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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

The Aviator - [Blu-ray]

(Martin Scorsese, 2004)








Review by Leonard Norwitz


Studio: Warner Pictures (USA) / Warner Home Entertainment (USA)



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:50:06.029

Disc Size: 29,471,955,608 bytes

Feature Size: 22,635,448,320 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.10 Mbps

Chapters: 33

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: November 6th, 2007



Aspect ratio: 2.4:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video




Dolby Digital Audio English 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround



English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, none



• Commentary by Martin Scorsese


• Making The Aviator

• Visual Effects • Production • Construction • Costuming • Scoring

• Howard Hughes in Aviation History

Modern Marvels:  Howard Hughes on the History Channel

• The Affliction of Howard Hughes: OCD

• Featurette: An Evening with Leonardo DiCaprio & Alan Alda

• Additional Scene

• Theatrical Trailer in HD


33 chapters

Standard Blu-ray case: 1 disc

Release Date:



The Aviator ~ Comment

I should start by admitting to an affection for this film, despite some casting flaws, an idiosyncratic color scheme, and what I feel is an unnecessary prologue.




The Aviator was, in my opinion, Martin Scorsese's first decent film since The Age of Innocence (not counting Kundun, which didn't get much distribution.)  Scorsese, as you probably know, had never won an Oscar, not for Best Film nor for Directing.  I think the Academy was primed for Gangs of New York, but the film was such a mess, not even good intentions could redeem it.  You may recall that it was Million Dollar Baby that took home the big one in the year of The Aviator.  Scorsese finally received his due only last year for The Departed, a movie I felt was not nearly as good in any respect as The Aviator.


The Aviator is scaled like a blockbuster, but with intelligence and sympathy.  It has a couple of terrific performances; it is relentlessly entertaining; and is full of awesome production values.  Million Dollar Baby, by comparison, is more intimate, more artful – to a fault, perhaps.  Its cast is more consistently integrated; everyone clearly in the same movie.



I also was pulling for DiCaprio over Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles impersonation.  DiCaprio's performance was the more challenging.  Yes, we saw Ray Charles before our very eyes, so to speak, in Jamie Foxx; but compared to Leonardo, Jamie didn't have as far to reach for his part.  DiCaprio had not yet done anything to fulfill the promise of his amazing work in What's Eating Gilbert Grape and This Boy's Life from 1993, so I was grateful for all concerned that he was finally given something to test his manhood.  His portrayal of the driven and haunted genius that was Howard Hughes, decompensating before our very eyes, was chilling.  This role excepted, I still find casting DiCaprio something of a challenge.  He really is odd looking, difficult for the common man to identify with (as opposed to Foxx), though I think he'd make a convincing serial killer.  Perhaps his portrayal of Hughes worked as well as it did because Hughes himself was so uncommon.


Cate Blanchett's eerily familiar Kathryn Hepburn was at once engaging and unsettling, partly because there was nothing else in a movie filled with ersatz celebrities that was so literally lifelike.  This, along with its odd color scheme -  I thought then, and still do - is the movie's only weakness.  Perhaps I would have been less critical if Cate weren’t so Kate – raising an impossible bar for her so-stars.  When I was able to put aside any physical or vocal relationship to Ava Gardner, Jean Harlow, Errol Flynn or Faith Domergue by Kate Beckinsale, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law or Kelli Garner, I could get into their function, if not their channel.  That said, Beckinsale was pretty damn good, Jude Law was pretty damn awful.




The surprising thing about this movie is its portrayal of Howard Hughes, a brilliant and driven man afflicted with a devastating mental illness.  The film's prologue, showing the boy Howard being introduced to his germ phobia - which I believe oversimplifies the origins of the disorder – does not prepare us for the subtle and invasive ways that an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can cripple a person.  This is not to say that this form of the condition is what Hughes had, but that Scorsese and DiCaprio suggest a truth about it that Ron Howard and Russell Crowe did not begin to approximate in A Beautiful Mind.




The Aviator ~ The Score Card


The Movie : 8.5

The elusive, reclusive Howard Hughes that we think of today was once much more directly in the public eye as the ace aviator of his time.  He more or less designed the planes that broke world speed records with himself at the controls.  He had enormous wealth coupled with an equally king size ambition with which he bought airlines and invested in a motion picture studio.  The Hughes we see in this movie has uncomfortable signs of OCD almost from the start of his career.  It amazes me that such a man could have so compartmentalized his illness to permit any intimacy with a woman but, we are told, so he did.  His forays into Hollywood led him into close quarters with the most beautiful women and men of his day, most importantly Kathryn Hepburn and Ava Gardner.  His attempts to direct the future of aviation led him to the corridors of Congress.  Howard Hughes was the quintessential American genius – make that American Genius – who could have stood, perhaps uncomfortably – next to the likes of Thomas Edition and Benjamin Franklin.  DiCaprio, his uncommon looks notwithstanding, is brilliant as such a man, and no less so as such a man tormented by demons most of us will never have to face even second hand other than in the 170 minutes of this movie.


Image : 9 (8.5~9.5/10)

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The score of 9 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs.  The score in parentheses represents: first, a value for the image in absolute terms; and, second, how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre.


This is as good a place as any to talk about how color is used in this movie.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why Scosese insisted on such a saturated palette, nor why, for most of the first third of the film he bathes it in what seems to me to be arbitrary fragments of garish light cyan blue highlights. The director explains his decision in his otherwise excellent and commentary as reflecting the Hollywood visual styles of the times.   I don't get it.   Perhaps I'd rather be pissed than be explained to, but either way, it didn't work for me.  The good news is that Blu-ray has both aspects of color in far better control than the SD, if for no other reason that high definition resolves so many more hues that the color scheme appears deliberate rather than a mistake, even if it seems arbitrary to my eye.


Aside from this, the picture quality is awesome and clean as clean can be (Mr. Hughes would have been pleased.) It's at least as good as the memory of my theatrical experience on first run (where I was also put off by the aforementioned color), and is as sharp as can be with details like fabric texture, metallic surfaces, and airplane cockpit accouterments.

















Audio & Music : 7.5/8

In a character-driven film such as this, it is most important that the dialogue be clear, especially in that the protagonist, being the secretive person that he is, does not always want to be heard clearly.  This is the audio mix's strong suit.  There are also some very nice aeronautic noises to support the visuals.


Operations : 7

I continue to appreciate Warner Home Video's avoidance of pre-feature ads so that we can get directly we get right to the business at hand.  To say that the menu design is Spartan is an understatement. Lots of chapter stops though, as is typical with Warner Blu-rays, the slightly expanding thumbnails are not titled.  There are so many extra features the full 16x9 screen is filled to bursting.




Extras : 9

In addition to the director's commentary, for which he is joined by his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker and producer Michael Mann, there are a host of short and less short (4-42 minutes) docu-features that look at various aspects of production, the historical Hughes, and at obsessive compulsive disorder.



Recommendation: 7

Highly recommended for feature content, improved image and supplementary features on the film and it historical title character. The low bit rate and lack of an uncompressed audio track is remiss, but this edition will have to do until the wrong is righted.

Leonard Norwitz
November 10th, 2007

June 2010









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About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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