As I mentioned in my Airport review, I was always under the impression that Airplane! was a spoof of Airport, but then came to learn it was actually spoofing Zero Hour! Airplane (I'm going to drop the exclamation points, lest this review looks like an Odyssey 2 article...look it up kids) does more than spoof, however. It spoofs, steals, copies, and wears Zero Hour's face as a mask. I would have to guess that over 50% of all the dialog in Zero Hour is used directly in Airplane.
First, let's briefly describe the two movies:
Zero Hour! A former war pilot (Ted Stryker), has difficulty adjusting to post-war life. During the war he was a squadron leader. Due to one of his choices, 6 of his men were lost, and he blames himself. Unable to hold a job, Stryker is dealt another blow when he finds out his wife is leaving for Vancouver, never to return. As a last-gasp effort to save his family, Stryker follows his wife and son onto the plane (his first time on a plane since the war). During the flight, many off the passengers get deathly ill due to poisoned fish. Eventually, the crew also gets sick. Stryker is the only person on board who has any flying experience, so he has to try and land the plane.
Airplane! A former war pilot (Ted Striker) has difficulty adjusting to post-war life. During the war he was a squadron leader. Due to one of his choices, 7 of his men were lost, and he blames himself. Unable to hold a job, Striker is dealt another blow when he finds out his long-time girlfriend is leaving for Atlanta, never to return. As a last-gasp effort to save his relationship, Striker follows her onto the plane (his first time on a plane since the war). During the flight, many off the passengers get deathly ill due to poisoned fish. Eventually, the crew also gets sick. Striker is the only person on board who has any flying experience, so he has to try and land the plane.
I thought that I would use some screen captures to show some of the similarities between the two movies. I think you'll be as amazed as I was.
Watching their loved ones getting on the plane
Our intrepid crews. In the "random athlete" category... the pilot in Zero Hour was played by football star Crazy Legs Hirsch, the co-pilot in Airplane was Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.
Joey, visiting the cockpit, and getting a present from the pilot
Joey, having a fun conversation with the pilot
Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?
Care for a bit of whiskey?
Not feeling so good...
Doctor telling the captain the situation
Co-pilot passing out
Co-pilot being dragged out by the doctor
Doctor telling the stewardess how the illness works. I rather like the pilot's expression in the Zero Hour frame... "I'm going to WHAT!?"
Mapping the plane's progress
Doctor getting ready to level with patients
Fun fact: Robert Stack's character name, Rex Kramer, came from a character in another Zucker Bros. movie - The Kentucky Fried Movie.
Not exactly a fan of the guy on the other end of the radio
Passenger freaking out.
I just want to let you know, good luck.
We're all counting on you.
Now arriving at Gate 8...
All's well that ends well...
Until the sequel. The sequel that, to this day at least one of the Zucker Brothers has never watched.
As you can clearly see, there's a LOT between these movies that is the same. And that's what makes watching Zero Hour such a tough movie to for me. I know Airplane so well, that I can't help but finishing the punch lines that Zero Hour doesn't have. I think Zero Hour is pretty good (although Airport, based on another book by the same author is better), but Airplane is a product of my very childhood.
If you've never seen Airplane, then go back if you can, and watch Zero Hour first. Give it a chance to be the drama it was intended to be. Then marvel at how so much of the same dialog and scene choices could be turned into one of the funniest movies in history.