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The Aviator

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Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio, ...
THE AVIATOR: Andrew Cooper

Miramax’s PR approach to its Oscar hopefuls has always been pretty simple — loudly insist a movie is brilliant until people start to believe it. And it extends to the DVD release of The Aviator. Disc 2 serves up no fewer than 12 mini-documentaries, including a History Channel bio of Howard Hughes; a look at the man’s contributions to aviation (retractable landing gear — who knew?); features on costumes, visual effects, the score, and the musical Wainwright family; and a panel discussion on obsessive-compulsive disorder with director Martin Scorsese, star Leonardo DiCaprio, UCLA’s Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, and Hughes’ widow, Terry Moore, among the talking heads.

The more fascinating tidbit, however, is an interview with Alan Alda (glowing with the news that he’s just been nominated for Best Supporting Actor) and a charged-up and extremely articulate DiCaprio. When he notes that Hughes tackled outsize projects as a means of escaping his OCD rituals, the star provides more compelling psychological insight into the man he’s playing than the movie ever does.

Ah, yes, the movie. It’s on disc 1 and it looks fantastic; regardless of who won what, The Aviator was probably the best-produced film of 2004. Scorsese’s knack for detail makes the first half a visual and sonic joy, and both DiCaprio and the Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett (as Kate Hepburn) do remarkable work in nearly impossible roles. But just as Hughes became swamped by his compulsive attention to trivialities, so The Aviator loses focus amid the minutiae of mid-’40s aviation politics. All the extras in the world can’t hide that this is a very good movie that got away from its maker.