The Aviator was one of the more memorable DVD releases that I reviewed, back in the day, in terms of picture quality, and it’s nice to see that the Blu-ray upgrade is just as stunning, only stunning on an entirely new level. Coming to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray in 1080p High Definition in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 widescreen, the detail is exceptional, from the meticulously realised aerial sequences to the gala receptions, to the steadily increasing zoom on DiCaprio’s/Hughes’s increasingly strained face. Clarity remains throughout without any sign of edge enhancement or digital defects like aggressive DNR. There’s also a nice and suitably cinematic layer of grain that runs throughout the piece. Of course the colour scheme shifts according to setting – during the early era of bi-pack-styled filmwork, everything takes on a slightly pinkishy or teal-ish tinge, (with no proper greens whatsoever) but, don’t worry, this is utterly intentional; and later, when we get greens, they are extremely aggressive, the Technicolor elements almost in line with today’s colour scheme, but obviously intentionally slightly off. Black levels are strong and deep, allowing for excellent shadowing throughout. The US release has been out for 4 years, but always came with a stunning video presentation; this new UK release thankfully boasts exactly the same excellent rendition.
Now here is where things get slightly interesting. For as much as the US Blu-ray video transfer was spectacular even back in 2007 (and the 2011 UK version is just as good), the US audio on the 2007 Blu-ray release was far from spectacular – just a simple Dolby Digital 5.1 track in fact. This new UK release could have easily gone down the same route ( and I would have spent the next couple of paragraphs ranting about it) but thankfully has been – finally – upgraded to the full DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that this movie always deserved. It was well worth waiting for too, a powerful aural offering that sounds absolutely fantastic. Dialogue is presented clearly and coherently from across the frontal array, with myriad effects coming through across the surround channels – from the obvious louder noises (like the numerous aerial sequences – the rumbling engines and the thunderous crash sequences) to the quieter, more atmospheric moments. The score is moving and penetrating, sweeping you up in the proceedings and engulfing you in the epic scale of this voyage of a movie. Considerably superior to the good-but-not-great Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the US release, this DTS-HD Master Audio offering is easily reference quality, and one of the better tracks that I have come across this year.
Again, the US Blu-ray release back in 2007 – and even the preceding DVD release – came sporting a huge selection of extras, covering all the bases and comprehensive in the extreme. Thankfully all the important ones have been ported over here, so no complaints really.
First up there is a Feature Length Audio Commentary with Director, Martin Scorsese, Editor Thelma Schoonmaker and Producer Michael Mann. Although recorded separately, and not in conversation, it is still nice to hear not only from the master himself, but also from his partner in crime, Thelma (who worked on all of his films), and even get a bit of Michael Mann, another great director - behind Heat and, more recently Collateral - thrown into the mix. Scorsese contributes the most - talking twenty to the dozen - and at times needs to be paused in order for his comments to be digested. He is also slightly erratic in his discussion, jumping from idea to idea, but still providing a wealth of background into the production and, primarily, into the man himself. Schoonmaker and Mann aren't as prominent, and tend to talk more generally about the reception of the movie rather than its production - although they do occasionally offer some revelatory points about the on-screen action. Mann himself was originally slated to direct the movie, so it is great to have his input here on the track. It is an informative - and heavy-going - track that should be digested in segments but is well worth the time and effort.
There is a single Deleted Scene: Howard Tells Ava about His Car Accident. Running at ninety seconds in length it is merely an extension to an existing scene, although it does reveal an interesting piece of Hughes' history.
Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes – A History Channel Documentary runs at forty-three minutes in length and is slightly more gimmicky, with an irritating voice-over, but is extremely informative. It charts his life from birth to death, explaining his interest in building and modifying things even during his childhood, and his move into Hollywood and the aviation industry. We get even more classic footage here, including stills from his movies, shots of his memorable test flights and a brief glimpse at his Government investigation and his mammoth Spruce Goose flight. Although hearing the same story several times is getting a little tedious now, there are some interesting new facts to hear about here, but I would recommend not watching all the documentaries sequentially.
A Life Without Limits: The Making of The Aviator runs at eleven minutes and features contributions from all of the main cast members – DiCaprio, Beckinsale and Blanchett, along with the director, Martin Scorsese. It has a little too much film footage, but thankfully splices in a considerable amount of behind the scenes set footage and some nice historical stills. The crew members credit DiCaprio's embracing of the character, and all of his fellow cast members – including even Alec Baldwin – pop up to praise his acting skills. They then dissect all of the main characters in turn, talking about the intricacies of the different relationships in Hughes' life. We get a brief glimpse of Gwen Stefani in interview, along with a nice anecdote of how Scorsese came across her. Although ludicrously self-praising, it is a nice featurette and well worth your time.
