The granddaddy of all disaster in the air epics remains, George Seaton’s Airport (1970) – although personally I have never understood why the film wasn’t titled ‘Airplane’, since the perils faced by passengers aboard a Boeing 707 occur in the skies, not on the ground. Airport is an all-star extravaganza that really owes its heritage to all those glamorous melodramas of the 1930s, like Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner At Eight (1933) than the ensemble disaster classics it so obviously, at least in retrospect, ushered in; The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974). Airport has more than a hint of frothiness for operatic melodrama best exemplified in films like MGM’s The VIP’s (1963) and The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964). Arguably, it is also a direct descendant of the John Wayne classic, The High and the Mighty (1954); the ‘original’ tale of looming ‘in-flight’ catastrophe. Airport is very loosely based on Arthur Hailey’s novel, heavily rewritten for the screen by Seaton and an unaccredited Henry Hathaway. The plot is pure, and occasionally magnificent, pulp, mostly focusing on a disgruntled and mentally unstable demolitions expert, D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin in his last screen role) who has decided to spare his wife, Inez (Maureen Stapleton) the indignation of living their sad, lonely and impoverished existence any longer. To this end, Guerrero takes out a life insurance policy, then plots to kill himself so that Inez can collect. The wrinkle, of course, is that the company will not pay for a suicide. The only way for Inez to get her money’s worth is if the death looks like a terrible accident.
So, Guerrero devises a ridiculous scenario. He’ll use his last bit of savings to buy a ticket on The Golden Argosy – an intercontinental jet currently snowbound in Chicago, but scheduled for a flight to Rome. Once the plane is airborne over the Atlantic, Guerrero will detonate the homemade bomb he’s smuggled aboard in his suitcase, thereby blowing up the plane and everyone in it, with no chance of a proper investigation to reveal the true cause of the disaster. Of course, subplots abound. For starters, there is the very adversarial relationship between arrogant pilot, Capt. Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin) who is trying to depose his brother-in-law, Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) as the general manager of Trans-Global Airways. Demerest is married to Mel’s sister, Sarah (Barbara Hale) but is also having a torrid romance with flight attendant, Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset) who has since become pregnant. Already decided to have her baby and then put it up for adoption, Gwen will spend the bulk of the narrative contemplating any future in their flawed relationship.
Meanwhile, Bakersfeld is under a heap of stress for what has been largely misperceived by Commissioner Ackerman (Larry Gates) as a mismanagement of the airport’s resources. Actually, Bakersfeld has sacrificed everything, including his marriage to Cindy (Dana Wynter), to be a hands on, 24/7 level-headed voice of experience for the ailing airline. Currently his woes are focused on Flight 45, a Boeing 707 run aground during a violent snowstorm. The beached plane requires immediate attention to clear it off the runway. Bakersfeld telephones his maintenance expert, Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) who was all set for a romantic evening with his wife, Marie (Jodean Russo) but willingly agrees to rush in to handle this latest debacle. On the home front, Bakersfeld has been having his own on again/off again affair with Trans-Global’s Customer Relations Manager, Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg). She is mostly sympathetic to Bakersfeld’s marital situation, but has practically decided to take another job in San Francisco because she has wisely assessed their love affair is at a standstill.
Finally, there’s Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes); a pensioned widow and loveably resourceful con artist, caught stowing away on another Trans-Global flight. The wily old lady freely admits to Bakersfeld and Livingston in her own inimitably devil-may-care way that she has been taking free flights for years to visit her daughter in New York. Bakersfeld finds Ada charming. But Livingston lowers the boom on the dowager, assigning clerk, Peter Coakley (John Findlater) to see Ada safely sent home. Of course, the clever con finds ways to escape her naïve escort, this time by faking illness that necessitates Peter going in search of a doctor. Ada then exploits an old trick of telling the counter personnel her son has already boarded the Golden Argosy without his wallet and asks if she can return it to him. Meanwhile, well on his way to a complete nervous breakdown, Guerrero arrives at the airport and takes out extra insurance for the flight, mailing the voucher to Inez before boarding the plane. But Gurrero’s suspicious refusal to allow anyone else to handle his briefcase, and, his rather panged expression raises the dander of U.S. Customs Officer Harry Standish (Lloyd Nolan). After all, he has just caught Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman (Jessie Royce Landis) endeavoring to smuggle a diamond bracelet in the collar of her dog. Standish alerts Livingston about Guerrero, who tells Bakerfeld, who opts to do nothing for fear of a liable suit. That is, until all of them learn of Guerrero’s intensions from a very distraught and nearly catatonic Inez.
