Studio: Imagine Entertainment
US Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 82 Minutes (includes special feature running time)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 5.1, Stereo
Review Date: April 29, 2009
*Note: The Magic of Flight was originally created for exhibition in IMAX theaters
The Show - out of
The large format IMAX films, seen in IMAX theatres are incredible experiences. Short films that educate, entertain and enthrall are the mainstay of these oversized screens and, while IMAX has grown itself over the years, profiling big blockbuster films, like The Dark Knight, its true source of constant marvel is short film documentaries. Filmmaking Company MacGillivray-Freeman has been creating documentary style films that capture imagination with a grand visual boldness and lushly filmed grandeur for decades. The films created have explored and educated on the magnificence of the planet, from the depths of the sea, to the heights of flight. The library includes the first film of theirs, To Fly!, through incredible and at times Oscar nominated and winning shorts such as The Living Sea, Dolphins and Everest. The incredible talents of the MacGillivray-Freeman company, independently run out of Laguna Beach, CA, have even been used in major motion pictures, notably Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for the sweeping aerial shots.
The Magic of Flight was originally shown in IMAX theaters and explores the nature and wonder of flight. It primarily follows the training regimen and air-show performance of the world-famous Blue Angels, elite fighter pilots from the US Navy whose close maneuvers and extraordinary aerial feats astonish crowds across the United States every year. I can remember visiting an air show on my birthday back when I was around 9 or 10 years old. The Red Angels (England’s superior fighter pilot aerobatic team) performed and dazzled the crowd and terrified me with their close proximity flying, the appearance of impending impact with each other and sonic booms that quite literally rips your ears out. It was, however, incredible. So an IMAX film celebrating that is immediately appealing.
Director/Producer Greg MacGillivray has devoted his life to bringing to IMAX theaters films, captured with the impressive IMAX cameras, that have never quite been seen that way before. Here, in partnership with McDonnell Douglas and at a cost approaching almost a million dollars, the film crew developed special mounts to use with the various craft, positioning them behind the wheel mounts, cockpit, under the wing and more to capture incredible footage of the flights. And this film puts you right up the air among the clouds and tight formations of the Blue Angel jets.
The film, with narration by Tom Selleck begins with a look at birds and their evolved ability to flutter wings and master the air before briefly sharing the beginning of mankind’s adventure in winged flight. These sequences may slow down the more adrenaline fueled moment but provides that critical element found in every MacGillivray-Freeman film, education with a sense of fun and deep appreciation for history.
Brad Ohlund, Director of Photography, does a terrific job of providing a sense of the magnificent in flight and beauty in slower shots. But the real power of The Magic of Flight comes from the energy and thunder of the mounted camera shots. Truly the raw power of the jet engines can be felt and when the jet fighter spins and the IMAX camera captures with its large format glory the spinning land beneath them. Those that don’t do so well on amusement park rides may need to look away for a moment – but looking back will be worth your time.
Aerial shots are nothing new in film – but the IMAX cameras mounted on Blue Angel fighter jets going upwards of 600 miles per hours is quite something. The Magic of Flight isn’t the most compelling subject matter tackled by the extremely talented crew, but it is perhaps the most gut-wrenching and adrenaline fueled of them all.
The Magic of Flight is presented for the first time on Blu-Ray with a 1080p High Definition transfer and shown here with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It has been released a couple of time before, notably a 2-Disc WMVHD Edition released in June 2004. But now, it makes its debut on the next generation High Definition media format and the results are wonderful, but with some issues.
For much of the 40 minutes, the visuals impress with rich clarity, truly vibrant colors (especially the blues of the sky and the dusty reds of the deserts where the Blue Angel pilots train) and impressive detail. As pristine as this image is for the most part, dust, debris and other artifacts flitter in the image on several shots and is really quite noticeable at times and you may find it distracts you.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is thunderous at times. When the jets engage, the fronts are abounding with energy and the soaring jets zip around the speakers nicely. But the single most impressive moment throughout this entire film is actually the opening, when the sound of the vast swaths of birds literally surround you – very natural and very real.
Another great audio performance from a MacGillivray-Freeman IMAX film on blu-ray release.
’Making Of’ Documentary - (42:00) – I have said this before, but the ‘making of’ featurettes accompanying MacGillivray-Freeman blu-ray releases are a joy to watch. They add new dimensions to the appreciation of how the film was accomplished. Here, over the 40+ minute running time, the crew discuss and show the challenges of designing and building the special camera mounts that would attach to the aircraft (and that took about a year to get right). We get a look at the patience the crew had to show in waiting to get just the right shot with just the right light of the birds – and much more. I look forward to watching these ‘making of’s’ almost as much as the films themselves.
A MacGillivray Freeman Short Retrospective - (7:36)– A short retrospective on their film library.
Trailers – Trailers for 12 MacGillivray-Freeman films in High Definition with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
This isn’t the best that MacGillivray-Freeman films have offered in their many years producing fine large format films, but it still offers plenty to enjoy. The aerial footage of the Blue Angels both training and performing for air-show attendees really are quite stunning. The interviews with pilots and flight historians are interesting and provide the important educational balance to the exhilarating footage and combines to produce another fun film.