Watch this as soon as you can…
The Aeronauts, from Amazon Studios, realises journeys into the sky are a double edged sword. There is a lot to stare at in wonder, but it is also a trip filled with risk. Both sides are captured to great effect, creating an entertaining film with a strong lead performance from Felicity Jones. It is just a great shame the story seems so desperate to ground itself for much of its run time. Its best moments are in the air, not down on Earth.
You would think a journey into the skies would be a mesmerising and stunning one, and this film does not disappoint. The cinematography captures the beauty of this journey into the air perfectly. Close ups of the sun shining on James (Eddie Redmayne) and establishing shots of the balloon in the air (it getting smaller and more distant each time) look superb. It makes one want to go up there, despite the danger Amelia (Felicity Jones) and James find themselves in.
The cinematography is more than up to the task of capturing the tumultuous and dangerous nature of the air. From the opening, the camera cuts between close ups of the two lead characters, Amelia and James, in distress and cuts to black. The effect is disorientating and chaotic, reminding one of many films where the ship finds themselves in the middle of a storm. Given the fact the title sounds very similar to the word “argonauts”, this is a very apt style to imitate. The perilous nature of the journey is effectively created throughout, with arc shots of the hot air balloon rising into dark clouds, and the Gravity-like shot of the camera spinning in free fall as Amelia falls off the balloon. A memorable score, soft and gentle in moments, constantly rising and swelling in intensity the next, adds much to a surprisingly action packed film. The journey into the air is a thrilling and entertaining one.
Further proof of the brutal nature of the journey can be found in the makeup and effects. The bruises look repulsively real, and when Amelia begins to freeze as the balloon rises further than ever before, she genuinely looks like she is suffering through a living death. The ice in her eyelashes and the changing colour of her skin are neat touches that add authenticity and realism to the drama.
It is such a shame, then, that the film spends so much time on the ground. Jack Thorne’s script is too reliant on flashbacks, as if Thorne did not trust us to maintain interest in a film set only in the confined space of a hot air balloon. The film follows a simple and overused present scene to flashback structure that detracts from the film. The scenes up in the air are when the film soars highest, and if the film spent more time up there, it would have benefited.
Nevertheless, Felicity Jones’ performance as Amelia keeps even the slower, boring moments interesting. She offers a great turn as Amelia, portraying her as a risk taker, but one with intelligence. She comes across as resourceful and smart, but also defiant and willing to have fun. She brings a lot of charisma to the film, making up for a bit of an underwhelming performance from Eddie Redmayne, who is playing the same awkward, brainy type he always seems to play. It is fine, but he brings nothing new nor exciting.
Whilst you do have to sit through the far less exciting flashbacks on the ground, the thrilling scenes in the sky more than make up for it. There is a sense of wonder and a sense of danger, carefully balanced throughout the sequences set in the sky. Holding both halves of the film together is a show-stealing performance from Felicity Jones. What could have been a boring historical drama is elevated to great heights by her performance and very effective cinematography. This is a film to see as soon as possible, before it floats away out of cinemas.