The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History is a fourteen minute featurette focussing on the reality behind Hughes' contributions towards the aviation industry. We get real pilots commenting on how much is owed to Hughes' pioneering endeavours, along with a brief history of the development of his interest in, and love of, aviation. DiCaprio gives you a little background into Hughes' life - and there is a considerable amount of information that fills in the gaps in the movie. It is a nice documentary because you gain enough facts to be able to compare it to the story told in the movie, seeing that they stuck quite closely to the truth. There is also a little bit of old newsreel footage and interview footage with the real Howard Hughes, which is a tremendous gem to come across.
The Affliction of Howard Hughes – An Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a fourteen minute featurette that takes a much more detailed look at Hughes OCD problems, something only briefly touched upon in the previous material. DiCaprio pops up again to talk about the great man and his damaging disorder. Medical experts contribute some interesting background information into OCD and DiCaprio explains how he spent some time with a real obsessive-compulsive to learn about it – and there is even some poignant interview footage with several sufferers. Apparently one in fifty people have this disorder, to varying degrees. This is a fascinating documentary that is possibly the most interesting and important feature on this extras disc.
Constructing the Aviator: The Work of Dante Ferretti is a short, five minute featurette that looks at the production designer, Dante Ferretti, and his work on the film. It features some nice behind the scenes footage, production stills and concept art, and plenty of interview footage with the crew. Ferretti talks about how he has worked with Scorsese on six of his movies and what he had to do to bring The Aviator to life. The fact that they built a full-size 'Spruce Goose' is amazing, and some of the in-depth exploration of the sets highlights the sheer level of detail that the movie maintains.
Costuming The Aviator: The Work of Sandy Powell is another brief featurette, running at a mere three minute, and quickly looking at the costumes designed, featuring interviews with the Costume Designer Sandy Powell, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale and yet more DiCaprio, along with concept art for the designs, all illustrated by the relevant footage from the movie.
The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of The Aviator takes an eight minute look at the hairstyle and makeup on he movie, but comes across as an extended TV ad for Max Factor. They justify this by tracing the history of Max Factor, who used many of the real stars in this movie to advertise the makeup.
Scoring The Aviator: The Work of Howard Shore is a seven minute featurette showcasing the score and featuring interviews with the composer, along with behind the scenes footage of the orchestra in action. Shore talks about how he researched the style of the scores from movies of the relevant era and how he used this basic concept as the foundation for his score to The Aviator. We hear how he got together with Scorsese to discuss the score whilst watching the movie, and his contributions to key aspects of the film's storytelling. It is a tremendous score that is easily worth making a featurette about.
The Wainwright Family – Loudon, Rufus and Martha is a five minute look at the Wainwrights, who did one of the band performances in the movie. I don't know whether they are quite worthy of a featurette unto their own, but it is quite interesting to hear about the different eras that each generation of singer came from and how they brought it all together to create the right effect.
OCD Panel Discussionis with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Howard Hughes' widow, Terry Moore. This runs at fifteen minutes in length and was recorded live last Christmas. Because it is live, the sound is occasionally distorted and poor, but it is still interesting to hear the discussion of the subject, which features several interesting revelations about Hughes' life and his illness. More importantly it posits the real method acting ideology, talking about how the brain of an actor can actually start behaving like the brain of the obsessive-compulsive he is portraying if they try hard enough. DiCaprio regales – often amusingly – some anecdotes about his strange behaviour on set and how, if he let it, it could easily take over him. Scorsese talks about the specific shots he did to capture the disorder and his widow contributes a little towards the end about her experiences of his problems. This is a very revealing discussion that is well worth your time.
Beautifully directed – with grand plane scenes handled as adeptly as intimate character portrayals – and with some magnificent performances from a fabulous cast, I simply cannot recommend The Aviator enough. Yet another magnificent Scorsese movie, the first of a trilogy of Scorsese-DiCaprio director/lead actor collaborations, it features an astounding performance from the young DiCaprio – the first of many – and one which makes him stand out even amidst an amazing supporting cast. It is a respectful testament to the real Howard Hughes, handled adroitly, shot breathtakingly and superbly realised.
On Region B-locked UK Blu-ray the technical specifications reflect the splendour of the material – with reference picture quality and a benchmark audio track – and there is little more you would need to know about the production that is not covered in the comprehensive extra features. Both this movie and this release come strongly recommended (it would make a great companion piece to Daniel Day-Lewis’s There Will Be Blood, or sat amidst the other lead performances DiCaprio did with Scorsese).
A must-have for fans, who may have already purchased the almost-identical US release, but may, if Region B-capable, still be tempted to pick this up because of this considerably improved UK release (I believe the delay was because the US distribution rights were through Warner, where the UK rights were tied up with Miramax, who have only just got around to releasing some of their back-catalogue through the help of Studio Canal). And if you haven’t seen this movie, then it comes as a recommended blind-buy.
This is a tremendous film.
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