Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Different Kind of Flying Altogether

More comparisons of scenes from Zero Hour and Airplane!

It's amazing how many of the jokes in Airplane! are so dependent on the original Zero Hour material. With some of the jokes, it almost seems like we'd need to see Zero Hour in order to get why they're funny -- and yet most of us, and millions more, saw and laughed at Airplane! without knowing what movie it was referring to.


Edward Hegstrom said...

When I was a kid, I'd read Mad Magazine parodies of movies I'd obviously never seen--Carnival Knowledge or The Ecchh-orcist--and many years later, when I'd finally see the real things, all these jokes would suddenly click in my brain.

John said...

By 1980 Universal had done so many sequels of Arthur Hiller's original Airport movie, that -- like the studio's Jaws sequels -- they had gone from high drama to camp comedy.

Combine that with the Irwin Allen disaster movies of the 1970s -- his killer bee movie had already flopped the previous year -- and audiences really didn't need to know the original "Zero Hour" material to be ready to laugh at a movie that satirized the burnt-out disaster movie genre.

Griff said...

AIRPORT, of course, was the work of author Arthur Hailey, adapted for the screen and directed by George Seaton. [Hailey was also the author of the teleplay that ZERO HOUR! is based upon, as well as one of the film's screenwriters.]

Incidentally, I believe that at least some of the dialogue in AIRPLANE!'s sub-plot involving the stricken child is verbatim from similar scenes in AIRPORT 1975. [The specific detail of the pending heart transplant is lifted from THE CONCORDE... AIRPORT '79, in which the heart is actually aboard the plane, in an hilariously labeled important looking box.] It still fascinates me -- and this is altogether representative of the ZAZ team's offhand, multi-layered approach to the picture's jokes -- that AIRPLANE! went to the supreme effort to cast Maureen McGovern (diva of the disaster movie theme song!) as a singing nun with guitar ala Helen Reddy in AIRPORT 1975... and then had Lorna Patterson as flight attendant Randy sing and play for the child. Nice reversal of expectation.

Chris said...

What's interesting to me is that in a lot of the cases where ZAZ used Zero Hour dialogue verbatim, the joke comes from either adding a new comical reaction to the original(e.g. the response to "a different kind of flying altogether"), or by taking an original line and turning it into a running gag with increasingly outrageous variations ("looks like I picked the wrong week to quit [fill in the blank]). So in some ways, Airplane is almost like an ancestor to "Mystery Science Theater 3000", only having the "riffing" actually being done by the actors on screen. But on the other hand, some of the biggest laughs in Airplane are simply the original lines, delivered in a comically melodramatic fashion that highlights their absurdity: (e.g. "The survival of everyone on board depends on just one thing: finding someone on board who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner.")