Book Review – Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane! by David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams

Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane! – The Wild Ride Behind the Cockpit

I’m writing this review because well…who doesn’t want to read about one of the funniest movies ever made, right? Little did I know, this book would take me on a ride wilder than a plane with no autopilot.

Experienced readers of movie histories know what that means. Basically, I had a bunch of behind-the-scenes tidbits with no real connection, all barreling around in my brain like a bunch of cats chasing laser pointers while I tried to make sense of it all. But hey, it’s Airplane! we’re talking about – the chaos is half the fun.

First things first, the authors, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker (ZAZ for short), give us an in-depth oral history that dives into the making of their 1980 comedy classic. This isn’t your typical dry, fact-based recounting. No, this book is more like having a wild night out with the trio themselves, as they share anecdotes that are both hilarious and enlightening.

Behind the Scenes Madness

The book shines in its behind-the-scenes stories. For instance, did you know that the “jive” dialogue was written by the actors themselves, and Barbara Billingsley’s participation was a last-minute stroke of genius? Or that there were concerns about a lawsuit from Universal over the “sick child on the way for a heart transplant” scenes? It’s like discovering all the secret ingredients in your favorite dish – it makes you appreciate the final product even more.

One thing you have to appreciate is the uphill battle ZAZ faced just to get this movie made. Picture this: it’s the mid-70s, and these guys are running the Kentucky Fried Theater in L.A., trying to get anyone to take their script – a spoof on a 1957 disaster movie – seriously. The book vividly recounts their struggle to get Paramount on board, convincing actors like Leslie Nielsen and Robert Stack to play it straight in a comedy that was anything but conventional.

Speaking of convincing actors, the casting process itself is a goldmine of anecdotes. The authors recount how they had to coax serious actors like Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges to take on roles in what seemed to them a bizarre project. Imagine the confusion on Robert Stack’s face when he was asked to deliver lines like, “We have to get this man to a hospital!” and then being told, “No, say it straighter.” It’s this kind of delightful behind-the-scenes chaos that makes the book a joy to read.

Yet, despite the humorous recounting, there’s a layer of respect and admiration for these actors who stepped out of their comfort zones. The book notes how Airplane! revitalized their careers, turning them into unexpected comedy icons. Who knew that serious, dramatic actors could be so hilariously deadpan?

Production Pandemonium

Another highlight is the production process. The book details how ZAZ had to navigate the treacherous waters of Hollywood production. From dealing with skeptical studio execs to staving off potential lawsuits, the journey of making Airplane! was anything but smooth. For instance, the scene where the sick child needs a heart transplant almost got them into legal trouble with Universal Studios, who thought it bore too much resemblance to one of their films. The way ZAZ managed to maneuver through these challenges while maintaining their comedic vision is nothing short of impressive.

And let’s not forget the technical challenges. The book delves into the intricacies of creating some of the film’s iconic scenes. Remember the inflatable autopilot, Otto? Turns out, keeping him inflated and maneuvering him around the cockpit was a logistical nightmare. But like everything else in this film, the sheer absurdity of the situation somehow added to the charm.

Criticisms? Oh, Just a Few…

But let’s not get carried away. As much as I enjoyed the book, it’s not without its faults. For starters, the narrative can be a bit disjointed at times. The constant back-and-forth between different contributors can feel like you’re switching channels during a crucial sports game. One minute you’re reading about the writing process, the next you’re knee-deep in production woes, and then suddenly you’re back to casting anecdotes. It’s a bit like trying to follow multiple plotlines in a soap opera – engaging but occasionally bewildering.

Also, some of the humor, while fitting for the movie, doesn’t always translate well to the written page. There were moments where the jokes fell flat, or worse, felt forced. It’s like that awkward moment when you try to tell a funny story at a party, but halfway through you realize it was more of a “had to be there” kind of moment.

Additionally, if you’re looking for a deeply analytical or scholarly take on “Airplane!”, you’re barking up the wrong tree. This book is more about the fun and less about the film theory. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth noting for anyone hoping for a more in-depth critique.

The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

Overall, “Surely You Can’t Be Serious” is a riotously funny and insightful look at the making of a comedy classic. It’s packed with anecdotes that will make you see “Airplane!” in a whole new light. The good – well, it’s a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes goodness and laugh-out-loud moments. The bad – it’s a bit chaotic and sometimes the jokes don’t land. The hilarious – pretty much everything else.

So, if you’re a fan of “Airplane!” or just someone who enjoys a good Hollywood tale, this book is definitely worth your time. Just remember, like the movie, it’s best enjoyed with a healthy sense of humor and maybe a drink in hand.

ZAZ’s Journey

The book also offers a fascinating look at how these three friends from Wisconsin took Hollywood by storm. They started with a small comedy troupe, the Kentucky Fried Theater, and through sheer determination and a knack for comedy, they managed to break into the big leagues. The book doesn’t shy away from showing the rejections and roadblocks they faced along the way. It’s a testament to their resilience and unwavering belief in their comedic vision.

One of the most endearing parts of the book is how it captures the camaraderie and creative synergy between Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker. Their collaborative process, filled with playful banter and relentless brainstorming sessions, is both inspiring and entertaining. It’s clear that their friendship was the backbone of their creative endeavors, and this shines through in the anecdotes shared in the book.

The technical aspects of the film’s production are another treasure trove of stories. The book reveals how innovative and resourceful the team had to be to bring their vision to life. For instance, the iconic scene where the plane’s nose bounces off the ground was achieved using a miniature model and some creative camera work. These behind-the-scenes glimpses highlight the ingenuity and dedication that went into making every gag and visual joke work.

Moreover, the book doesn’t shy away from discussing the budget constraints and time pressures that ZAZ faced. It’s a reminder that even the most successful films often have to navigate a minefield of practical challenges. Yet, despite these hurdles, the team managed to create a film that not only met their comedic standards but also became a cultural phenomenon.

Now Buckle Up And Put Your Tray Tables In The Upright Position

One of the more reflective sections of the book deals with the impact and legacy of Airplane! The authors discuss how the film was initially received by audiences and critics, noting that it wasn’t an immediate hit with everyone. Some of the humor was considered too edgy or outlandish for its time. However, as the years went by, the film gained a cult following and is now regarded as a classic of its genre.

The book also touches on the broader influence of Airplane! on the world of comedy. Many contemporary comedians and filmmakers cite it as a major influence, and it’s not hard to see why. The film’s unique blend of slapstick, wordplay, and visual gags set a new standard for comedy, and its success paved the way for future parody films.

“Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane!” is a must-read for fans of the film and anyone interested in the wild, wacky world of filmmaking. It’s a rollercoaster of laughs, insights, and behind-the-scenes tidbits that will make you appreciate the genius of ZAZ even more. Just be prepared for a bit of turbulence along the way – the book’s chaotic structure and occasional flat jokes might throw you off course, but the overall journey is well worth it.

So, buckle up, sit back, and enjoy the ride. Just make sure to rewatch Airplane! afterward – you’ll never see it the same way again.

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