Some movies just don’t seem to come out at the right time. The climate around a film never determines its quality, but it can certainly help. Big, CGI-laden adventure fantasies are sure not a thing of the past in 2019, but it seems that tastes have shifted toward a more science fiction-centered oeuvre than the period piece; people are looking forward, not backward. That being said, Tom Harper’s The Aeronauts falls into this unfortunate category. While certainly not a bad film, it feels as though the audience for it has passed and in that, feels out of place alongside our multiple 2019 cinematic offerings.
Inspired by true events, the film centers on 19th century meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) and Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), two renowned aeronauts publicly attempting to reach the highest altitude recorded for a hot air balloon. Their adventure is “clouded” with risk and heartbreak, though; this is James’ last opportunity to prove to his community (and the world) that it is possible to predict the weather. It is Amelia’s chance to prove to herself that she can overcome her husband’s death – coincidentally also balloon-related. But their troubles are multiplied when they aim too high- literally- and acts of God themselves get in the way.
Along their journey, the film uses several instances of flashbacks to reveal the characters’ backstory: James’ attempts to gain funding to experiment with flying, his burgeoning partnership with Amelia, and the two’s attempts to make their flight. What is concerning is that the flashback scenes cause the pacing to go awry. Perhaps presenting the scenes in chronological order would have been a better choice…or maybe it wouldn’t have helped at all.
While thinly disguised as a biopic or biographical film, The Aeronauts is ultimately a disaster/survival movie, this time the disaster simply being set on a hot-air balloon voyage. It isn’t necessarily the most intriguing plot and sadly doesn’t result in the most intriguing film. A more formal study on the history of balloon flight may have been a better subject to examine, but one wonders if the material would have sufficed to make a thoroughly entertaining film. With a wealth of disaster and survival films already released, audience just might not be as interested anymore. It seems as if The Aeronauts was purely made to generate Oscar buzz, but ultimately failed in providing subject matter worthy of acclaim.
This being said, there are positive aspects of the film. Some of the climactic scenes are exciting, albeit riddled with slightly less than believable CGI. The choices cinematographer George Steel makes to induce anxiety and fear in the characters during their most desperate hours is infectious. The picture begins to blur, inducing a sense of dread in the viewer so naturally that they may not even realize it. Most of all, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones have great chemistry together. Already being paired with each other before, they exhibit an honest movie duo that could be put to great use if they were not so inclined to mediocre biographical period films.
Ultimately, The Aeronauts is not a boring watch. The action keeps things tense, though it might have been beneficial to save it for the latter half of the film instead of making it the entire main plot point. Overall, it is a fine film for anyone interested in the period and its many inventions. But if viewers are in the mood for something more memorable, they may have to look elsewhere.