But by then it is too late. The Golden Argosy is in flight. Bakersfeld alerts Demerest to the fact he has a stowaway and possible suicide bomber aboard. Amidst all this turmoil, Demerest has a heart-to-heart with his co-pilot, Anson Harris (Barry Nelson) about the prospect of becoming a first-time father. Harris, a family man with seven children, tells Demerest his brood has been a richly rewarding stabilizer in his life, leaving Demerest to contemplate divorcing Sarah in order to marry Gwen. Learning Ada is in the seat next to Guerrero, Demerest summons her to the cockpit for a plan of action to get Guerrero away from his suitcase. Upon returning to her seat, Ada fakes a panic attack and snatches Guerrero’s suitcase from him, supposedly to throw it at Gwen. Unfortunately, Guerrero regains possession of the suitcase, alerting the rest of the passengers he has a bomb inside it. Demerest attempts to diffuse the situation by informing Guerrero his plan has already been exposed to ground control. As a result, his insurance claim is null and void.
For a brief moment it appears as though Guerrero will surrender to Demerest. But when a panicked passenger screams, a frightened Guerrero barricades himself in the washroom and detonates the bomb. The explosion tears a gaping hole in the fuselage, seriously wounding Gwen. Demerest and Harris struggle to maintain control over the plane’s plummeting altitude, before attempting an emergency landing mere moments after Patroni has managed to clear Flight 45 off the runway. Having narrowly averted catastrophe, Demerest decides his future is with Gwen. As he accompanies her to the hospital, Sarah realizes she has lost her husband forever. Bakersfeld and Cindy come to an understanding and decide to divorce, leaving the weary manager free to pursue his relationship with Livingston. Only this time he is determined to do things right by balancing his professional and private life.
Despite its’ glittery all-star assemblage, stylish accoutrements, a killer score by impresario, Alfred Newman, and its’ overwhelming box office success (it cleared over $100 million on a $10 million dollar budget) - nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture - it’s very easy not to like Airport. For one thing, the ensemble acting is uniformly melodramatic. Burt Lancaster and George Kennedy spout off dialogue as though every moment were an emotional crisis with international ramifications. Van Heflin, looking sad-eyed, disoriented and slightly bloated, is an unimpressive villain, and yet a rather unsympathetic every-man who has become a shell of his former self. Helen Hayes, in Oscar-winning support no less, gives the most credible – though hardly perfect – performance. She is gentle and yet direct; a seemingly fragile and slightly pixelated dowager, her piece de résistance, her impeccable lampoon of a claustrophobic meltdown. Regrettably, such eminence is not mirrored in the Seaton/Hathaway screenplay, or in the rather laissez faire staging of the ‘action’ set pieces. Seaton interjects an oddly moralizing pro-life agenda into the Demerest/Meighen relationship that blindly eschews the illicitness of their love affair. These morally problematic implications are allowed to fester rather than growing richer or more revealing about the future of the couple as our story wears on.
Viewed today, Airport is quaintly archaic at best; chocked full of all-star vintage glamour, but without the necessary oomph or even generalized excitement to carry it off. The narrative threads are rather awkwardly stitched together, but rarely intertwined, ricocheting from one inconsequential vignette to the next, benign soap opera-inspired theatrics that gradually built into one gigantic snore. Nevertheless, it stood to reason no picture this successful at the box office could go quietly into the night. Today, sequels are so commonplace their proliferation is a foregone conclusion. But in 1970, the concept was still relatively new and extremely rare. Certainly, nothing like a ‘franchise’ had been launched since Hollywood’s golden era of Tarzan, Andy Hardy, Dr. Kildare, Sherlock Holmes, Flash Gordon B-serials of their ilk. Yet, this is precisely where Universal would ultimately take the Airport franchise afterward; a respite of barely five years before the second installment – Airport ’75 (released in 1975…how precious and unoriginal is that?).
