Living in the Age of Airplanes (2015)

A mile of runway can take you anywhere.

It’s inevitable that as any technology becomes more mainstream and refined, we, the users, become less aware of its impact around us. Planes are, in the scheme of things, a relatively new mode of transportation, one that revolutionized connectivity across the globe in a manner that, as a Bill Gates quote points out, was only outdone by the immediacy of the modern internet — and even then, airplanes still soar (pun intended).

The mantra of this National Geographic documentary is to get patrons to appreciate what aviation has brought to the world and what it continues to do for us — allowing people to explore, connect, learn, collect and communicate. It’s in light of this that some may be disappointed by what’s on offer here.

See, Living in the Age of Airplanes is not a thorough expose of the ins and outs of aviation history (although that is covered briefly), rather, it’s a revaluation of how much we rely on this integral transport in varying ways, whether we’ve hopped continents for a holiday or simply shopped at a local store, aviation impacts our daily lives. In one of the most enlightening segments, viewers follow a freshly cut flower as it jumps continents from Brazil to Canada, eventually making its way to a home halfway across the globe (well before it dies), where it’s placed besides all sorts of furnishings, this illustrating a global connection of sorts.

Bigger is Better
Bigger is Better

Shot for the IMAX screen, it’s not surprising to see cinematographer Andrew Waruszewski, Why We Ride (2013), indulge in the larger-than-life format by showing off the diverse beauty of the world — from the epic dryness of America’s Grand Canyon to the lush forests of Peru, the neon-lit world of Tokyo to the ancient wonders of Rome, Living in the Age of Airplanes showcases a number of stunning locations. There are times where, admittedly, this all comes across as a grander travelogue of sorts, but when it’s rendered in such a breathtaking way, how could you not want to see more?

Co-writer and director Brian J. Terwilliger is no stranger to aviation, having made the doco One Six Right (2005), a well-received love letter to the iconic Van Nuys Airport in Southern California and the flight fanatics who adored it. Here, in Living in the Age of Airplanes, Terwilliger and co-writer Jessica Grogan have divided their passionate essay into five chapters that demonstrate the role of air travel, from past and present.

Narrated by Harrison Ford, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), the Hollywood icon being no stranger to airliners, what, having uttered the famous line from Air Force One (1997) ‘Get off my plane!’ Ford sounds about as interesting as the segments are. If that sounds like a dig, well, perhaps it is, but I guess Ford’s just honest about his interests, which seem to lie in the development of flight technology, the eye-opening facts of the transport’s usage and its role in human relationships. When the giant IMAX canvas is engulfed by a stunning waterfall, the picture painting a thousand words, one can almost hear Ford’s reluctant ‘do I have to?’ before he chimes in with a monotone voice-over that basically just encourages people to book flights.

Plane and Simple
Plane and Simple

Balancing Ford’s lesser moments is one of the last evocative scores by the late James Horner, The Magnificent Seven (2015), who ironically died last year in a plane crash. Here, Horner contributes unashamedly to the sense of awe, playing up the romanticism of the aircraft and the scope of the world to an often-moving effect.

At the end of the day, while not as historically focused as some may have wished, Living in the Age of Airplanes is unlikely to dwindle the enthusiasm of aviation fans, while perhaps inspiring others to dream of a faraway adventure. Although its heart is in the right place, I’m uncertain as to whether this one will be able to get audiences to re-connect with the power of flight!

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Living in the Age of Airplanes is currently playing at IMAX Melbourne, Australia