Amazon gives Netflix serious competition with their newest production, the rousing and knuckle biting adventure film “The Aeronauts”. Part period biopic, part scientific adventure, part thriller, part survival tale and part feminist revision. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne and Oscar nominee Felicity Jones reunite in director Tom Harper’s, Jules Verne inspired adventure; that feels like a lost Disney film from the sixties. Harper uses skillfully designed CGI to carefully sell the vastness of the sky and all the threats nature can contain, while creating suspense and spectacle filming in the tight confines of the balloon. Harper proves he is a master at filming in the “high skies” and giving you that sense of vertigo. “The Aeronauts” is a real thrill ride, that needs to be seen in a well equipped surround sound home theater system.
“The Aeronauts” is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Acclaimed movie critic Roger Ebert, said in his published book: Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary, that “Good movies rarely contain a hot-air balloon”. Ebert who has always been my personal favorite film critic, I can agree to his statement. The only film that I can think of that comes to mind that is remotely good, involving a hot air balloon is “Around The World In 80 Days”.
That is until now with Amazon Studios rousing and knuckle-biting adventure film “The Aeronauts”. Part period biopic, part scientific adventure, part thriller, part survival tale and part feminist revision. “The Aeronauts” is being marketed as “Based On A True Story”, but in-fact it’s more loosely based on a true story. A highly stylized retelling of the 1862 flights of the British scientist-explorers James Glaisher and Henry Coxwell, as detailed in the 2013 book “Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air.”
Just how loosely based is it? Well for starters scientist Henry Coxwell who was part of the expedition, is not depicted in the feature. Instead he is replaced by fictional character Amelia Wren, who is a mixture of female scientists and explorers of the decade. To say “The Aeronauts” don’t have a little poetic licensing with history, I’d be lying. To help raise the dramatic stakes, throughout the film. Amelia is haunted by the death of her beloved husband and hot air balloon flying partner, who sacrificed his life to save Amelia on an ill-fated excursion a few years earlier.
Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne and Oscar nominee Felicity Jones, reunite after being last seen together in the Stephen Hopkins biopic “The Theory of Everything”. The 2014 film which was nominated for five Oscars, took home one in the best actor category for Eddie Redmayne. “The Aeronauts” is the exception that proves the rule, that good movies can contain hot air balloons. Although just note that it doesn’t feature just a scene in a hot air balloon, it’s primarily set in a hot air balloon, becoming not just a test of science but survival.
Set high in the skies above London in 1862, as scientist James Glaisher and pilot Amelia Wren, attempt to shatter the record for highest altitude ever attained. In the process, James aims to collect data proving one can predict weather patterns, and Amelia who hopes to assuage her guilt over her husband’s death. The pair are tested in full as they deal with violent storms and dangerous altitudes, facing a streak of potential disasters as they work around the basket and the balloon itself, while 35,000 feet up in the air.
The staged action is excellent, as director Tom Harper uses skillfully designed CGI to carefully sell the vastness of the sky and all the threats nature can contain. There’s plenty of stunt work as Amelia, in one brilliantly executed scene, Amelia climbs to the top of the balloon at 35,000 feet in a desperate attempt at repairs, while James lies unconscious at the bottom of the basket, rapidly being frozen to death. It’s just one of many action sequences brilliantly directed by Harper who expertly re-creates a real terrifying sense of vertigo.
Scenes like these scream out to be seen on the biggest screen possible. I wish I had been able to see this in it’s limited short theatrical run. Instead we are forced to watch the film at home on Amazon’s prime video streaming service. Which is unfortunate as it’s costing the film the intended way it’s suppose to be seen, this is a real shame as the movie was filmed with IMAX cameras.
The CGI effects are some of the years best in creating the most impressive hot-air balloon sequences ever. Just as impressive is the films sound mixing, that is Oscar worthy. The direction and sound design make you feel as if you’re really up there with them. Harper puts right in the middle of the chaos. Since “The Aeronauts” is only available on Amazon prime, find a relative or a friend that has the biggest flat screen and home surround sound theater system and get yourself immersed.
Screenwriter Jack Thorne has written an entertaining and thrilling screenplay, and Tom Harper’s direction alternates between magnificent and breathtaking wide shots and dramatically intense close-ups. Harper creates suspense and spectacle while filming in the tight confines of the balloon and proves he is a master at filming in the “high skies” and giving you that sense of vertigo. Harper uses a real-time technique, telling us that the ascent, as dangerous as it was, only lasted an hour and some minutes.
“The Aeronauts” has that sense of Jules Verne adventure; feeling like a lost Disney film from the sixties. Because it’s an Amazon original we will never get a Blu Ray release, which is a major bummer for us hard media folks. I would love to own this on physical media. It’s one of Amazon’s biggest productions ever, and one that could prove to be serious competition between Amazon and Netflix.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4 & 1/2 out of 5)