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Beloved comedy gets disappointing 4K image – “Planes, Trains And Automobiles: 35th Anniversary”

Updated: Nov 21, 2022


Steve Martin as Neal Page, a well-dressed Chicago advertising man, and John Candy as Del Griffith, a traveling salesman. The odd couple is trying to get back to Chicago for Thanksgiving after their flight was rerouted to Kansas.

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4K Ultra HD & Digital; 1987; R for profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: “John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast”

FOR DECADES, many families have made it an annual ritual to watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” in-between watching football and eating turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. To celebrate its 35th anniversary, Paramount Home Entertainment will release the odd-couple comedy classic on 4K Ultra HD just before Turkey Day.

Actor-comedian Steve Martin signed on to play Neal Page, a well-dressed Chicago advertising man, after seeing Hughes’ coming-of-age tale “Sixteen Candles.” He knew the Chicago-based producer/writer/director had a real “comedy sense,” and the production would be something special because of the witty script, he says during one of the featurettes.

Comedian John Candy, a regular Hughes cast member (“Uncle Buck,” “Home Alone”) joined as Del Griffith, a traveling salesman, also from Chicago, who sells shower curtain rings. Del is layered in a blue parka, sweater and sports coat. He totes an oversized traveling chest as both men try to catch a taxi during rush hour in Manhattan. They both hope to connect to their evening flight back to Chicago. Fate brings them together, seated beside each other on the plane, but a snowstorm forces their flight to be rerouted 700 miles away to Wichita, Kansas.

(1) Neal stands in line to get a taxi outside a Manhattan building where he was trapped in an endless advertising meeting. (2-4) Kevin Bacon has a cameo role as a businessman who races Neal for a cab down an NYC street. (5&6) Neal stumbles over Del Griffith’s (John Candy) oversize travel chest and misses the taxi.

“There’s no way on earth we’re gonna get out of here tonight. We’d have more luck playing pick-up sticks with our butt cheeks then we will getting a flight before daybreak.” — Del Griffith

For the next two days they torment each other, suffering every transportation nightmare possible to make their Thanksgiving dinner.

First sharing a crappy one-bed motel room on the outskirts of Wichita, they are at each other’s throats. After a bumpy night, they find themselves accidentally cuddled together the next morning. Neal asks Del where his hand is, and he says, “It’s between some pillows,” to which Neal shrieks, “Those aren’t pillows.”

Another favorite scene is when Martin’s Neal delivers an onslaught of F-words – 19 in less than a minute, causing the R-rating – to the chatty rental car agent played by Edie McClurg, another Hughes' regular. Her Thanksgiving phone conversation “Gobble, gobble,” was completely improv.

The comedy timing between Martin and Candy is what keeps Hughes’ dialogue going. The two guys really know how to play comedy on film,” says Michael McKean, who plays the State Trooper. Another Hughes ensemble cast member is Kevin Bacon, who had just starred in “She’s Having a Baby,” races Neal down an NYC street trying to catch a taxi. Plus, Ben Stein of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” as an airline gate clerk, and Lyman Ward, who played Ferris’ dad, has a bit part during the opening advertising meeting.

(1&2) Neal and Del find themselves both at the same airport gate heading back to Chicago. (3) Neal calls his wife Susan (Laila Robins) and tells her his flight was delayed. (4) Finally airborne Neal and Del are trying to rest when their flight is rerouted 700 miles away to Wichita, Kansas. (5) Wichita gate clerk Ben Stein announces the flight to Chicago has been canceled. (6) Wichita cabbie Dobbie (Larry Hakin) takes the long way to the Braidwood Inn driving his 1968 Bonneville sedan.


The bonus Blu-ray includes 60-minutes of never-before-seen deleted and extended scenes in low VHS tape quality, recently discovered in Hughes’ archive. They’re bound to be a favorite for fans.

The first of the four carryover featurettes, originally included in the 25th-anniversary edition, is the 16-minute “Getting there is half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” It highlights the original Paramount press junket with Hughes and the two stars held at the studio just before the comedy hit theaters on Thanksgiving weekend in 1987.