Once again, relying on an uninspired mélange borrowed from TV soap operas, tricked out in all the trappings $3 million could buy, Airport ‘75 took another bumper crop of Hollywood heavy-hitters and has beens for an utterly ridiculous outing in the skies. This time, the plot zeroed in on an eclectic passenger list boarding Columbia Air Lines' Flight 409; a Boeing 747-100 on a red-eye from Washington’s Dulles International to LAX. Top-billed is Charlton Heston as Capt. Alan Murdock – the heroic Burt Lancaster-ish figure who will ultimately draw clarity from the chaos. However, this time the catastrophe soon to befall everyone is practically unintentional; inadvertently perpetuated by New Mexico entrepreneur, Scott Freeman (Dana Andrews), navigating his private Beechcraft Baron to an urgent sales meeting in Boise, Idaho. As fate would have it, an occluded front creates zero visibility, diverting both Columbia 409 and Freeman's Beechcraft on a collision course near Salt Lake City International Airport. A queer vibration in the cockpit causes First Officer Urias (Roy Thinnes) to unfasten his restrains and investigate; a decision he will almost immediately – if very briefly ‘live’ to regret.
For Freeman, who has been ordered by the tower to circle until 409’s landing, now suffers a massive heart attack and dives his plane headlong into the Boeing cockpit, rocking the commercial airliner with a massive mid-air explosion that ejects Urias, kills Flight Engineer Julio (Erik Estrada) and blinds Captain Stacy (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) leaving the fate of everyone in the hands of First Stewardess, Nancy Pryor (Karen Black). Reprising his role as Joe Patroni, George Kennedy’s burly and no-nonsense instructor, feet firmly on the ground, is once again the first to get news of the severity of the situation. 409’s flight deck is severely damaged and most of the instrument gauges have been rendered completely useless. For no apparent reason, other than to engage our ‘star’ in this mishmash, and perhaps, create a parallel – or rather rip off – with one of the pivotal plot points from the original movie - Patroni seeks counsel from Murdock, Columbia's chief flight instructor, who also happens to be Nancy’s boyfriend.
Patroni and Murdock take an executive jet to Salt Lake. Through their constant communication Nancy is able to stabilize 409’s altitude. Alas, she cannot maneuver the plane in any direction but full speed ahead. Problem: 409 is heading straight for the Wasatch Mountains. Murdock thinks he can instruct Nancy on how to manually turn 409 around. But suddenly their radio communications are interrupted; Salt Lake’s tower unable to restore contact. With no other recourse, an air-to-air rescue is undertaken from a jet-powered HH-53 helicopter. Murdock accompanies the mission. However, as the tethered ‘replacement pilot’ is lowered into 409’s gaping hole something goes terribly wrong and the man plummets to his death, leaving Murdock to make the fortuitous decision to make a second – and mercifully, successful descend. After the prerequisite amount of ‘it can’t be done/we’re all going to die’ scenarios, Murdock and Nancy manage to land the plane successfully at Salt Lake City Airport; their on-again/off-again love affair reconciled, presumably, on the fast track to a wedding chapel.
Airport ’75 is not so much a bad movie as a terribly unremarkable one. Deprived of the key-lit glamour of the original, Philip H. Lathrop’s cinematography goes for a grittier realism. But the picture now becomes more telescopically focused on its SFX perils in the sky without ever really getting to know any of its celebrity talent on board. Murdock and Nancy are the most cardboard cutout pair of ‘lovers’ and yet they are – by far – the most detailed character studies. George Kennedy is utterly wasted in a thoroughly thankless reprise, I suspect, inserted by Universal’s executive brain trust for continuity’s sake. It became something of ‘a thing’ in the 70’s to stockpile disaster epics with big ticket stars and up and comers. Airport ’75 certainly has some high profile names to recommend it; Gloria Swanson (playing herself), Helen Reddy (as a singing nun), Myrna Loy (the hoity-toity Mrs. Devaney) and Sid Caesar (doing nine minutes of comedy shtick as the grotesquely unlovable, Barney) among them. But they are all sacrificed to an ineffectual screenplay by Don Ingalls – a real hodgepodge with no audience engagement to carry over from one to the next. Evidently, none of this seemed to matter to audiences in 1975. Despite critic, Pauline Kael’s astute summarizing as ‘cut-rate swill…produced on a TV movie budget by a mercenary businessman’, Airport ’75 earned a whopping $47,285,152 on a budget one/third the original film, and…you guessed it…another sequel was decidedly in order.
