With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought I'd revisit Planes, Trains & Automobiles, one of the few movies directly connected to that holiday and a delightful comedy classic in its own right. It had been several years since I'd watched it, and I assumed that in the meantime it had been released on some kind of special edition DVD. Last year was its 20th anniversary, in fact -- a fine time to put out a handsome disc with lots of extras.
Or so you'd think! As it turns out, Planes, Trains & Automobiles has only legitimately been released on DVD once, way back in 2000, with a poor video transfer and no extras whatsoever. Not even a trailer. Not even the extra scenes that are commonly included when the film airs on television. Deepening this wound is the fact that, as several reviewers noted at the time, Paramount's announcement of the DVD had promised it would have deleted scenes. Why the studio changed its mind at the last minute no one knows, but it sure disappointed people in 2000 who had been looking forward to the DVD.
The film was released again this summer as part of VH1's "I Love the '80s" series, but it still didn't have any extras and was essentially a rip-off in new packaging. The only bonus was the incorporation of one additional scene, of Neal and Del eating food on the airplane, that's often shown in the TV version. That's hardly a good enough reason to re-buy the disc, though.
Why is there no special edition of this movie? It's a perennial favorite. It is beloved. It is oft-quoted ("Those aren't pillows!"). It frequently appears on polls of movie fans' favorite comedies. Its very title has become shorthand for any trip punctuated by mishaps and setbacks, as in, "Our vacation to Mexico was a disaster -- it was a total Planes, Trains & Automobiles situation." You would buy it, right? What's more, writer/director John Hughes has said that there's enough extra footage lying around for a three-hour version of the movie. While I don't think that's a good idea (90 minutes is plenty for a slapstick farce, thank you), it sure would be great to see some of those deleted scenes. Can you imagine the great Steve Martin and John Candy riffing, joking, improvising, and horsing around? The comedy nerd in me thrills at the very idea. And yet those scenes, while often mentioned, remain hidden from public view.
So what's the holdup, Paramount? Even if the reclusive Hughes won't do a commentary, there are still plenty of other reasons to release a special edition of the DVD, with a cleaned-up print, deleted scenes, maybe a making-of featurette, reflections from cast members -- you get the idea. Surely the demand is there. Give us something to be thankful for next year, won't you?