I recently had the opportunity to attend a pre-release screening of National Geographic’s new IMAX film, “Living in the Age of Airplanes.” I first saw the trailer last fall and was immediately excited to see it. Being the aviation geek that I am, I held high expectations, and I’m happy to be able to say they were met.
The project was produced and directed by Brian J. Terwilliger, who is also known for the aviation film “One Six Right.” The runtime of the show was 47 minutes, and the producers maximized every minute with absolutely stunning cinematography, paired with majestic music tracks by Oscar-winning composer James Horner and narration by Harrison Ford. The show opened in the famous “Airplane Graveyard” in Mojave, California, with sad, parted-out 747s as Ford spoke about how air travel is now taken for granted.
Next, we are taken down a timeline of human transportation. Beginning 200,000 years ago, humans had only one mode of transportation – our own two feet. Then roughly 5,000 years ago, the wheel was invented, and we began having animals pull us along. Fast-forward to the 1600s, when sailing ships took us across the seas and expanded our globe. In the 1800s, steam trains, and later, steam ships, propeller planes, and finally, the Jet Age.
Another focus of the film is the importance of the global air cargo network. To demonstrate this, we see a bouquet of long-stemmed roses make its way from the grower in Kenya, to the wholesale market in Amsterdam, to a vase in Alaska in just over seventeen hours. We also see how our homes are a melting pot for produce, garments, and housewares from all over the globe.
In the final scene, we’re given a look at our own perspective as travelers. When we fly, we often sit there without realizing we’re going anywhere, Ford says. But taking a look out the window, from 35,000 feet; we see more of our Earth in one glance than most of our ancestors saw in their whole life. This window seat perspective is what I love most about aviation.
The cinematography alone makes this film worth seeing. A few scenes that come to mind: a United Boeing 777 traversing the taxiways at SFO as the camera ascents straight up to give a view of the whole Bay Area. A montage of Airbus A380s on takeoff. Seaplanes landing on azure waters in the Maldives.
If I could improve anything about the film, it would be two things. First, I wish it were longer. Those 47 minutes really flew by, no pun intended. However, the movie’s reps on Twitter said the run time is right in the “sweet spot” for IMAX films. I would also have liked to see some content on the manufacturing process. So many advances have been made in the past couple of decades, including composite fuselages, glass cockpits, and eco-friendly fuels.
Perhaps a follow-up film will cover how planes are built and tested. I’ve been fortunate to tour the assembly lines where some commercial aircraft are built, and it never ceases to amaze me the amount of knowledge and effort that goes into building planes.
Everyone should see this film. It is appropriate for all audiences, from interested kids to the jaded million-mile flyers. It is my love and fascination of planes, put into images – and it’s incredible.
All photos are screenshots taken from the video, cited to National Geographic.