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They're coming in on instruments!
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1980 Paramount Pictures; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
For my money the funniest film ever made, I can't begin to imagine how many times I've watched Airplane! over the years. Endlessly quotable ("Captain, how soon can you land?" / "I can't tell" / "You can tell me, I'm a doctor" / "No, I mean I'm just not sure" / "Can't you take a guess?" / "Well, not for another half hour" / "You can't take a guess for another half hour?") and with absolutely perfectly-pitched, straight-faced performances from the whole cast, it packs more laughs in than most other joke-based comedies added together. The Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker writing/directing team did some decent stuff afterwards (most notably their extraordinarily funny Police Squad! series) but this is their masterpiece.
Elmer Bernstein had recently scored Animal House at the time, and it was based on that film and score's success that he became attached to this. Like Leslie Nielson's performance, Bernstein plays it completely straight, which is what makes it so hilarious. His melodramatic main theme is so over-the-top - his love theme so lush and faux sincere - it's just the icing on the cake for the film's comedy. In many ways it reminds me of Hans Zimmer's approach to film scoring.
Somehow, despite the ridiculousness of it all, Bernstein actually crafted some really impressive music at times. Some of the action material would certainly not be out of place in a more serious film; and his brief quotations of other music (like John Williams's theme from Jaws, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and even - uncredited - the murder motif from Bernard Herrmann's rejected Torn Curtain score) are handled with class and wit. And the love theme - much though the first reaction is to smile - actually, it's really very sweet indeed.
I've often said that there are essentially two types of person who buy film score albums - those who appreciate the music for music's sake; and those who want a musical reminder of the film. I am firmly planted in the first camp 99% of the time, but with Airplane!, it's almost impossible not to fall into the second. The very short cues (there are 37 on the 52-minute album, and the majority of those feature even shorter cues pasted together) must have made the album a nightmare to compile, so congratulations are due to the album producer Dan Goldwasser for making it as listenable as it is. There's a reasonable amount of repetition, but such is the quality of the base material, it doesn't really matter.
If this release was notable as finally being the first proper soundtrack album of Bernstein's finest comedy score (the composer hit this one out of the park, but as the 1980s wore on, you could hear in his music how frustrated he was becoming at scoring one comedy after another), then it was even more notable as being the first time any of the speciality soundtrack labels has managed to convince Paramount Pictures to licence one of their scores. I'm sure most of us who take an interest have lost count of the number of times we've seen a title requested on one of the film score message boards, only for the response "Forget it - it's Paramount" - well, we won't ever see that response again. Great news for the enterprising La-La Land Records, and I'm sure we'll see the fruits of their efforts from all the other labels too. 3,000 copies of this one were pressed and they all sold out quickly - but you can still find copies around if you look hard enough. Surely you wouldn't want to miss out? Of course not, and don't call me...