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The Aviator (Two Disc Special Edition)

A movie directed by Martin Scorsese

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An All Too Brief Look Into the Mind of A Genius

  • Jan 31, 2005
Pros: Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett shine.

Cons: Too short.

The Bottom Line: At the end of The Aviator audience in our almost packed theater stood and clapped. There can be no higher complement.

As a child I remember the name Howard Hughes as this vague echo bouncing around the periphery of our household. I didn’t know much about the man only that he was larger then life, and then he was dead. He was one of the captains of industry, one of the men who helped shape the American aircraft industry at the beginning of the last century.

Howard Hughes’ greatest legacy to American business was the family of Hughes companies founded during his lifetime. These included Hughes Aircraft Company (1935), and Hughes Space and Communications Company founded in 1961. A unit of Hughes Electronics Corporation, Hughes Space and Communications went on the become the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial satellites, and the producer of nearly 40% of the satellites now in commercial service. Hughes Electronics was owned by General Motors until it spun the company off into its Delco Electronics Division and then spun the resulting company off into Delphi Electronics. In 1998 Hughes Aircraft merged with Raytheon Company and is now known as Raytheon Systems Company. Hughes Aircraft was a world leader in high technology systems for scientific, military and global applications prior to the merger.

Hughes was a complicated man, and lived a complicated and often tragic live. In the end he lost his mind, but not the imagination of America. So, it’s a huge job to put his live up on the silver screen, to try and portray Hughes’ live and do it tolerable justice. But prolific director Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas) took up the challenge and delivered a stunning if not complete picture of Hughes’ often tumultuous life. His choice of Leonardo DiCaprio (Poison Ivy, Gangs of New York, Catch Me if You Can) to portray the aircraft tycoon and Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Lord of The Rings) to portray Hughes longtime paramour Catherine Hepburn, was sheer genius. Both actors turned in steering performance; their portrayals were mesmerizing, they seem to live inside the minds of their characters, and in the process made The Aviator an Oscar worthy contender well worth a look.

Scorsese starts Hughes story sort of at the beginning, in a sequence in which young Howard is being given a bath by his mother, and being told about the scourges of the day; measles, cholera, polio, etc. And she tells him he must remain quarantined in order to safe guard himself against the evil diseases. This upbringing has a profound affect on the young man, who would grow up with all sorts of phobias and idiosyncrasies, the least of which is the compulsive need to wash his hands, sometimes until they were raw and bleeding.

After this rather disturbing opening scene the movie fast forwards to the year one of Hughes shooting of the movie Hells Angels which he released in 1930. From here we are treated to roughly seventeen years of Hughes life. Scorsese takes us through Hughes’ contentious but ultimately successful business ventures, his relationship with a succession of woman including Catherine Hepburn, Jean Harlow (briefly) portrayed by Gwen Stefani, and Ava Gardner portrayed by Kate Beckinsale (Pearl Harbor, Underworld, Van Helsing). We also learn that Hughes had an—how shall we say—predilection for teenaged girls, which according to The Aviator he flaunted openly without suffering any serious repercussions.

Along the way we are treated to a host of sterling performances, such as John C. Reilly portraying Hughes’ long suffering business manager Noah Dietrich whom he hired in 1930; Alec Baldwin portraying Juan Trippe, the President of Pam Am, Hughes’ chief rival in the passenger airline business; and Alan Alda portraying Senator Ralph Own Brewster, a role which garnered him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. And there were cameos by Jude Law, Frances Conroy, Brent Spiner, and William Dafoe.

The cinematography is the flying sequences of The Aviator are breathtaking. There were several sequences where to plane looked as though it would leap from the screen scream over our heads. And the crash sequence in which Hughes was badly burned and disfigured after the horrific crash of one of his test aircraft has to be experienced on the big screen; it is mind boggling to watch unfold, and even more so to hear.

Clocking in at some 2 hours and 35 butt aching minutes, The Aviator is a long movie, but not quite long enough; I feel as though my Hughes experience was too short, that the movie should have covered more of his life, even if that meant sitting through 30 more minutes of cinema. As it is the movie has made me intensely curious about the life of Hughes after the flight of the famed eight engine Hercules (Spruce Goose) seaplane.

