The Aviator


The Aviator

Written By John Logan

Directed by Martin Scorsese



Theatrical: Forward Pass & Appian Way

Video: Warner Home Video


Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: VC-1

Disc Size: 29.47 GB

Feature Size: 22.64 GB

Bit Rate: 14.90 Mbps

Runtime: 170 minutes

Chapters: 33

Region: All


English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 2.0


English, French, Portuguese & Spanish


• Commentary by Martin Scorsese

• Making The Aviator

  1. Production: Visual Effects, Production, Construction, Costuming & Scoring

• Howard Hughes in Aviation History

• Modern Marvels:  Howard Hughes on the History Channel

• The Affliction of Howard Hughes: OCD

• An Evening with DiCaprio & Alan Alda

• Additional Scene

• Theatrical Trailer in HD

Amaray Blu-ray case: 1 disc

Release Date: November 6, 2007


I should start by admitting to an affection for this film - this despite an idiosyncratic color scheme and what I feel is an unnecessary prologue.

The Aviator was, in my opinion, Martin Scorsese's first decent film since The Age of Innocence (not counting Kundun, which didn't get much distribution.)  Scorsese, as you probably know, had never won an Oscar, not for Best Film nor for Directing.  I think the Academy was primed for Gangs of New York, but the film was such a mess, not even good intentions could redeem it.  You may recall that it was Million Dollar Baby that took home the big one in the year of The Aviator.  Scorsese finally received his due only last year for The Departed, a movie I felt was not nearly as good as The Aviator in any respect.


The Aviator is scaled like a blockbuster, but with intelligence and sympathy.  It has a couple of terrific performances; it is relentlessly entertaining; and is full of awesome production values.  Million Dollar Baby, by comparison, is more intimate, more artful – to a fault, perhaps.  Its cast is more consistently integrated; everyone clearly in the same movie.  

I also was pulling for DiCaprio over Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles impersonation.  DiCaprio's performance was the more challenging.  Yes, we saw Ray Charles before our very eyes, so to speak, in Jamie Foxx; but compared to Leonardo, Jamie didn't have as far to reach for his part.  DiCaprio had not yet done anything to fulfill the promise of his amazing work in What's Eating Gilbert Grape and This Boy's Life from 1993, so I was grateful for all concerned that he was finally given something to test his manhood.  His portrayal of the driven and haunted genius that was Howard Hughes, decompensating before our very eyes, was chilling.  This role excepted, I still find casting DiCaprio something of a challenge.  He really is odd looking, difficult for the common man to identify with (as opposed to Foxx), though I think he'd make a convincing serial killer.  Perhaps his portrayal of Hughes worked as well as it did because Hughes himself was so uncommon.


Cate Blanchett's eerily familiar Kathryn Hepburn was at once engaging and unsettling, partly because there was nothing else in a movie filled with ersatz celebrities that was so literally lifelike.  This, along with its odd color scheme - I thought then, and still do - is the movie's only weakness.  Perhaps I would have been less critical if Cate weren’t so Kate – raising an impossible bar for her so-stars.  When I was able to put aside any physical or vocal relationship to Ava Gardner, Jean Harlow, Errol Flynn or Faith Domergue by Kate Beckinsale, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law or Kelli Garner, I could get into their function, if not their channel.  That said, Beckinsale was pretty damn good, Jude Law was pretty damn awful.

The surprising thing about this movie is its portrayal of Howard Hughes, a brilliant and driven man afflicted with a devastating mental illness.  The film's prologue, showing the boy Howard being introduced to his germ phobia - which I believe oversimplifies the origins of the disorder – does not prepare us for the subtle and invasive ways that an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can cripple a person.  This is not to say that this form of the condition is what Hughes had, but that Scorsese and DiCaprio suggest a truth about it that Ron Howard and Russell Crowe did not begin to approximate in A Beautiful Mind.


The Aviator ~ The Score Card

The Movie : 9

The elusive, reclusive Howard Hughes that we think of today was once much more directly in the public eye as the ace aviator of his time.  He more or less designed the planes that broke world speed records with himself at the controls.  He had enormous wealth coupled with an equally king size ambition with which he bought airlines and invested in a motion picture studio.  The Hughes we see in this movie has uncomfortable signs of OCD almost from the start of his career.  It amazes me that such a man could have so compartmentalized his illness to permit any intimacy with a woman but, we are told, so he did.  His forays into Hollywood led him into close quarters with the most beautiful women and men of his day.  We meet two of them in The Aviator: Kathryn Hepburn and Ava Gardner.  His attempts to direct the future of aviation led him to the corridors of Congress.  Howard Hughes was the quintessential American genius – make that American Genius – who could have stood, perhaps uncomfortably – next to the likes of Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin.  DiCaprio, his uncommon looks notwithstanding, is brilliant as such a man, and no less so as such a man tormented by demons most of us will never have to face even secondhand other than in the one hundred and seventy minutes of this movie.


Image : 9/9

This is as good a place as any to talk about how color is used in this movie. For most of the first third of the film Scorsese bathes his movie in what seems to me to be arbitrary fragments of garish light cyan blue highlights.  I gather that Scorsese was trying to suggest the two-color scheme of early 1930s cinema.  And perhaps he nails it pretty well.  Scorsese does not use this color scheme in the film's prologue, whose events precede its first act by some twenty years. So much for consistency, not that consistency has to be a guiding principle.  Perhaps if the movie had no prologue, the effect might not have been so jarring.

The decision to go with this effect, in any case, seems capricious to me. I feel it hinders rather than compels connection to the drama, which is otherwise told in Scorsese’s usual urgent manner. Scorsese's color style may indeed capture the period from a cinema history point of view, but The Aviator is unlike any other film from the 1930s.  In any case, it didn't work for me.  The good news is that Blu-ray has both aspects of color in far better control than the SD, if for no other reason that high definition resolves so many more hues that the color scheme appears deliberate rather than a mistake, even if it seems arbitrary to my eye.  In the immortal words of Old Lodge Skins: "Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn't."

Aside from this, the image quality is neat and clean as clean can be (Mr. Hughes would have been pleased.) It's at least as good as the memory of my theatrical experience on first run (where I was also put off by the aforementioned color.)  Sharpness and resolution reveals details like fabric texture, metallic surfaces, and airplane cockpit accouterments beautifully.


Audio & Music : 6/8

In a character-driven film such as this, it is most important that the dialogue be clear, especially in that the protagonist, being the secretive person that he is, does not always want to be heard clearly.  There are also some very nice aeronautic noises to support the visuals. These are the audio mix’s strong suit - or would be if Warner had been on board with one of the high definition “uncompressed” audio formats.  Alas, this is not the case.  And while the audio is not poor, it is not nearly as nuanced nor as dynamic as it could and should be.


Operations : 7

I continue to appreciate Warner Home Video's avoidance of pre-feature ads so that we can get directly we get right to the business at hand.  To say that the menu design is Spartan is an understatement. Lots of chapter stops though, as is typical with Warner Blu-rays, the slightly expanding thumbnails are not titled.  There are so many extra features the full 16x9 screen is filled to bursting.


Extras : 8

In addition to the director's commentary, for which he is joined by his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker and producer Michael Mann, there are a host of short and less short (4~42 minutes) docufeatures that look at various aspects of production, the historical Hughes, and at obsessive compulsive disorder.  The only bad news is that none of the extra features are displayed in igh definition.


Recommendation: 7

Highly recommended for feature content, improved image and supplementary features on the film and its historical title character.  The low bit rate and lack of an uncompressed audio track is remiss, but this edition will have to do until that wrong is righted.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

November 9, 2007

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