It has been said that there is a very thin line between genius and madness. Few have proven this point more than Howard Hughes. Here was a man that was not only successful in a myriad of fields, he dominated them.
He also fell into his madness more and more with each passing year of his life. With the big budget film, The Aviator, on the scene Shout Factory has released what can be called the definitive biography of this giant of a man, Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator. Albeit, the film is a bit biased in favor of Hughes but a man such as this is prone to extremes in opinions, those that knew him saw him either as hero or villain, rarely was he ever perceived in any shades of gray. The documentary is narrated by actor Michael Ferreri, whose trademark voice provides a certain air of authority. An actor is used to recreate a first person look at Hughes. In all, the film has a feel of an extended edition of the History Channel, something I consider to be a major plus.
The Real Aviator chronicles Hughes practically from cradle to grave. His father, Howard Senior founded the basis of the Hughes fortune, Hughes Tool Company and died when young Howard was only 18; just two years after Hughes lost his mother, Allene. This forced the teenager to grow up exceptionally fast, taking on control of the family business and making it a success. One of the most influential persons in Hughe’s life was his paternal uncle Rupert, a screen writer for MGM. This was the start of Hughe’s literal and figurative love affair with the silver screen. Rupert also held Howard’s interests in the Tool Company until he was twenty one, after that Hughes took on the company and then the world.
While most men would be satisfied with being the top of one profession Hughes had far grander plans for himself. His love of flying made him a world class pilot, and one of the most inventive aircraft designers the world has ever seen. His wooden Spruce Goose is still legendary. He would set speed records (over 352 miles per hour) in his plane, He cut Lindberg’s trans Atlantic record in half and was the test pilot for many experimental aircraft.
His love of Hollywood drove most of the middle years of his life. He took the same drive and dedication that he had for aircraft to the big screen. He produced Two Arabian Nights which went on to win an Academy Award in 1928. In 1930 he wrote and directed the controversial Hell’s Angel’s staring one of his many actress girlfriends, Jean Harlow. In 1932 he took on public morality and the Hollywood code of decency with the original Scarface. This would force Hughes to sue to obtain the release of this film. For the film Outlaw Howard Hughes took a bit of a diversion from designing a bra for the well endowed Jane Russell, a garment based on the engineering principles of a suspension bridge.
Howard Hughes was equally at home in the political arena. A friend of the Kennedy clan and an enemy of Nixon’s administration Hughes gave a new meaning to the phrase Military-Industrial Complex. Where ever there was wealth and power Howard Hughes was at the very center of the action. More than just a puppet master, Howard Hughes loved being in the spotlight. At one time he was considered the most famous man in the world.
In his later years Howard Hughes moved to Las Vegas. His major business ventures where beginning to struggle, his life was changing in a way that was unacceptable to this larger than life man. Howard Hughes would go on to become a recluse, unable or unwilling to face the world that he could not control. He was also a germ phobic, afraid of any source of infection. His death in 1976 was shrouded in mystery, his body was some different from his well know public persona that he was not even recognizable as the great man he once was. Howard Hughes left behind a highly contest fortune of over two billion dollars.
Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator is flawed but always maintains interest. The narration is at times a bit distracting and the Howard Hughes impersonated a little too over used but the real gems in Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator are the clips of the actual Howard Hughes at work. His body language shouts the determination and control this man had. He was the type of man that could walk into a room and everyone would turn in his direction. He commanded every room he was ever in.
The video quality of the feature varies from scene to scene. In some cases like the footage of the premier of Hell’s Angles is almost pristine while other film from the Howard Hughes archives is scratched and exhibits a lot of wear and tear. Of great interest was the numerous news reel clips included. Back in the day this was the major means for people to actual see their celebrities, way before the television news most of us grew up knowing. There are many ‘talking head’ sequences that provide some insight provided by the words of people that knew Howard Hughes.
The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0 and while unspectacular it does provide a clean and clear sound field. The notation is always understandable although some of the clips are mastered a bit on the low gain side. Considering the type of film Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator is the audio is up to the job without a lot of bells and whistles.
Considering Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator is a rather low cost title there are an amazing number of extras provided on the second disc. Over two hours of extra material is supplied. While some is just repetition of previous covered material, such as the interviews with Hughes associates Robert Mahea, Terry Moore, Jack Real and George Francom, some of the added content is excellent, especially the afore mentioned news reel footage. The real find here is some of the aviation film that is presented. It was among the best content on the disc.
While Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator will not replace the Martin Scorsese flick (what could) it is a nice companion piece and a must have for anyone interest in this fascinating individual. Shout should be commended for offering Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator at such an affordable price, it is more than worth it.
by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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