Thus, Airport ’77 (in 1977, directed by Jerry Jameson) took flight. And while, like its predecessors, it could never be confused as aspiring to the aesthetics of ‘high art’, it was nevertheless an improvement over Airport ’75. This time, the plot is set into motion by wealthy philanthropist, Philip Stevens (James Stewart) who, in inviting his grandchildren and a glittering assemblage of art critics and old friends to his fashionable Palm Beach Florida home for a highly publicized weekend retreat and exhibition of his priceless paintings (also on board), inadvertently garners the attention of a bumbling group of would-be art thieves cum hijackers, led by co-pilot, Bob Chambers (Robert Foxworthy). Once high in the sky, Chambers manages to drug Capt. Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) and anesthetize the rest of the crew and passengers with an aerosol anesthetic administered through the vents, taking the Boeing 747 a hundred miles off course, flying under the radar to a remote island where he and his conspirators will steal Stevens’ priceless collection comfortably resting in the cargo hold. Too bad for Chambers, in the thick haze and darkness of night he is unaware of an offshore oil rig. Flight 23 clips its derrick, thus setting the plane's wing on fire. Chambers panics and accidentally activating the stall alarm. Power to the engines is cut and the plane skims across the ocean’s surface, stirring its passengers from their drug-induced slumber. Because of the hard impact, the pressurized cabin seal is slightly damaged. Now, as the plane sinks beneath the water’s surface, its cargo hold quickly fills up with salt water, drowning Chambers’ accomplices. Awakening with a hangover, Capt. Gallagher immediately recognizes the immensity of the situation. As Flight 23 was way off course when it crashed, the search and rescue operations immediately launched by Stevens and Joe Patroni are looking for the wreck in the wrong place.
Mercifully, the fuselage settles on the edge of a coral shelf, perilously perched beneath the waves, and, in constant threat of sinking to a depth where surely no rescue effort could take place. Gallagher informs his passengers of a raft aboard with a homing beacon. He will attempt to enter the rear of the plane, release the pressure lock and, float to the surface with the raft, thus activating its beacon to alert rescuers of their whereabouts. Passenger, Martin Wallace (Christopher Lee) – a one-time expert diver – pleads with Gallagher to partake of this mission, against strenuous objections from his neurotic and self-serving wife, Karen (Lee Grant). Alas, just as Karen has predicted, fate is not on her husband’s side. Wallace is crushed in the escape hatch and Karen witnesses his unconscious body as it floats past the porthole windows. Miraculously, Gallagher, makes it to the surface, climbs into the inflatable dinghy and activates the homing beacon. Not long thereafter, an S-3 Viking locates Gallagher and alerts Stevens, who wastes no time chartering a U.S. Navy sub-recovery ship to the location. Meanwhile, beneath the waves, water continues to fill the cabin. Several of the passengers, including wealthy dowager, Emily Livingston’s (Olivia de Havilland) personal assistant, Dorothy (Maidie Norman) quietly succumb to injuries sustained during the initial crash.
Above the waterline, Patroni works out an ingenious, if highly implausible scenario, to have frogmen from the USS Cayuga (LST-1186) and the destroyer, USS Agerholm (DD-826) attach inflatable pontoons all across Flight 23’s fuselage, thus raising the plane to the surface for an evacuation of its passengers. The scheme comes with risks, but Stevens agrees these far outweigh the alternative: letting everyone drown as the plane continues to fill with water. Alas, increasing pressure in the pontoons causes several of them to fail. It also creates a pressure lock within the cabin too great to bear. The rear cabin door, thus far keeping most of the sea water out of the main passenger deck, bursts open. Water pours in, inciting general panic. In this chaos, Chambers is pinned against a sofa. Both he and Karen drowning in this deluge. Gallagher manages to rescue his loyal assistant, Eve Clayton (Brenda Vaccaro) moments before Flight 23 slips beneath the ocean once more, this time with no hope or plans for another salvage operation.
Despite another round of scathing reviews, the New York Times pointing out that the picture “looks less like the work of a director and writers than like a corporate decision”, Airport ’77 went on to gross an impressive $30 million on only a $6 million budget. And so, not above scraping the very bottom of the barrel, Universal put into production what would ultimately become the very last installment in this franchise; Airport ’79: the Concorde, directed by David Lowell Rich. Universal might have gone on indefinitely churning out these in-flight perilous potboilers, accept for Airport ‘79’s colossal failure; unable to recoup even its initial $14 million outlay at the box office. In retrospect, it is fairly easy to see why the picture flopped. Airport ’79 is a clunker; the formula, utterly transparent and predictable. Worst of all, the miniatures and matte work are woefully second-rate and wholly unconvincing. But timing was also not on '79's side. By 1979, audiences had generally grown restless with disaster epics; the proliferation by superior and inferior examples of our capacity for unearthing terror and fear, seemingly from the most innocuous of situations; partying on a cruise ship (The Poseidon Adventure) or atop a high rise (The Towering Inferno) or just being a resident of Los Angeles (Earthquake). Airport ’79 preys upon the threat of organized terrorism, then front and center in the newspapers, but as yet an angle unexplored in this franchise.
