I'm not exactly the world's calmest flyer. I'm certainly not pathologically afraid of flying, by any means--I've flown all over the world and usually take a couple of trips a year by plane. But there's something so unnatural about the experience (and, no, not just the "food"), that it has always done something weird to my psyche that tends to erupt in a palpitating heart and sweaty palms. So it was somewhat comforting to hear a stunt pilot in The Magic of Flight state explicitly that there is a fear aspect to all flight that plays into the wonder of it all. Whether or not she meant typical, run of the mill jumbo jet passengers like me I won't spend too much time worrying about--it was comforting to hear an "expert" talk openly about being afraid.
That same idea is expressed several times throughout this at times exciting, but run of the mill itself, IMAX film by McGillivray Freeman, the leader in jumbo screen entertainments. One of the Blue Angels talks about his "day job," as a crewman on an aircraft carrier, and the adrenaline rush he gets every time he lands a plane on the absurdly short deck. This guy with obviously huge amounts of the "right stuff" is very candid in expressing his knocking knees and racing heart each and every time he brings his fighter jet in for a landing.
So I may be cutting this piece a little more slack than it's due simply because it made me feel personally better about my aversion to speeding skyward at several hundred miles per hour. The Magic of Flight, narrated by Tom Selleck, is surprisingly earthbound, both figuratively and literally. While it has some truly amazing aerial footage, mostly due to cameras mounted on planes, notably Blue Angels jets, there's just as much time spent on the ground, following a Blue Angels rookie, for instance, as well as in brief interview segments with stunt pilots and a Smithsonian curator who gives some brief background on the history of flight and the physics involved.
Speaking of physics, one thing I would have loved to have seen is some sort of description of how the Blue Angels, whose stunt flying makes up the bulk of this 40 minute outing, plan and execute their tricks. There certainly must be algorithms and split second timing planning involved, but nothing is ever explicitly discussed, other than how various rolls and tucks tend to physically strain the pilots.
On the plus side, the aerial footage that is included is really stunning, and viscerally exciting at times. Having a nosecone's view of vertigo inducing quick rolls and drops is really an amazing experience. And some of the information imparted is quite interesting as well, as in various grunting, clenching exercises the Angels rehearse to keep blood trapped in their brains so that they won't black out in high G-force moments. But for a documentary that advertises "magic" in its title, this is one of the more curiously flat IMAX features that McGillivray-Freeman has produced. What might have produced a greater sense of wonder would have been less of a focus on the Blue Angels, and more flyover footage, devoid of the largely bland narration.
Some of this VC-1 1.78:1 BD looks great. Unfortunately, the opening shots taken from a fish-eye lens of a tree and sky vista full of birds is full of some really awful edge enhancement, something that dots the BD at times for the rest of the presentation. Other than that, colors are very strong and natural, with excellent saturation, and aside from some shimmer on some topiary scenes, detail is excellent as well.
The DTS HD-MA 5.1 mix is surprisingly robust, with some great use of surround channels on everything from a squawking bunch of seagulls to the thunder of jet engines. A sort of jangly, rock/country score is appealing a mixed well into the overall soundscape. A French DD 5.1 mix is also available.
A fairly standard, if interesting, making of featurette is included, showing how they got the astounding aerial footage. Also on tap is the History of McGillivray-Freeman Films piece that has been included on other MFF BDs, as well as a biography of Greg MacGillivray. Some BD Live content is accessible, though there's not much there yet. Trailers round out the extras.
Unfortunately there's too little magic and flight in this piece to vault it to the head of the usually superb McGillivray-Freeman canon. When the documentary concentrates on aerial footage sans insipid narration, it finally soars. There's simply not enough of those moments in this 40 minute feature for me to recommend you do anything other than Rent It.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet