LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES: Harrison Ford Narrates Aviation Documentary

From director Brian J. Terwilliger comes the National Geographic documentary short, Living in the Age of Airplanes. The film was an easy sell for me, as I’ve enjoyed numerous aviation and spaceflight documentaries tailored for “edutainment,” often captured and exhibited in the IMAX spherical film format (including Legends of Flight, The Dream is Alive, To Fly! and others).

This one is not an IMAX documentary, but still features some beautiful photography, credited to DP Andrew Waruszewski. Another appealing aspect of the film for myself is that it comes narrated by Harrison Ford, someone who is no stranger to the world of aviation.

During the film, I recognized some of the scoring, at times it echoed the style of Thomas Newman’s work, while other times it brought to mind James Horner’s score for Avatar – sure enough, Horner scored Living in the Age of Airplanes. Thus, an unexpected aspect of poignancy was added to my viewing experience, as Horner is a favorite composer of mine, his A Beautiful Mind score was among those that taught me the power and value of film music – Horner tragically passed away in 2015. Hearing some of his scoring that I didn’t know was out there was a truly wonderful surprise.

Spotting Structure in The Age of Airplanes

Living in the Age of Airplanes is curiously structured into five labeled chapters, and throughout, Terwilliger and co-writer Jessica Grogan endeavor to both assert the impact and significance of the airplane to our modern lives, and demonstrate that we as a civilization went a long time without airplanes, another curious (and seemingly paradoxical) choice. I suppose that part of their reasoning for this choice is that they wanted to illustrate the developments in transportation and mechanics that eventually led to the airplane – illuminating the age before airplanes.

LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES: Harrison Ford Narrates Aviation Documentary
source: National Geographic

As we focus on the age before airplanes, we go through incremental inventions and innovations that brought us to aviation. The wheel, steam power, locomotives, and other transportation breakthroughs get airtime. They helped us bridge great distances, but didn’t get us far from our metaphorical backyards – because we couldn’t traverse continents, we weren’t mapping the earth early on in civilization. We mapped what we could first readily see, the stars.

Linking the Modern World

Once we get to the age of airplanes itself, we are reminded how much they link the world. Such passages are entertaining to hear in Ford’s voice – I can only think of his endearingly gruff work in films like Morning Glory opposite Rachel McAdams, or his endlessly entertaining talk show appearances. Hearing him embrace the wonder and whimsy of his task at hand is certainly a change of tone, both literally and figuratively. This is a Harrison Ford we don’t often hear, telling us that the airplane is “the closest thing we have to a time machine,” and that it is “the key to the modern world.”

LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES: Harrison Ford Narrates Aviation Documentary
Ford loves his airplanes – source: National Geographic

Within covering the age of airplanes, we get to enjoy some cleverly edited montages following FedEx cargo to their destinations. The proceedings overall are enjoyable, but there are some surprising omissions from aviation history. It seems as well that there were some missed opportunities in Living In The Age Of Airplanes to focus more on aviation overall, but there are numerous documentaries on the subject, and the writer/director team clearly opted not to tread familiar ground, but instead take a methodical approach to build up to the age of airplanes, and demonstrate their impact on society.

What is your favourite documentary on aviation?

Living In The Age of Airplanes is now available on iTunes, Amazon, Blu-ray and DVD.

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