Filmed in 18 countries across all 7 continents, the film explores the countless ways the airplane affects our lives (even when we don’t fly). With a fascinating take on history, breathtaking visuals, soaring music, and a truly unique perspective, LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES shows the airplane in a fresh light as it takes audiences on a wondrous trip around the globe.
In 1995, at the ripe old age of 14, my family took a cross-country road trip from one coast all the way to the other. One of the destinations was Washtington, D.C., where we made an entire day out of visiting the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. Being a family of science and space nerds, we easily could have spent several days exporing the exibits and learning all that it had to teach. With a love of movies already growing within me, the highlight was seeing my first IMAX film. Shot entirely on 70 mm celludoid, 'Destiny in Space' completely filled the monstrous screen with 40 minutes of shot-in-space footage that made me feel like I was really there. With the focus showing astronauts repair the Hubble telescope, the experience was literally dizzing. Although Hollywood has taken over the IMAX name and somewhat bastardized its power, there are still some studios that effectively use it in the same way that 'Destiny in Space' worked. Although I wasn't able to see National Geographic's 'Living in the Age of Airplanes' on an IMAX screen, after watching the gorgeous Blu-ray, I'm certain that it would have warranted the same immersive visual experience that 'Destiny in Space' did.
Narrated by real-life pilot Harrison Ford, 'Living in the Age of Airplanes' is a brilliantly composed love letter to avaition that's broken into five parts. Before the first chapter, an introduction explains the way that aviation is perceived in modern times. It notes the hassles, the delays and all of the other nuissances that come with airline travel. Collectively, they make aviation – the most amazing form of transportation – something that's highly griped about and frustrating.
Following the brief intro, we start the first chapter: "The World Before the Airplane." This segment analyzes human travel in great detail, showing how the average speed of travel has increased over Earth's lifespan. As we walk through the industrial revolution bits, we're shown lots of aged, grainy and flawed black & white archival footage – but once this accelerated history lesson catches us up to modern times, we're intoduced to the jaw-dropping, crystal clear footage that would make an IMAX viewing all the more impressive. From there out, the immersive visuals never cease.
Parts two through four – titled "The Portal to the Planet," "Redefining Remote," and 'The World Comes to Us" – show the impact that aviation has on mankind. The world once seemed like such a huge place with countless unreachable places, but Earth is now quite a bit smaller. Thanks to modern aviation, without even knowing it, more now than ever, we're connected with more people, places and things from around the globe. One fantastic segment follows a perishable product from a distant country as it travels via FedEx airplanes all the way around the globe in just a few dozen hours. It's topped with a creative single-take view of an average home that shows the country of origin for many household products. Unbeknownst to most of us, we're all connected through aviation (amongst other forms of mass product shipping).
The final chapter is a magical one. Titled "Perspective," it causes us to re-think our feelings about aviation. The travels hassles and worry are non-issues when you consider what an amazing feat flying is. Like an adventurous kid traveling on an airplane for the first time, it adds the wonder back into flying. The impact of this well-constructed conclusion will have you looking into the sky once again and anticipating the next time that you will get to take flight. It will make this, the fastest and most efficient mode of transportation, impressive again.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
National Geographic has placed 'Living in the Age of Airplanes' on a Region-free BD-25 that's housed in a no-name blue keepcase that's quite sturdy. A small booklet is included that features a scene guide, special feature list and credits. A slick, visually pleasing cardboard slip cover also comes with it. Upon popping the disc into your player, following an unskippable FBI warning, the only pre-menu video to play is a trailer for another gorgeous-looking documentary titled 'One Six Right: The Romance of Flying.' Set to a few minutes of footage from the film and beautiful score from the late James Horner, the main menu is mesmerizing.
'Living in the Age of Airplanes' comes with a stellar 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Although shot on a single high-res Arri Alexa digital camera (there's a special feature dedicated to their camera), the film was theatrically presented via 70 mm and 65 mm celluloid prints. The quality of the Blu-ray is so sharp that, unless you have a superbly trained eye for it, you'd never know that it wasn't shot on 70 mm IMAX film stock.
Aside from the flawed, old archival black & white footage (which is presented in smaller section of the center for the frame with black borders all around it), everything in this film is gorgeous. The style and high quality imagery is like that delivered time and time again by the 'Planet Earth' folks. It's sharp, crisp and wildly rich in detail. Close-up shots of unsheathed jet engines are so finely detailed that they almost appear to be fake. Nothing can look that fine, can it? The detail in which complex imagery is shown is immaculate. In addition, shots from plane-mounted cameras have a seemingly 3D quality to the them. As we soar 50 feet above the Savannah, the imagery is anything but flat.
Blue skies, pastel sunsets, lush greenery and bustling vibrant terminals – all feature some the most vivid colors I've seen in one disc. With brilliant colorization that spans the entire spectrum, this is one magnificent disc to behold. The only flaw that I could find within it (which is what keeps this from being a flawless five-star disc) is a single instance of bands that can be found in the bright forward-facing lights of airplanes on approach for night landings. That's it. Aside from that, this is reference quality video.
'Living in the Age of Airplanes' comes with a well-rounded 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that sets the perfect soundstage for the film. All three elements - dialog, effects and music - work together harmoniously to make for a delightful listening experience.
Harrison Ford's voice-over narration contains the likeness of David Attenborough's 'Planet Eath' narrations, only with a little lest dynamic range and inflection. As you'd expect, it's clean, clear and certally located. When warranted, the effects mixing is also what you'd hope for. Engines roar with, seemingly, dozens of smaller sounds composing the grander singular sound. Within the engine sounds, you'll hear the spinning, the pressure, the rushing air. As passing planes buzz the camera, you'll hear the engines seamlessly image around the space. One excellent nature shot unexpectedly features a fast plane quickly zooming into the sound arena, smoothly transitioning from the back, then overhead, and then in the front as it enters the frame.
But the true heart of this mix is the score, which is able to envelop you in mood and emotion with as few as a couple simple notes. As I watched, I noted more and more how the score perfectly complimented the imagery. In my notebook, I jotted down "great music – better than most scores." It wasn't until the film ended and the credits rolled that I discovered that the music was composed by the late great James Horner. No wonder it's so much better than most scores! 'Living in the Age of Airplanes' is one of the last films that he scored before his unexpected death in 2015. (For those interested, the score is available to purchase as a digital download, but is not available on CD at this time.)
The special features menu is broken into three parts. The title of each describes the content within. Where each is listed, the runtime of that feature is shown; however, not all of the runtimes shown are accurate. The worst offender runs more than three minutes shorter than the advertised runtime.
Behind the Scenes
Beware that most of these features are of a technical nature and were likely only included here as part of product placement partnering.
When a film can spark wonder about a subject matter that has lost its luster, you know it's doing something right. National Geographic's 'Living in the Age of Airplanes' does just that. Like massive special effects in blockbuster films, we've become numb to the amazing world of aviation and everything that's possible only because of it. Popping in this wonderful Blu-ray and relishing in its gorgeous video and audio qualities - including James Horner's beautiful score - will revive an inner appreciation and love for flying.