Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Aeronauts - Review

Once upon a time, hot air balloons used to be the future of flight, an engineering accomplishment of flammable gas, silk, and a precarious basket that lead to new heights. Now, they’re a novelty, an experience that’s sought after by less and less people as the years go by. But boy were they all the rage in 1800s London, and The Aeronauts seeks to explore just what a flight above the clouds could look and feel like, even if it nixes telling an interesting story along the journey.

In 1862 headstrong scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) and wealthy young widow Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones) mount a balloon expedition to fly higher than anyone in history. As their perilous ascent reduces their chances of survival, the unlikely duo soon discover things about themselves -- and each other -- that help both of them find their place in the world.

While it’s somewhat unclear what motivations director TomHarper had in making The Aeronauts, it seems the actual product wants so desperately to be Gravity. Unfortunately, it lands nowhere near the vicinity of that film, but it doesn’t fall apart entirely in its attempt either. The visuals of the voyage are stellar, from the CGI to the costumes to the general production design of 1800s London, which makes for a pleasant viewing for the sights and sounds of a time period fascinated by the sky. It just doesn’t bother with anything compelling beyond that pretty facade.
Watching the film, the historical accuracy may not come into question all that much. It’s a tale of two individuals who want to go higher than any human has ever been to study the weather. Throw in some huge pace disrupting flashbacks to their dealings and interactions to actually get into the air, and what’s left can’t come close to matching the visuals in quality. Nevermind the fact that Felicity Jones’ character is entirely made up, an odd choice from writer Jack Thorne considering there were actual female aeronauts who could’ve been the subject of a film, and replaces the actual person who went up with Glaisher. Substituting individuals in a historical film is nothing new, but it is questionable when the character is so central to the plot.

But it’s not as though Redmayne or Jones are bad either, just given bad material. Redmayne, who never met a role of a British man devoted to his work that he didn’t like, is solid, but the character is utterly irritating from almost the first moment we see him. Jones is given the bulk of the backstory, and she is really the heart of what the film is trying to do, but she gets bogged down with cliches, cliches, and more cliches. “Women don’t belong in balloons” is an actual line of dialogue in this movie, delving the whole thing dangerously close to parody.

The Aeronauts is doomed by a script that longs to be inspirational and tense rather than actually telling the story of pioneering individuals that did change the world of flight and science all at once. And yet, it’s still not a terrible film. The visuals are really fantastic, a sneaky contender for the unpredictable VFX categories of awards season, and its quick runtime make it an easy watch. But that’s all it is, a film that you’ll likely put on your TV when it hits Amazon later in December, watch it for the visuals, and then forget every story element that came and went. In a time of so many great films releasing, The Aeronauts is one that can wait.

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