The Aeronauts Movie Review: Almost Reaches the Peak It Set Out For

Written by Ram Venkat Srikar

There is something I’m concerned about and have to address it in this review considering its relevance with this film. With biggies like Netflix and Amazon jumping in, Over-The-Top media services are undoubtedly reshaping the way movies are consumed. But I wish I had seen this film on the big screen, but somehow I couldn’t because Amazon opted for a direct streaming release in most parts of world, with an exception of some major markets, where the film received a limited theatrical release. I can certainly imagine how beautiful a giant balloon flying above the clouds would have looked stunning on a big screen. However, I had to watch it on my TV in my living room, which certainly wasn’t as spectacular as it should have been and holding the film accountable for not making me go “wow”, is foolish. No question about it, story and writing stand above everything. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s the magic of cinema, the imagery that gets imprinted in our memory, and that’s what I’ve missed with this film.

Being oblivious of history is peculiarly rewarding while viewing a film based on a historical event because you don’t have to worry about the historical accuracy and the greatest of the dangers there is, that you already know the ending. Isn’t it a huge setback to the whole movie-watching experience? Anyway, what I lacked due to a smaller screen was balanced with another deficit- shortage of historical knowledge. And that made this otherwise soft and light film, a thriller. Not knowing history does benefit.

Keeping all the banter aside, Tom Harper’s The Aeronauts opens with flashes of an incident that pushed Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) into deep trauma. The very first time we see her, she is behind a mirror refracting sky. She rushes out of the horse-drawn carriage when stricken by a panic attack and sits down outside. We understand that she doesn’t want to be confined in a box, which is her life, and prefers to be in the open. Amelia’s sister comforts her and tells her she doesn’t have to pilot an air balloon after want has happened. Amelia refuses. This one-minute scene coveys everything about her if you wish to see it that way. Her sister is the world that’s cramping her while she refrains from quitting. Then, a young boy suddenly runs past her, and the camera starts following him as he runs to watch the balloon take off. I saw it as a way to shift the film from her perspective to the audience’s, who will be witnessing the characters as a third person, just like the boy.

In the opening minutes, the film establishes itself as a story set in 1862 about a woman overcoming her fears, I resonated more with James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), the male lead because he was a better-written character. Let me remind you that I’m treating this as a fictional film inspired by real events; so, I’m presuming the characters as fictional. James even says he spent his entire life trying not to be laughed at. Here too, this single dialogue summons his personality, but we are told and shown at more than one instance how desperate this person is to achieve what he set out to, to predict the weather. This constant feeding pays off in the form of emotional resonance with his character. Whereas Amelia, despite having a stronger tragedy, and a character that demands higher physical performance, feels inconsistent. She could be pretending to be a person who she is not, but it is not underlined, though.

Asking for a different version of an already existing film is absurd, all we can do is imagine the alternate version in our heads. In this case, a conventional linear story-telling would have brought more depth to the character’s motivation. Right at the beginning, we see James and Amelia sailing off to achieve a world record by flying to heights no human has ever reached. Little do we know what the character’s motivation at that point. We are even told that Amelia barely knows this man, but she still knows more than we at the point.

There exists an emotional distance between us and the characters, and this erases only after these two people familiarize themselves with each other above the clouds with. And, we, the third person in a literal sense, see what feels to them to be where they are. The balloon taking-off is a life-altering moment for both Amelia and James because that’s what he has been striving for and she is taking the biggest jump leaving the past behind her. But the scene is simply a balloon taking off.

Remember Titanic‘s departure from the port? The scene is epic in terms of both scale and emotion. You can see years of labour coming to life, and people jumping with joy, both on and offshore. I get it, it’s just two people riding off in a hot air balloon, the comparison is unfair, but when seen through the eyes of these two people, it is an epic but is not conceived to be one.

Midling between adventure and biography, the screenplay has to be held culpable for not finding its feet until the last act. On and again, a simple linear story-telling would have been far more effective than what it is now. Not that it completely lacks the impact in its current form, it imperceptibly falls short in reaching the emotional peak which it could have easily with the resources at service.

The imagery in place is terrific and is sure to make palms sweat for the acrophobics, which we all covertly are. The sweeping images of the balloon above the clouds appear like ice and fire, even though drawing an analogy to contrasting nature of characters cannot be true. The scenes shot in the balloon have a higher aspect ratio, filling the screen. This could also be a visual proof that Amelia lives her life to the fullest when she is up in the air. The handheld cinematography, responding to every jerk or wind-blow, makes you the third person on the balloon.

The film brings back Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne five years after The Theory of Everything and I’m trying hard not to compare the two films. Jones, despite my issues with the character’s inconsistency, let it be the physical stress or the mental turmoil, aces both. And Redmayne seems to have perfected playing an intelligent yet outcasted men. The actor truly is stupendous when it comes to conversations. There’s this desire jammed deep inside that reflects when he talks about how he wants to predict the weather. The film’s most heartwarming moment has James listening to his father, who has dementia, speaking with pride about his son, at one of the lowest points of James’ life. The scene shows how well emotions can be played with provided that we know the character well.

Overall, The Aeronauts is at its best when it is the story of two people, which it is, for the most part.

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