March 9th, 2010

krazy koati

Have you seen the saucers?

Friday night Turner Classic Movies showed Airplane!, which is one of those movies that I haven't actually seen as often as I tend to think I have. It feels like I've seen it as much as I've seen The Wrath Of Khan, if you can imagine, although that's mostly because it achieves a greater reference-on-the-Internet density than Monty Python. (That it manages because Monty Python has many sketches people have completely forgot exist, sometimes justifiably.)

Immediately after they showed Zero Hour! which was the specific movie being most directly parodied. (The original movie was written by Arthur Hailey, whom you'll recall as the author of the novel adapted into Every Disaster Movie Of The 70s Ever.) So if you've seen Airplane! you've mostly seen Zero Hour! and the shocking thing is the rumors I heard were true. They really did follow the first movie's storyline so completely they even lifted dialogue and title punctuation wholesale.

And now I know Airplane! serves as counterexample to the occasional claims that a remake or reboot or sequel or whatnot can't actually affect one's appreciation for the original since the original is still there intact. The new version is able to alter the context in which one watches the original. Zero Hour! was a competent if unexceptional melodrama about a plane, food poisoning, emergency landing, passenger-become-pilot-with-issues etc etc; but now, I don't know that I could ever see it without cracking up at how the pilots regard little Timmy as a nice kid, or how people try to shake the panicky passenger back into her seat, or the air traffic control supervisor considering that he picked the wrong week to quit smoking.

Something I didn't realize about Airplane! was how hard it worked to match sets and even casting to Zero Hour!. The first glimpse of the air traffic control brought an involuntary laugh because the parody did get people who looked like those in the original to star. I think that speaks to how well Airplane! was made; that sort of extra little bit of work may not be inherently funny, but it show the kind of dedication to detail that's a piece of careful, attentive crafting.

Trivia: For the 1904 design for their Flyer II the Wright Brothers installed an improved engine from their 1903 aircraft: this engine would be capable of delivering 16 horsepower. Source: First Flight: The Wright Brothers And The Invention of The Airplane, T A Heppenheimer.

Currently Reading: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection (1985), Editor Gardner Dozois. Hey, what are the odds James Tiptree would feature a character named ``Coati''? Other than pretty good if you remember her other pseudonyms?