Thus, the plot this time focuses on Dr. Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), a corrupt arms dealer who insidiously plots to down the American-owned Concorde on its maiden flight to silence reporter, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely) who is aboard and preparing an exposé on his illegal trades with communist countries during the Cold War. The Concorde takes to the skies from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle with Capt. Paul Metrand (Alain Delon) and purser, Isabelle (Sylvia Kristel); the first length of their journey, fairly unprepossessing. The Concorde lands in Dulles without incident and Maggie does her reporter’s spot, inadvertently unearthing Harrison’s illegal arms trade in Buzzard surface-to-air missiles after mystery man - Carl Parker (Macon McCalman) interrupts her broadcast, claiming he has definite proof of Harrison’s corruptions. Before he can divulge his source or provide Maggie with this 'evidence', Parker is fatally shot; another passerby triggering the fire alarm, thus creating further chaos allowing for his assailant's getaway. Harrison cockily makes light of these allegation and suggests someone is trying to frame an ‘honest businessman’ out of spite and jealousy. Maggie really does not believe him; her probing mind now whirling with the possibilities of a really big scoop on which to make her bones.
Meanwhile, Capt. Joe Patroni joins Metrand aboard the Concorde, a disquieting rivalry forming between the two. Also aboard is 2nd Officer Peter O'Neill (David Warner) who is desperately trying to rid himself of an overly possessive girlfriend (shades of the Karen Black/Chuck Heston relationship from Airport ’75). Determined to maintain an outward appearance of above-board activities, Harrison surprises Maggie at the check-in desk. Bobbing for clues, Harrison smugly asks Maggie if Parker’s documents have turned up and Maggie confesses, with some embarrassment, they have not. Alas, fate intervenes when Parker’s wife, Mary (Kathleen Maguire) arrives with a sealed envelope for Maggie’s eyes only. Parker was not lying to her; Harrison is, and now Maggie realizes it too.
There is only one thing to do. Kill Maggie. But how? The Concorde has already taken off. Unbeknownst to its flight crew, an off-course surface-to-air missile is deliberately launched to intercept them. Back at headquarters, Harrison orders his controllers to alert the government. In a mad dash to save the plane, the USAF assembles a fleet of F-15 fighter jets to intercept the airborne missile before it can inflict its damage. After several failed attempts, the missile is detonated mid-air before it can reach its target. The passengers breathe a sigh of relief. But the Concorde is hardly out of harm’s way. As it approaches the European coastline, Harrison sends an F-4 Phantom II to down the plane; the French Air Force engaging it with their highly-efficient Mirages. While the Concorde once more avoids a direct hit, the blow back from one of their mid-air explosions causes its hydraulic system to fail. The F-4 is downed. Despite being crippled, the Concorde limps into Le Bourget for repairs. Another near death mishap averted, Metrand and Isabelle invite Patroni to dine with them. Slick as ever, Harrison promises Maggie to go public with the evidence. She, however, remains thoroughly unconvinced as per his sincerity. To hedge his bets, Harrison bribes mechanic, Froelich (Jon Cedar) to install a device hidden inside the door panel, causing the Concorde's cargo door to automatically open in mid-flight.
However, as passengers begin to board the Concorde, now bound for Moscow, Froelich, perhaps harboring twinges of sincere guilt over his complicity in their pending doom, now gets exceedingly nervous during his screening at the airport’s X-ray security booth: a few smuggled bills from his payoff money falling down his pant leg. Unaware anything is out of order (it is, after all – just money), the X-ray technician tries to return the wayward cash to its owner. But Froelich, eager to get out of there without delay, now panics and sprints onto the tarmac where the Concorde is already preparing for takeoff. The heated exhaust incinerates Froelich, scattering his blood money everywhere. En route to Moscow, the hidden device implanted by Froelich opens the Concorde’s cargo doors. A tear in the carpet alerts Metrand to the incredible strain placed on the fuselage. Moments later, the door is ripped from its hinges, creating considerable damage. Mercifully, a seat torn during the explosion acts as a plug, preventing absolute decompression inside the cabin. Metrand immediately plans to make an emergency landing in Innsbruck but suddenly realizes there is not enough fuel for the journey. Another plan is quickly hatched to land the Concorde on a makeshift runway at a nearby ski resort in the Alps. With a little bit of luck, Metrand brings down the plane successfully. Determined to expose the truth about Harrison, Maggie makes her report to a local newscaster with a hint of a major bombshell immediately to follow. Realizing he has nowhere left to hide, Harrison commits suicide rather than face the inquest surely to follow. As the last of the passengers disembark the Concorde, its severely compromised fuselage bursts into flames from a leaky fuel line.
