Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Danny Huston, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law
Some men dream the future. He built it.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Howard Hughes, who went from wealthy Texas heir — he inherited his father's tool company — to billionaire tycoon. The film follows his career through the late 1920s and into the 1940s, when Hughes directed and produced films and developed innovative airplanes, all while romancing Hollywood starlets.
$858.021 thousand on 40 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
Runtime: 170 min.
Release Date: 5/24/2005
• Audio Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese
• Additional Scene
• “A Life Without Limits: The Making of The Aviator” Featurette
• “The Role of Howard Hughes In Aviation History” Featurette
• “Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes” History Channel Documentary
• “The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” Featurette
• “OCD Panel Discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Howard Hughes’ Widow Terry Moore”
• “An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda”
• “The Visual Effects of The Aviator” Featurette
• “Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Feretti” Featurette
• “Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell” Featurette
• “The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator” Featurette
• “Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore” Featurette
• “The Wainwright Family - Loudon, Rufus and Martha” Featurette
• Soundtrack Spot
• Still Gallery
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The Aviator (2004)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 23, 2005)
With every passing year, it becomes more and more likely that Martin Scorsese won’t win an Oscar until they placate him with an honorary one. The 2005 ceremony looked like another good shot for Scorsese, as 2004’s The Aviator seemed primed to take home the trophy. A reasonably well-regarded epic, it presented his most prominent contender in quite some time.
Alas, another year, another loss to an actor turned director. First Robert Redford beat Scorsese in 1981, and then Kevin Costner topped him in 1991. In 2005, Clint Eastwood kept Scorsese from the winner’s circle.
Of course, other Scorsese films like Gangs of New York and Taxi Driver also lost in the Best Picture race, but they never seemed like they had as much of a shot. Raging Bull, GoodFellas and The Aviator all appeared like more viable candidates to win the Oscar.
Not that I think Aviator belongs in the same category as those other flicks. I rooted for it to win Best Picture simply out of a desire to see Scorsese finally take home a trophy. Out of the five Best Picture nominees for 2004, Sideways was unquestionably my pick as the one I wanted to win. However, barring that miracle, I hoped Scorsese would emerge victorious.
Perhaps I’d have been more bothered at his loss if I cared more for Aviator. A well-executed and generally interesting flick, it lacks a certain spark that’d make it memorable.
After a short prologue in which we see a young Howard Hughes (Jacob Davich) with his mother (Amy Sloan) as she cleans him and warns him about disease, the movie jumps ahead to 1927 and shows a 22-year-old Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he directs Hell’s Angels. He hires Noah Dietrich (John C. Reilly) as a second-in-command to run Hughes Tool.
Essentially this means Dietrich will handle financial interests while Hughes directs movies and pursues other interests like an airline. The film follows his single-minded pursuit of bigger and better, whether via the extremes he goes to in order to film his cinematic vision or the ideas he develops to make more impressive planes. He eventually buys TWA and tries to expand. These areas lead him to conflicts, most notably with Pan Am president Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) and Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda).
Hughes also goes through a number of romantic interests. We see his time with Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) and how those relationships affected him. All of this progresses through 1947 or so; we don’t get any glimpse of Hughes in his later, nuttier years.
Not that such a focus is necessary, for Aviator demonstrates the man Hughes would become. It doesn’t pound us with his psychological issues, and it doesn’t really try to tell us why Hughes behaved the way he did. Obviously his mother played a significant role, as hinted by the opening sequence, but that’s not the whole of it. Dime-store psychology isn’t worthwhile, so I’m glad the film doesn’t try to turn into some TV movie exploration of Hughes’ OCD.
That said, I think the film could use more depth. It usually stays in standard biopic territory and doesn’t do much to expand the genre. At no point does Scorsese threaten to innovate or redefine things ala Raging Bull, and the movie lacks the startling self-confidence of GoodFellas. It seems like the kind of movie you watch, you enjoy, and then you essentially forget, as the material fails to stick with you.
I can’t fault anyone involved, for the project seems resolutely well-made and professional. It just doesn’t present a certain panache or spirit that might make it more memorable. The movie always feels like it teeters on the verge of turning into something stronger but it never quite turns that corner.
Much has been made of the casting of DiCaprio, as many find the former teen idol to be too youthful to play Hughes. Those criticisms are only partially appropriate, as they seem to ignore the fact that Hughes was only 22 during the movie’s first glimpses of DiCaprio. Even though he looks young for his age, the 30-year-old DiCaprio is certainly old enough to play Hughes in his early-to-mid-twenties.
Grudgingly, I do have to agree that DiCaprio’s appearance provides some moderate distractions for the scenes in which he plays an older Hughes. However, I don’t think these ever become problematic. Yeah, he never remotely looks like a man in his forties, but he manages to involve himself in the role well enough to let us ignore those distractions.
DiCaprio handles the younger Hughes better, and not just because of the age factors. During the movie’s first half, we get a feel for the suave, charismatic Hughes, and DiCaprio pulls off those sides well. He shows us the growing psychological issues neatly too, but he does best with the more confident view of the man. I think he does fine with the older Hughes too, but I don’t see him as quite as convincing.