Right out of the gate someone asks Hughes about the genesis of the film. He quickly responds, “This actually happened to me.” The story goes he left Chicago for a day trip to New York and planned to return that night. But he ended up in Wichita and didn’t get home until five days later. Martin interrupts, “Really? You never told me that.” Hughes responds, “Well, it just never came up.”

Both actors were drawn to the project by Hughes’ delightful script, written in only five days. “This kid is the fastest writer in the world,” Martin says. “I try to get it done quickly to see if I like the idea,” Hughes responds. He then goes through a number of drafts, 25 to 30, before the final script is locked in just before production begins. He admits his first draft happens super-fast. “No, I don’t sit there for 12 months … I write dialogue as fast as I can say it,” Martin pipes up. It took him over two years to write “Roxanne” (1987), his adaptation of the 1897 French play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” also starring Martin.

There’s a short tribute to Candy, who died seven years after the filming of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” “I think it’s an underappreciated performance,” McKean says. “He had capabilities that no one asked him to call upon except a very few times, and this was one of them.”

The best of the bunch is the nearly 60-minute featurette “John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast,” highlighting his career and life, shortened by a fatal heart attack in 2009 during a New York family trip to see his new grandson.

Hughes wasn’t allowed to go to movies while growing up in Chicago. He married his high school sweetheart, and adored his wife and children. “Yet, he had a kind of a mullet, so there was a desire to be, you know, of his time,” actor Matthew Broderick says. “He was a laugher, but no sound came out. It was very infectious.”

“He [John Hughes] had the ability to be incredibly heartwarming and side-splitting funny at the same time. And, that was his gift.” — producer Lauren Shuler Donner

The Braidwood Inn

(1-3) Neal and Del share a crappy one-bed motel room, where they are at each other’s throats.


We’re not sure what source was scanned in 4K, either the original 35mm camera (1.85:1 aspect ratio) negative or an interpositive print, but whatever it was, it’s not up to Paramount’s usual standards. At times Martin and Candy have waxy faces, a sign of some form of post-production noise reduction.

Hollywood hear this! That DNR filter should be outlawed. Natural film grain nearly disappears during several scenes, and the overall imagery from Hughes and cinematographer Donald Peterman (“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” “Flashdance”) is softened, possibly from a lens filter that flattened the image. Maybe it was intentional for the gloomy days of late November. Even so, the wide shots, which are normally full of clarity from the foreground to the background, are dull at times, while other scenes look much better.

The HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading is darker than the previous 1080p disc, which had its own inherent problems. Still, it provides natural facial toning and saturated colors when needed – seen, for example, in Del’s bright blue jacket. The overall HDR10 maximum bright light level peaks at 1000 nits and averages 337 nits. The enclosed HDR frame shots give a true impression of the 4K experience.


The previous six-channel DTS-HD Master soundtrack is carried over and does a respectable job with the dialogue front and center, and music cues from Hughes’ favorite composer Ira Newborn (“Weird Science,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”). Surround speakers deliver brief moments of excitement with jet noise sound effects.

Although a Thanksgiving favorite, and loaded with excellent bonus features, Paramount somehow managed to turn this 4K into a turkey.

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1&2) The next morning Neal and Del hitch a ride to the train station with Owen (Dylan Baker) and his wife (Luie Newcomb). “She don’t mind. She’s short and skinny, but she’s strong. Her first baby - come out sideways. She didn’t scream or nothin,” says Owen. (3) The train breaks down and Del picks up his chest. (4&5) Next, Neal and Del ride a bus and watch the kissing couple. (6) To make money to continue the trip to Chicago, Del sells his shower rings as earrings.


(1&2) The classic rental car agent (Edie McClurg) scene with 19-F words. (3-5) The rental car catches fire and the guys end up at a local motel where Neal ends up in the room and Del in the burned car. (6&7) Neal and Del are pulled over by a State Trooper (Michael McKean) (8-10) On Thanksgiving day Neal invites Del to his home.


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