In some ways, Airport ’79 is the most ambitiously mounted production in the franchise. Certainly, from a budgetary consideration, it represents something of the gold standard bearer. And yet, the moneys are utterly squandered as the picture miserably fails to hold our attention in anything more of better than fits and sparks almost from the start. Part of the problem is decidedly Eric Roth’s screenplay, cribbed from an original story by Jennings Lang. The initial introduction of the threat and near mishaps that follow it are repeatedly thwarted, then delayed by melodramatic tidbits tossed into the mix sporadically, though ultimately – and repeatedly – diffusing the overall arc of tension. Robert Wagner’s moody arms dealer is a rather idiotic - if suave and worldly – goon, skulking with a 'smoke and mirrors' egotism that is less and less confidently realized. He could have so easily done away with Maggie, or at the very least, had Parker’s documentation destroyed under the guise of ‘an accident’ after the Concorde landed in Le Bourget. There is really no point to his psychotic decision to kill everyone on board and even less cleverly-realized thought given to engaging a total stranger, Froelich to instigate his home-grown sabotage.
Worse, the characters populating Airport ’79 are among the most one-dimensional of any disaster movie schlock peddled on the market; stock nobodies, known more by profession or rank than name or motives, and, a very tired, careworn regurgitation of archetypes we have seen far too many times, occasionally used to far greater effect in other - better - disaster classics. Some, like dog-smuggling Margurita (Charo) have absolutely no point or purpose except to create momentary diversions, offering misdirection away from the central narrative – such as it is – while others, like George Kennedy’s long-suffering Patroni, are exploited merely as token reference in a franchise that has long outstayed its welcome. Evidently, audiences agreed with this assessment. Unintentionally eliciting laughter, Airport ’79 was an unmitigated disaster at the box office, effectively ending Universal’s love affair with these haphazardly staged perils in the sky.
Universal Home Video has fallen back on releasing substandard hi-def Blu-ray. Honestly, I thought we were done with shoddy craftsmanship after their 100th anniversary. But no, only the original Airport (1970) has been given its due in 1080p; released as part of that celebration some years ago. The rest of the transfers featured herein are a real mixed bag to say the least; ranging from adequate, to decidedly below par. As before, the original movie looks spectacular, with rich, solid colors, superb contrast, a light smattering of film grain accurately represented, and, an exquisite amount of fine detail throughout. The image is razor sharp without being digitally harsh and virtually free of age-related artifacts. And the DTS 5.1 audio is the perfect complement: just wonderful. Less so is the care – or lack thereof – afforded the three remaining transfers in this combo pack. NOTHING has been done, not even the most basic digital clean-up, to ensure the best possible quality control has been observed. While Universal continues to advertise ‘HD picture and theater quality sound’, (without any references to ‘restored’ and/or ‘remastered’) they have equally left off the word ‘flawed’ from the beginning of their back jacket advert.
Color fidelity on these remaining movies is all over the place; often, with ruddy flesh tones leaning toward pumpkin orange or jaundice yellow. Colors do not pop, although I wouldn’t exactly refer to them as faded either; just non-descript and dull. I suspect more than a hint of DNR has been applied to homogenize the grain, counterbalanced by some even more egregiously applied edge sharpening. It’s not super terrible, but it does render the presentation unlike anything even remotely endeavoring to emulate ‘film quality’. Airport ’77 has weathered the abuse somewhat better than ’75 or ’79; the latter, easily the worst looking transfer in this batch; suffering from inconsistent grain, marginal crispness and unanticipated soft focus to obscure fine details in long shot. Contrast also seems weaker on 79 than on the rest. No real blacks, and some marginal crush ever-present throughout. Extras are, as anticipated, nonexistent; except for the rather scant inclusion of trailers; badly worn and not even presented in true HD. Bottom line: pass, and be glad that you did.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Airport - 3
Airport ’75 - 2
Airport ’77 - 3
Airport ’79 - 1
Airport - 4.5
Airport ’75 - 3
Airport ’77 - 3.5
Airport ’79 - 2.5