A new film—Living in the Age of Airplanes—opens today at IMAX, giant-screen and digital theaters at museums, science centers and other institutions. Produced and directed by Brian Terwilliger, who also created the films One Six Right and Flying Full Circle, the new film highlights how aviation has changed the course of human history in enormous ways, but in a tiny period of time compared to how long humans have been moving around planet Earth.
Living in Los Angeles, I often get offers to see movie premieres, but an invitation from GE Aviation, which provided some of the funding for the new film, to see Living in the Age of Airplanes on an airplane proved irresistible.
The premiere of the film took place last Monday, during a flight on a new Airbus A380 provided by Emirates. It was strange to check in through security for a flight that wasn’t going anywhere. We first gathered at the Emirates lounge at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for an excellent lunch and a brief introduction by Terwilliger, who has been working on the firm for the past six years. The film is being distributed by National Geographic Studios, which co-hosted the flight with Emirates. Living in the Age Of Airplanes features a delightful original score by Academy Award-winning composer James Horner (Avatar, Titanic).
“Since we were all born into a world with airplanes,” Terwilliger said, “it’s hard to imagine that jet travel itself is only 60 years old, just a tick on the timeline of human history. Yet practically overnight, our perception of crossing continents and oceans at 500 mph has turned from fascination to frustration. I want to reignite people’s wonder for one of the most extraordinary aspects of the modern world.”
Patrick Brannelly, Emirates divisional vice president of customer experience, welcomed us to the flight “over the skies of Hollywood,” although technically we didn’t fly over the film capital of the world, but close enough. “This tribute to aviation is a reminder of how incredible aviation is,” he said, “and the power aviation has to connect people all over the world.” The A380 we were about to board left the Airbus factory just two weeks earlier and is the airline’s 59th; the 60th is slated to arrive next week.
Actor and pilot Harrison Ford narrated Living in the Age of Airplanes, and he had planned to join us on the flight, but is still recovering from a successfully flown engine-failure turn-around during takeoff at nearby Santa Monica Airport, which resulted in a rather hard landing. “We’re pleased he’s making a speedy recovery,” Brannelly said.
The A380, crewed by Capt. Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum and senior first officers Nasser Al Ghafry and John Braddock, took off from LAX then climbed to 24,000 feet and circled over the ocean west of the California coastline while the guests were treated to the 47-minute film running on the Emirates “ice” entertainment system’s 20-inch screens.
The film is not so much a paean to aviation as an awe-inspiring view of how aviation has changed the way we travel, starting from early human history 200,000 years ago when the only way to get anywhere was on foot. The transition from walking to the invention of the wheel, traveling on ships, development of the steam engine, then aviation are all relatively recent, but aviation has had the most significant effect. “Airplanes liberated us from the ground,” the narration explained. “Unlike cars and trains, they didn’t need elaborate infrastructure. Just a place to take off and land. That moment that we took to the skies marked the beginning of a revolution.”
The appeal to a wide audience is clear in the beautifully filmed scenes, which were done in 18 countries on six continents and focus on primarily airline-type airplanes. A neat scene shows a Trans Maldivian Twin Otter on floats from a most unusual perspective: underneath the ocean looking up at the airplane just after a turtle swims by. In another segment, aviation’s impact is highlighted by following a cut flower from a farm in Kenya as it quickly travels to the flower’s buyer in a distant locale, in plenty of time to remain fresh for more than a week. The transport of the flowers turns into a dance of disparate elements all conspiring to get the flowers delivered, all framed by Horner’s jaunty saxophone-inspired music.
“On any given day,” the narration went on, “there are more than 100,000 takeoffs and landings, more than a quarter million of us in the sky. Airplanes are nearly invisible, yet their circulation is the lifeblood of the world…when we enter an airport, we’re entering a portal to the planet…each gate is a doorway to another part of the world. In a sense, we’re walking distance to almost anywhere.”
The film was captivating and profound and beautifully photographed. The A380 was so smooth that I completely forgot that I was in the air, until some mild turbulence reminded me where we were, 24,000 feet high, but with all the window shades down to provide the proper ambiance to watch a film about exactly what we were doing. Or as Terwilliger so aptly put it in his film, “As we float along to our destination with our shades closed to the world, it’s easy to forget one of aviation’s greatest gifts. This view is unique to our time in history. We see more in a single glance than people once saw in a lifetime.”