Scorsese surrounds DiCaprio with an absolutely top-notch cast who present virtually no problems. Blanchett’s take on Hepburn starts as a little cartoony and mannered, but eventually she brings real definition to the part. There’s warmth and humanity underneath the Hepburn mannerisms, and Blanchett delivers a solid turn.
Alda’s supporting role as Brewster also deserves attention. Most of us remember Alda best as the sarcastic but compassionate Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, but his work here depicts none of those qualities. He turns Brewster into a conniving, manipulative slimeball and does so in a wonderfully deft take.
Ultimately, all of this adds up to a “B+” movie. I find it hard to point out any true flaws in The Aviator, but outside of some performances, I can’t discover too many standout elements. After more than 30 years as a filmmaker, perhaps it’s surprising that Scorsese can still deliver at that high a level; he probably should have burned out by now. But I admit I expect more, so I see Aviator as a good movie that doesn’t reach its full potential.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-
The Aviator appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A few problems arose during the movie, though it usually stayed clear and effective.
My biggest concerns related to sharpness. While the majority of the flick came across as reasonably concise and distinctive, more than a smidgen of softness also appeared. Some shots were a bit ill-defined. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I noticed light edge enhancement through the film. Print flaws were totally absent, as I witnessed no specks, marks, or other defects.
Aviator went with an unusual and varying color scheme that depended on the era. It altered slightly with each era and often reflected the cinematic styles of the times. This meant a flatter, browner look in the Twenties and a lusher, richer tone for the Forties. The tones consistently looked appropriate within those restrictions. Blacks were dense and tight, and low-light shots demonstrated good opacity and definition. Except for the softness, this was a fine transfer.
Although it only provided occasional action sequences, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Aviator fared well. Given its emphasis on character drama, much of the movie stayed with a feeling of general ambience. The scenes might feature vague environmental bits but not much more.
However, that wasn’t the case with the more expansive sequences, as those came to life well. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the exciting auditory elements related to aviation. Whether the fights of Hell’s Angels or Hughes’ own flights - and crashes - the planes brought the mix up to snuff and created a vivid soundfield. Surround usage was better than average and allowed the planes to zoom around the room.
No issues with audio quality emerged. Speech was natural and concise, as the lines were consistently smooth and intelligible. Effects sounded lively and accurate. Their dynamic range was very good, with bright highs and deep lows. Music also showed good definition. The score sounded vibrant and replicated the recordings well. I didn’t think the audio had enough ambition to enter “A” territory, but it worked nicely and definitely merited a “B+”.
This two-disc edition of The Aviator includes a mess of supplements. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary with director Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and producer Michael Mann. All three were recorded separately for this edited piece.
Scorsese dominates the discussion. As with his chat for New York, New York, he doesn’t often stay with screen-specific material, as he goes off on related tangents. Scorsese talks about movie topics such as the film’s visual design and how it reflects various eras, casting and working with the actors, why he took on the project and adaptation issues, character facets and continuity, and dealing with the depictions of real people. Scorsese also gets into more about the historical Howard Hughes. He relates notes about Hughes’ life and career that help flesh out the movie.
Though Schoonmaker doesn’t speak as much as Scorsese, she chimes in frequently, especially as the movie progresses. She delves into many of the same topics as Scorsese, though from a different perspective, and she also relates some editing and pacing concerns. Mann gets into some of similar issues, but he speaks so infrequently that it doesn’t really matter.
Dead air occasionally mars the commentary, and I can’t say that it ever becomes truly involving. However, it covers the relevant subjects well and opens up our understanding of the movie and its subject. It works fairly well and merits a listen.
When we move to DVD Two, we start with a Deleted Scene. Entitled “Howard Tells Ava About His Car Accident”, this clip lasts 98 seconds. It extends the segment in which Gardner tells Hughes to stop trying to buy her with gifts. He tells her about a time he unintentionally hit and killed a pedestrian. It’s not a bad snippet, as it provides some insight into Hughes’ character.
For the first of many featurettes, we find A Life Without Limits: The Making of The Aviator. This 11-minute and 30-second piece presents shots from the set, movie clips, and comments from Scorsese, screenwriter John Logan, producer Graham King and actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Beckinsale, Cate Blanchett, Gwen Stefani, John C. Reilly, Alan Alda and Alec Baldwin. They discuss the project’s appeal and its development, research and approaches to characters, and Scorsese’s work. As expected, movie clips dominate the show and insights are rare. We hear lots of praise along with a smattering of decent information. Skip this promotional fluff.
Somewhat more substantial, The Role of Howard Hughes In Aviation History goes for 14 minutes, 35 seconds and includes remarks from DiCaprio, Logan, Ron Kaplan and Robert Hoover of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, aviation enthusiast Ralph Huddlestone, air racer Skip Holm, Hughes biographers George J. Marrett, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, The program discusses Hughes’ early interest in flight, shooting planes in Hell’s Angels, the focus of The Aviator and Hughes’ obsession with speed, Hughes’ innovations and set-backs, and his aviation-related career. “Role” moves pretty quickly, and we already know much of the information from the movie itself. That said, it packages a tight look at Hughes’ work and gives us a decent overview of this area of his life.
