Film Techniques in Planes, Trains & Automobiles by John Hughes

Categories: Thanksgiving Dinner

Every successful film needs to be compelling in order to captivate its audience. While good writing, acting, and a great storyline are essential, there are also additional techniques that can be utilized to make a movie stand out and effectively tell its story. These techniques, often referred to as the “Filmmaker's Toolbox," play a crucial role in engaging viewers and enhancing the overall viewing experience. In this analysis, we will explore five key techniques used in John Hughes' classic film, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, that contribute to its success.

The first technique employed in the film is the Contrast Between Scenes, a common method used in many movies to create a dynamic shift in mood or tone. This technique involves juxtaposing back-to-back scenes that are vastly different in feel, such as transitioning from night to day or from a dialogue-heavy scene to an action-packed one. In Planes, Trains & Automobiles, this contrast is evident when Neal and Del are sleeping in a hotel.

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The dark and tense atmosphere of the night scene, where they are robbed, is suddenly replaced by a bright morning filled with humor and upbeat music. This stark contrast keeps the audience engaged and entertained, adding depth to the storytelling.

The second technique, the Ticking Clock, serves as the catalyst for the entire plot of the film. The urgency of getting Neal home to Chicago for Thanksgiving dinner creates tension and drives the narrative forward. As various obstacles and mishaps prevent Neal from reaching his goal, the ticking clock adds a sense of urgency and suspense to the story, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

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Another technique used in Planes, Trains & Automobiles is Comic Discrepancy, which involves the contrast between how a character presents themselves and their true nature. This comedic technique is exemplified when Neal, known for being uptight and proper, unexpectedly loses his temper and unleashes a string of expletives at an innocent employee. This unexpected outburst is humorous because it goes against Neal's established character, adding a comedic twist to the scene.

The fourth technique utilized in the film is Montage, a series of images composited together to create a cohesive scene. While montages are often used to show the passage of time and progress the story efficiently, in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, a montage is employed to highlight the bond between Neal and Del. It showcases the good times they shared and offers insight into Neal's realization of Del's true feelings, adding depth to their relationship.

Finally, the last technique that ties the film together is the use of music to manipulate the audience's emotions. The soundtrack of a film plays a crucial role in setting the tone and evoking specific feelings in viewers. In Planes, Trains & Automobiles, the soundtrack, while fitting for a comedy, at times falls short in enhancing certain scenes. For example, during a moment of frustration for Neal, the upbeat and goofy music playing in the background undermines the seriousness of the situation, detracting from the emotional impact of the scene.

In conclusion, the success of a film relies not only on traditional elements such as writing and acting but also on the effective use of various filmmaking techniques. In Planes, Trains & Automobiles, John Hughes masterfully employs techniques such as Contrast Between Scenes, the Ticking Clock, Comic Discrepancy, Montage, and the use of music to create a compelling and engaging narrative. By incorporating these techniques, the film captivates audiences and leaves a lasting impression, solidifying its status as a classic in the realm of comedy cinema.


Updated: Feb 15, 2024
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Film Techniques in Planes, Trains & Automobiles by John Hughes. (2022, Feb 28). Retrieved from

Film Techniques in Planes, Trains & Automobiles by John Hughes essay
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