Guest Review

Living In The Age Of Airplanes: Exploring Humanity’s Place In The World

by Philip Cosand

Looking for a good movie? You really should take in the new spellbinder about traveling to far-off worlds. You know, the one that has been in the works for several years with Harrison Ford, voice heavy with gravitas, leading you on a new adventure.

You think I’m talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens? (“Patience you must have, my young Padawan.”) That doesn’t open until December!

In the meantime, go see Living In The Age Of Airplanes.

The director spent six years putting this project together. And looking at the gorgeous shots in over two dozen locations (18 countries and all seven continents), you can believe it.

The movie is, and this is going to sound corny, an exploration of humanity’s place in the world. If there is one theme the filmmakers come back to, it is perspective. They start off by showing how we have only been able to fly for a tiny a sliver of time. From that moment on, they encourage you to take your thoughts away from the control panels and instruments in the cockpit and instead look at the world around you.

I should make a little confession here. I love Sea-Tac — the experience of the airport itself. I have gone to Sea-Tac just to people watch. It is fascinating. You see weary college students collapse into their parents’ arms. Immigrants—who have saved for years to bring their families over—explode in tearful joy as their plan comes together. There might even be a spouse returning to their family after a long assignment overseas. If you want to see snapshots of love and affection played out, go to the airport.

That is the feeling that the movie sets out to convey. Much of that is accomplished through breathtaking cinematography. I was not sure there was such a thing as a glamor-shot of a jet airliner, but there is. The deserts full of abandoned planes, the busy tarmacs, the time-lapse photography of lights whizzing across the skyline; they come across as graceful and majestic. Still, it is not the machines themselves that matter here. It is what they can do for our world.

Airplanes bring bananas to our grocery stores and clothing choices to our dressers. (Watch the rose scene. The system really is quite impressive.) Sea-Tac handles around 30 million customers a year, and then there is the cargo. Air travel is such a part of our lives that the U.S. has grounded all planes only four times in aviation history. (Three of those were trial runs in the sixties.)

When the film is not focused on people, it showcases the lands they can travel to: Antarctica, Africa, Los Angeles; this is where I am guessing the six years came in. The cinematography cannot be praised enough. Every kind of terrain gets its time on the screen. The scenic shots stop just short of becoming a travelogue while still allowing us to take in many remarkable locales.

Paired with Ford’s narration is music by James Horner. From Star Trek II to Mask of Zorro to A Beautiful Mind, the man has spent decades honing his craft and it comes across beautifully. From the first note, it fit and enhanced the experience. The last song felt a little too dramatic, but they had to go out big, right?

A bit of warning: this is not a science film. And there is nothing wrong with that. Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey and Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West are not science films and they hold up great after multiple viewings. If you are looking for a documentary that talks about the science of planes, seek out Legends of Flight. For those wanting an exciting Top Gun-type movie, I would recommend Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag. Living In The Age of Airplanes has about as much engineering talk as To Fly; maybe less.

It is not a science or a sci-fi movie, but it offers an important reminder of what we take for granted every day. Everyone has a moment where they sneak a peek out the plane window. We want to see the world below us and marvel at it all. Think of it as Rocky Mountain Express, but with more majestic sights. The world is spread out before us like a tableau and shows us just how small we really are. Also, it is as close as you are going to get to staring into a jet engine or nose cone and not get arrested. (Editor’s Note: Do not ever walk onto a tarmac. Ever. ) Take in the giant planes on a giant IMAX screen. It is safer for everyone. Thank you.

Philip Cosand, a volunteer film critic and longtime projectionist, worked in Pacific Science Center’s IMAX theaters for 16 years.