Sunday, October 12, 2008

Movies Spoofed In Airplane!

I've noticed that the modern Airplane!-style movies are pretty much non-stop references to other (often far, far better and even funnier) movies. But Airplane!, while it did reference other movies, didn't rely on other movies.

The Boy hadn't seen it, so we watched it and I wrote down the movie references and compared with IMDB.

Airport, of course, provides the framework. Airport '75 specifically.

Zero Hour! for the plot and love story as well as dialogue between Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty. The brilliance of using Zero Hour! was that it was an obscure 20-year-old movie that people really weren't all that familiar with. Also, the exclamation point!

Jaws for the opening.

Saturday Night Fever's dance scene.

Since You Went Away, though, like Zero Hour! the reference is so generic (a soldier leaving on his train with his girl running alongside) I'm sure few people in the audience made the connection.

From Here To Eternity for the beach makeout scene.

Folgers (?) coffee commercials.

Pinocchio, sort of, when Leslie Nielsen lies to the passengers. Less the movie than the concept of one's nose growing.

"60 minutes" Point/Counterpoint, of course.

Knute Rockne: Win one for the Zipper.

Just doing a quick count on the IMDB "movie connections" page, I see 33 references and spoofs for Airplane! and a whopping 55 for the unbearable Epic Movie. Airplane!'s references include unlikely allegations such as Peter Graves' dialogue with Joey matching Alan Ladd and Brandon De Wilde's in Shane, and "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" which consists of one line where Johnny says "Like Mr. Rogers?" Silver Streak and "The Big Valley" are also listed, but I don't see the connection. Most of the rest are airplane-disaster related movies, and I'm doubtful that they're all true.

Allowing for a similar share of crap in the Epic Movie entry, from what I've been able to watch of it, Epic Movie is basically a series of bits where the characters move from one movie to another and there's nothing really holding the whole thing together. In the first ten minutes, you get The Da Vinci Code, Nacho Libre, Snakes on a Plane and the X-Men, to introduce the four characters, withthem all coming together in a Willy Wonka movie. One of the characters is even killed in the Wonka scene, but it doesn't take.

Airplane! allows Zero Hour! to hold its story together and uses a whole bunch of original, non-referential sight gags, especially puns (the turkey in the range) and literalizations (the fecal matter and the ventilation device) and of course the running gags ("What is it?", "I'm not kidding", "I picked the wrong week...").

I don't think it's coincidental that Airplane! has never been surpassed (except arguably for a few episodes of the "Police Squad" show) in the genre it created, not even by the guys who created it. Part of it, especially at the time, was that it was completely unexpected. Even the subsequent Top Secret!--which in some ways I prefer to Airplane!--had to deal with the fact that the genre wasn't new any more.

David Zucker is probably the most successful at doing the same style comedies. I actually didn't like the first Scary Movies, but found myself laughing at the (largely Wayon-free) third, which I attribute to Zucker taking over the reins. And I may be the only one who liked BASEketball but it had an entirely different feel from the others in the genre.

Jerry Zucker found considerable success with his blockbuster Ghost, which wasn't intentionally funny at all, and his Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World-remake Rat Race! did all right, too.

Jim Abrahams did the amusing Ruthless People, and the touching First Do No Harm--actually, he's done a lot to make people aware of the ketogenic diet. His last foray into Airplane!-style comedy was the odd Jane Austen's Mafia! He also did the rather successful Hot Shots! movies.

It would be interesting to have the three get back together--I note that David Zucker brought Abrahams in on the Scary Movie 4 screenplay--but I wonder if, 30 years later, they're even the same people who made those original wacky flicks.

Meanwhile, Friedberg and Selzer, who've been making the "[blank] Movie" movies have been squandering the capital of the entire genre, making increasingly unsuccessful and unfunny movies.

It's probably time for a whole new genre.

UPDATE: One thing I left out in my appreciation of Airplane! is Elmer Bernstein's score. Like the rest of the movie, it's played pretty straight, which works better than a lot of goofy Mickey Mouse-ing around would have.


  1. ...uses a whole bunch of original, non-referential sight gags, especially puns...

    Surely you must remember the interrupted phone call from Rochester's famed hospital: "Give me Hamm on five and hold the Mayo."

    I know. Stop calling you Shirley.

  2. The Boy was impressed by how much attention you had to pay to spot all the jokes.

    And there are things you forget, like the guy at the Mayo clinic sitting at a desk with enormous jars of mayonnaise lining the walls behind him.

    But everyone but Johnny playing everything straight, seemingly oblivious to the insanity of the world around them, is what makes it work. There's way too much mugging in the recent entries to the genre.

  3. The Big Valley reference is to Barabara Stanwick and her failed TV "Pilot" until she hit it big with the 1965 TV show... Big Valley. Which led to Johnny's reference "Nick Heath Jerrod, there's a fire in the Barn"


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