Definitely more substantial, we get a History Channel documentary called Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes. The 43-minute and 33-second show presents information from Steele, Marrett, Hughes biographer Pat Broeske, Hughes historian Robert J. McCaffery, aviation historian and writer Bill Schoneberger, Pima Air and Space Museum director Scott Marchand, former Hughes Electronics chairman and CEO Allen Puckett, Boeing Engineering fellow (ret.) Robert E. Head, and Hughes Electronics satellite inventor Dr. Harold Rosen. The program covers Hughes’ early interest in mechanics and flight, the development of innovative planes, Hughes’ work at TWA and additional aircraft advancements, creations during World War II and the “Hercules”, further progress after WWII in aircraft, electronics and other areas, and the impact of Hughes’ various personal problems over the years.
For a look at psychological issues, we head to the 14-minute and five-second The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. “Marvels” touches on this issue, but “Affliction” gets into it with more detail. We hear from DiCaprio, Barlett, Steele, UCLA physician Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, DiCaprio’s OCD consultant “Edward”, and OCD patients “Zong”, “Michael”, and “Jan”.
The program defines OCD and offers examples of how it manifests itself as well as attempts to tame the disorder. We also get notes about the film’s attempts to depict OCD accurately and reflections from OCD patients about how the disorder affects them. “Affliction” provides a pretty good little primer on the subject and offers a tight take on the issues.
More information on this topic comes from the OCD Panel Discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Howard Hughes’ Widow Terry Moore. It fills 14 minutes and 50 seconds. Led by UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute director Dr. Peter Whybrow, the December 2, 2004 chat also features Dr. Schwartz. DiCaprio discusses how he “became” an OCD sufferer as part of the film, and Scorsese gets into challenges related to continuity and cinematographic depictions of the OCD. Moore goes over her a little about her time with Hughes. Some of this repeats information heard elsewhere, but we get a fair amount of new material here. DiCaprio’s notes are particularly good, and Moore offers some neat moments, though she speaks too briefly to add much to the show.
We spend An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda - or at least 28 minutes and five seconds with them. Led by moderator David Schwartz, the actors chat about DiCaprio’s early interest in the project and his personal connections to the material, Alda’s casting, shooting the film, interacting on the set, working with Scorsese, approaches to characters, and research. We hear some of the same stories told elsewhere, but I like the emphasis on the performance side of things. Despite too much banal praise, “Evening” includes a nice examination of those processes.
After this we get six straight featurettes about some technical areas related to the film. First comes the 12-minute The Visual Effects of The Aviator. It includes remarks from visual effects supervisor/second unit director Robert Legato. He discusses his job and goes into specifics mostly related to the many aircraft-related effects shots. He covers miniatures and CG elements along with other techniques.
We find a lot of fun behind the scenes materials that give us a solid glimpse of how the participants executed the clips. I especially like the view of compositing all the various layers. Those moments help make this a quality program.
Constructing The Aviator: The Work of Dante Feretti runs five minutes, 55 seconds and presents notes from production designer Feretti, DiCaprio and producer Graham King. The show covers Feretti’s collaboration with Scorsese and the specifics of the sets and visuals of The Aviator. Feretti provides nice insight into his choices and fleshes out the movie’s visual details.
Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell takes three and a half minutes to feature comments from costume designer Powell along with DiCaprio, Beckinsale and Blanchett. The show gets into Powell’s processes, the clothes of The Aviator and all the details used to make them seem convincing. Despite the featurette’s brevity, it touches on the appropriate issues and works well.
The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator lasts eight minutes and three seconds. It gives us statements from chief makeup artist Morag Ross and department head hair stylist Kathryn Blondell. “Glamour” goes over the eras covered in The Aviator and all the fashion challenges the material presented, especially due to our familiarity with so many of the characters. This becomes another solid discussion of the topics. Ross’s investigations of how she turned the actresses into their real predecessors seem particularly good.
Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore goes for seven minutes and 10 seconds. We hear from composer Shore as he chats about his score, his general approach to movies, and what he wanted to convey with the music of The Aviator. Shore gives us a nice feel for his work and provides a tight look at the topic, especially since he delves into how he lets the material influence and inspire him.
Also concerned with music, The Wainwright Family - Loudon, Rufus and Martha fills five minutes and three seconds. Musician Loudon chats about his guest turn as the Cocoanut Grove bandleader as well as the singers played by his kids Rufus and Martha. He tells us about their research and approaches to their roles. I’d not realized that all these characters were played by Wainwrights, so this is an informative piece.
In addition to a Soundtrack Spot, we find a Still Gallery. It includes 179 shots, most of which show Scorsese as he works with the actors. We also get a few publicity images. The preponderance of pictures that show the director with the performers makes many of them look a lot alike, and they get tedious.
The Aviator falls into the “near miss” category. It certainly has more than a few positives, but it never quite coalesces into something special. The DVD offers good picture and audio plus a long, rich set of supplements. The Aviator at least merits a rental.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3389 Stars|| Number of Votes: 59|