Just looking at a hot air balloon makes me nauseous and gives me uncontrollable anxiety, so watching “The Aeronauts” was a unique experience.
I suspect that my experience watching “Aeronauts” is what someone with acute arachnophobia would endure watching “Arachnophobia.” There’s something about the inherent uncontrollable nature of hot air balloons that sends my stomach into backflips. Just thinking about Amelia (Felicity Jones) and James (Eddie Redmayne) sailing higher than a commuter jet’s cruising altitude in a balloon constructed with late 1800s technology makes my toes curl. For me, “Aeronauts” was a horror film.
James is a headstrong English scientist searching for a way to predict the weather. Weather prediction, however, is looked upon by the science community of the time like witchcraft. It just isn’t possible. James theorizes it is possible, but he needs to get high enough to study the air.
Amelia is equally stubborn, but more of a showoff. She’s a famous hot air balloon pilot. How one goes about becoming that in 1862 is anybody’s guess, but apparently many people in England know of her ballooning exploits.
James recruits Amelia to fly him higher than any human has ever gone, so he can study the air and hopefully come down with a way to predict weather. What transpires is a harrowing journey where they do ridiculous death-defying things in the name of science. They also throw a lot of stuff overboard during the movie, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the poor people below being crushed by the advancement of meteorology.
There are some harrowing scenes as Amelia and James ascend into the upper reaches of our atmosphere. In one scene, as the balloon reaches well over 30,000 feet, Amelia must scale the entire balloon to get to the top where the gas release door has frozen shut. She does this with nearly frostbit fingers and sheer grit. Nothing stops her from accomplishing the impossible.
It was nice to see a movie where the female isn’t in need of the male’s help to save herself. Amelia is a strong, competent character who can be just heroic as any male out there.
“Aeronauts” succeeds during its distressing high-flying action scenes. Even with all the accompanying anxiety those scenes gave me they are wonderfully crafted and perfectly executed.
The film falters when it tries to append backstories for Amelia and James. The backstories are there to supply some sort of connection to the characters, but they feel underdeveloped and tacked on.
“Aeronauts” is a different kind of action-survival movie. It’s not too often you see two people precariously hanging from hot air balloons as they race uncontrollably towards space. The helplessness is palpable. It’s an effective setting for some great action sequences.