"The Aviator" is a biopic about Howard Hughes (DiCaprio) during the years when he cut a romantic figure as a playboy and daredevil pilot. He was also a filmmaker, best remembered for "Hell's Angels" (1930), "Scarface" (1932), and "The Outlaw" (1943). But to my way of thinking, the best part of "The Aviator" is about Hughes's romantic relationship with Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett in an Oscar-winning performance).
The second half of the movie is driven by Hughes's desire that TWA, the airline he owned, be permitted by the American government to fly transatlantic routes. This pits Hughes against Pan Am's Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) and his ally, U.S. Senator Brewster (Alan Alda in an Oscar-nominated performance). I thought this part of "The Aviator" dragged at times. Still, there's an exciting sequence where Hughes is badly injured while piloting an experimental spy plane that crashed in Beverly Hills.
Hughes suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and "The Aviator" shows him exhibiting some symptoms of that neuropsychiatric condition. However, the film ends in 1947 when he was only about 42. In the remaining three decades of his life, his OCD got much worse, and he turned into a grotesque old recluse.
I'm a big Martin Scorsese fan, and I can't help comparing "The Aviator" with his earlier films like "Mean Streets" (1973) and "Raging Bull" (1980). To me, "The Aviator" is slick entertainment that lacks the personal feel of Scorsese's best movies. Still, it's a very good film in its own way.
"The Aviator" DVD provides a feature-length audio commentary that's primarily by Scorsese. Oscar-winning film editor Thelma Schoonmaker and producer Michael Mann also contribute. I found the commentary track worthwhile for the most part.
Disc 2 of the DVD set contains bonus materials. I recommend the 11-minute making-of featurette, and I thought the 14-minute "The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History" was fairly good info-tainment. I learned some things I probably need to know about OCD and its treatment in the 14-minute "The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder." And there's a rather interesting short deleted scene where Hughes tells Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) about his car accident.
I was mildly interested in Disc 2's five short (three-to-twelve-minute) production featurettes covering the movie's visual effects, art design, costuming, hair and makeup, and musical score.
Disc 2 contains other extras that didn't particularly catch my fancy. One of these is a 28-minute featurette where DiCaprio and Alan Alda sit on a stage and talk with a moderator about "The Aviator." Another is the five-minute featurette on the Wainwright family, three singers who perform in the Coconut Grove sequences. There's also a 15-minute panel discussion on OCD where the participants are two UCLA experts, DiCaprio, Scorsese, and Terry Moore, an actress who knew Hughes intimately and claims to be his widow. And finally, I grew quickly bored with the 43-minute History Channel documentary "Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes."
There are two separate DVD versions of "The Aviator." One is widescreen, the other full-screen. Both are two-disc sets, and except for the aspect ratio of the feature film, they are identical.
Below I've listed all the special features of the widescreen version of "The Aviator" DVD set.
DVD Details for the Widescreen Edition of "The Aviator":
Release Date: May 24, 2005
Number of Discs: 2
Feature Run Time: 2 Hours 50 Minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements, Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and a Crash Sequence
Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1), Color
English Dolby 5.1 Surround
French (Dubbed in Quebec) Dolby 2.0 Stereo
Audio Commentary by Scorsese, Film Editor, Producer
Deleted Scene (1 min. 39 sec.)
A Life Without Limits: The Making of "The Aviator" (11 min.)
The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History (14 min. 35 sec.)
"Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes" (43 min.)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (14 min.)
OCD Panel Discussion (15 min.)
An Evening With Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda (28 min.)
The Visual Effects of "The Aviator" (12 min.)
Constructing "The Aviator": The Work of Dante Ferretti (6 min.)
Costuming "The Aviator": The Work of Sandy Powell (3 min. 33 sec.)
The Age of Glamour: The Hair and Makeup of "The Aviator" (8 min.)
Scoring "The Aviator": The Work of Howard Shore (7 min.)
The Wainwright Family Loudon, Rufus, and Martha (5 min.)
"The Aviator" Soundtrack Spot (18 sec.)