Scorsese did not touch on those subjects in Hughes’s life that might have portrayed in a negative light, except his mental break down in 1944, which he spends a considerable amount of time portraying. Here again DiCaprio is a credit to his craft giving us a mere glimpse of what it must be like to loose ones mind. His performance is stunning and it widely reported that the actor needed to take long breaks after filming such scenes in order to maintain his own sanity. Never mentioned are Hughes forays into the espionage, his purported connections to the organized crime, or his supposed anti-Semitism.

In the final analysis, The Aviator lives up to the considerable hype that preceded its release. The measure of a good film to me is the repeat factor. Would I shell out another $7.00 to see the movie again? In this case yes, and happily so; it was just that good! And one other thing: at the end of The Aviator audience in our almost packed theater stood and clapped. There can be no higher complement.


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More The Aviator reviews
review by . April 16, 2009
Howard Hughes was a brilliant man who helped society more then we realize sometimes. Though he was known for making violent (and at times smutty) films, Hughes main contribution to society was for his aviation skills. Though he may have intended to make his living as a major Hollywood director, during the filming of his World War II epic "Hell's Angels" he needed to make the planes move faster for that epic feel he was going for. In a move of keen observation, Hughes ended up with the fastest plain …
review by . November 19, 2008
Howard Hughes, this is your life - and what a life it was. This movie vividly portrays the life and times of one of the quirkiest, most reclusive men ever to inhabit the earth, warts and all, and while it answers a lot of questions, it raises a few of its own.     Running a whopping 170 minutes - that's almost three hours! - it begins with a scene between Hughes as a child, and his mother, which ultimately leads to his developing a phobia about germs that would make Adrian Monk …
review by . November 05, 2008
The Aviator (Two Disc Special Edition)
'The Aviator' is a sweeping epic of a movie chronicling the earlier years of multi-millionaire and aviation genius Howard Hughes. Hughes was more than just a simply playboy millionaire, he was a risk-taker and a brilliantly gifted mind, but also a soul tortured by Obsessive-Compulsive disorders.     The movie starts with Hughes's movie project, 'Hell's Angel's', the most expensive movie of its time. Hughes was into the movie business along with the aircraft business, which would …
review by . October 08, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
I'm not surprised that Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her supporting role, playing Katherine Hepburn, but I'm shocked that Leonardo DiCaprio did not win for his brilliant portrayal of Howard Hughes. With all Mr. Hughes's phobias and odd ways, portraying him must undoubtedly have been the ultimate challenge.     This movie was great! It was awesome seeing the genius of Director Martin Scorsese "pulling" the best from his actors and from each scene. Everyone pulled together to …
review by . April 11, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
What I expected from Aviator was "Gangs of New York" in the sky. What I received from Aviator was my imagination at full throttle.    I have been blessed to lead a life where I had parents who introduced me to the classics of Hollywood since I was just old enough to crawl. Growing up, it was nothing to see Katherine Hepburn or Mickey Rooney, Dorris Day, or the Little Rascals on my tv set. What an incredible honor to be a part of the "revival" movement of the classics going on …
About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #78
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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About this movie


Martin Scorsese's THE AVIATOR is a lavish spectacle of a motion picture that harks back to Hollywood's Golden Era in telling the story of Howard Hughes, one of 20th-century America's most pioneering and influential figures. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the eccentric billionaire, Scorsese's biopic concentrates on Hughes's life between the 1920s and '40s, when he made striking contributions to both the film and aviation industries. At only 25 years of age, Hughes directed the most expensive film ever made up to that point, HELL'S ANGELS (1930), which Scorsese gleefully recreates here in all its sprawling, audacious glory. At the same time, he became known as an unabashed playboy, bedding the likes of Jean Harlow (singer Gwen Stefani), Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), and Katherine Hepburn (a brilliant Cate Blanchett). In the mid-'30s, he turned his attention to the aviation industry, where he quickly became world-renowned for shattering speed and distance records. He also continued to test the limits of fli...
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