that title any further, shall we?). This widescreen image is clean, crisp and full of lively color, evidenced when we see a closeup of DiCaprio's strikingly green eyes which seem to jump off the screen. Overall, nothing to complain about in the video department, unless someone finds/found something else.


    Ahhh, another standard fare Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for yet another Warner Brothers DVD release; this is becoming tiring to review! The mix remains mostly up front, and I didnt detect much going on the rears, save for when the mix heats up towards the end for some action sequences (typical Dolby Digital soundtrack behavior). Sure, there are the occasional fly-overs by planes and the loud snapping of old-fashioned bulb camera sounds that make their way loudly into the surrounds during certain rare moments, but for the most part, this is a front-focused affair which brings a rich, deep soundscape to the front stage of your home theater, although needing just a bit more amplifier power than you're used to (yet ANOTHER Warner Brothers audio scheme characteristic that I continue taking notice of on their Dolby Digital-encoded products). Dialogue was clean, although I did notice, during some rare, quick scenes such as when Alan Alda is yelling at DiCaprio toward the end at a hearing session, a bit of distortion in the center channel track if the volume was up too high to compensate for dialogue intelligibility. But bringing back the master volume on the processor (well, receiver in my case) a notch or two reduced this distortion in the vocals just a bit to make it easier to listen to.

    On the whole, this isnt a loud track --- most of it is dialouge driven, befitting the kind of picture it is, but it's not a track that is going to fill your room with non stop bombardment of audio; in its defense though, there are good moments of creating environment on this DVD which I believe is what the engineers were going for. In terms of .1 LFE usage, there wasnt that much to speak of; in fact, this is not a bass heavy mix at all.

    One demo scene I wanted to mention, though, which was absolutely bordering on breathtaking for a Dolby Digital audio scheme came went DiCaprio's Hughes character crashes in a plane he was experimenting with right into some houses in Beverly Hills --- the audio during this scene is downright explosive and rich, free of distortion even if your system is turned up pretty high --- and thats what made it so impressive. The effect comes mainly from the front, as DiCaprio's plane hits the trees and the wings clip some houses and people in the neighborhood scream --- but the resulting fireballs and explosions crash right into the entire 5.1 soundstage around you as his plane goes down, and it is QUITE impressive. Probably the best scene in the film, audio-wise, as we can even hear the licks of fire from the crash around us.

    While DISC 1 featured the film in the widescren presentation, along with AUDIO COMMENTARY BY SCORSESE, DISC 2 contained the SPECIAL FEATURES, which included:

    -Additional Scene
    -Get into the Cockpit with Fabulous Documentaries on Howard Hughes and the Filmmakers at Work:
    Making The Aviator
    The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History
    Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes, a History Channel Documentary
    The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
    The Visual Effects of The Aviator
    Constructing The Aviator
    Costuming and and Scoring The Aviator
    The Aviator and the Age of Glamour
    An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda

    Personally, this will not be a purchase for my collection, as it just did not wow me or impress me as much as typical mob-oriented Scorsese fare and I KNOW it was not supposed to; I just rank this up there with his Gangs of New York as far as a title I wouldnt want to personally own; you may have already found, or will find, the opposite. Happy viewing, friends!
    Last edited by Lexmark3200; 08-07-2005 at 10:19 AM.

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