- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2020

One of the leaders in home entertainment delivers another pair of films celebrating its catalog of popular masterpieces from the last century within the Paramount Presents collection.

Boasting high definition releases culled from new 4K transfers, each offers a selection of extras including retrospective segments and packaging featuring a foldout cover of the original movie poster and a vintage photo collage found on the insert of the plastic case.

Here’s a pair of the latest classics now currently available.

Roman Holiday (Not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 118 minutes, $29.99) — The 1953 black-and-white romantic comedy that launched the mega successful American acting career of Audrey Hepburn debuts in a dazzling restoration to remind fans of the actress’ irresistible charm.

With a story written Dalton Trumbo, infamous for getting backlisted later in his career, and directed by William (“Ben-Hur”) Wyler, the movie co-stars legend Gregory Peck as fast-talking American reporter Joe Bradley stuck in Rome and forced to cover the visit of a feisty and unhappy European princess named Ann (a petulant Hepburn).

When the princess sneaks away from her duties for a night on the town, she meets Bradley on the streets. He helps her get a great night’s sleep at his place, no hanky panky, and then realizes an exclusive interview with her highness is a potential gold mine.

That night leads to a next day of fun in Rome as the pair flirt a bit and hide their actual occupations from each other. However, Bradley must balance a budding, fleeting romance with the pursuit of the lucrative story that has him ultimately choose honor over greed.

Besides the chemistry of the stars and the Academy Award-winning performance by Hepburn, cinematographers Franz Planer and Henri Alekan capture some of best parts of one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, including bustling street market scenes and a final shot of Bradley walking alone out of the out through the cavernous Palazzo Colonna Gallery.

The restoration never forgets the source material as it pays respect to black, white and greys balance leading to impressive crispness and detail on Edith Head’s Academy Award-winning costume design and locations such as the Mouth of Truth, the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain.

“Roman Holiday” is not only an entertaining and bittersweet film but a piece of cinema ripe with history and worthy of a place in a home library.

The extras really impress by offering enough content to deliver a well-rounded education on the film and leading actress.

They begin with a quick seven-minute overview of “Roman Holiday” by film historian Leonard Maltin and are highlighted with a 30-minute look at Hepburn’s life and career at Paramount.

Other featurettes (roughly 50 minutes in total) offer a look at Head’s costuming; the historical sites seen in the movie, the troubled times of Dalton Trumbo; the best 1950s films from Paramount such as “White Christmas” and “The Ten Commandments”; and a personal memorial to the leading lady, mother and UNICEF ambassador from her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer and companion Robert Wolders.

By the way, the collection of extras is the best of all the Paramount Presents releases thus far.

Owners also have the coveted digital code to add to their virtual movie collection. On iTunes, that allows access to another excellent featurette, roughly six minutes long, and this time covering the insane amount of work done to digitally restore the film mired with dirt and granularity issues.

Airplane! (Rated PG, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 88 minutes, $29.99) — Writers/directors Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker’s 1980 loving parody of disaster movies returns looking slightly better and ready to amuse a new generation of fans in love with bad puns, pratfalls and the most serious deadpan style of humor.

The bare bones story has traumatized war pilot, with a fear of flying no less, Ted Striker (Robert Hays) getting aboard a commercial airliner in hopes of reuniting with his former girlfriend working on the flight, stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Haggerty).

When the pilots and inflight staff fall ill to food poisoning, Striker  must quell his terrors and take command of and land the out-of-control plane as the eclectic group of passengers remain in a general state of panic.

Mixing in some veteran actors known for drama and not comedy such as Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack, Lloyd Bridges as air traffic controller Steve McCrosky, Robert Stack as Capt. Rex Kramer, Peter Graves as Capt. Clarence Oveur allows a unexpected gravitas for the parade of groaners and insanity unleashed on the screen.

For example, Dr. Rumack asks Striker, “Can you fly the plane and land it?” Striker says, “Surely you can’t be serious,” with the doctor responding, “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”

The 4K digital restoration transferred to a 1080p format was supervised by the directors, but they must have been tired. The exterior scenes are a bit too grainy with patches of digital noise hurting the image, but the interiors do offer an uptick to previous releases with much more clarity and color pop.

Extras are more than enlightening with a seven-minute filmmaker’s perspective getting the trio of creators back together as well as the much more substantial (35 minutes) question-and-answer session with them at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater in January of this year after watching the film with an appreciative audience.

Additionally, viewers get the vintage optional commentary track from the 2000 DVD release featuring the trio and producer Jon Davison. They dissect their classic parody, offering loads of laughs, insights on creating satire and production nostalgia.

What would have made this version of “Airplane!” a definitive release is if Paramount had included the fun trivia track as well as a picture-in-picture look at the production available on the 2011 Blu-ray.

Also, sorely, missing is the coveted digital code.

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