The Aeronauts (2019) movie review
The Aeronauts follows hot air balloon pilot Amelia Rennes, played by Felicity Jones, and scientist James Glaisher, played by Eddie Redmayne, as they ascend the attempt to reach unparalleled heights in their balloon in the name of science. The story is loosely based on a true story, as James Glaisher was a real Englishman who is remembered today for his pioneering work. Rennes, however, is a creation of the movie (even though they did draw inspiration from real women), replacing real-life pilot Henry Tracey Coxwell who, along with Glaisher, broke the record for altitude in a hot air balloon in the September of 1862. The Aeronauts premiered on Amazon prime in early December to all-around mediocre reviews on IMDb and Metascore, but a certified “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Suffice it to say, reception is a bit mixed on this one, and after watching it and having some time to think it over it is easy to see why. Jones and Redmayne put forth their best effort, however the film just seems generally lacking all around, and I think some of that is due to the direction they were given. They have very little chemistry on-screen, and as they are the two main characters and the only ones you follow throughout the film, it leaves it feeling a bit dry overall. Jones portrays a very quirky and eccentric character, but one that often simply comes off as annoying and lacks, I think, the proper motivation that would make her more relatable for audiences. Redmayne, on the other hand, portrays a quiet, all-business scientist determined to do one thing and willing to risk whatever he has to in order to accomplish it. This works better than the choices they made for Jones’ character, which could be because they made hers up and had an actual person’s life to draw from for Redmayne, because Gaisher has clear motivations throughout and multiple instances where the audience is able to get in his head, see where he’s coming from, and root for him throughout, even when they know he is being reckless.
When making a film like this, there are a few things you have to nail in order to hold the audience’s attention and make it compelling, because all you have to work with are these two people going up in a hot air balloon. If you’re not careful, you can end up with a film that is stiff and repetitive, which at the very least this film does border on. This is due in part to the direction/performances I mentioned above, and also to the editing/storytelling choices that were made throughout the film. The film starts with Rennes and Glaisher going up in the balloon, and cuts back and forth with flashbacks to give some insight into the backstory of the characters. Throw in a couple things that go wrong along the way, and that’s the movie. While there are a few biography/survival films that follow this same formula, there is a way to do it that keeps it exciting and investing, and this film just misses that mark. By the end of the first or second flashback, I did not care who the characters were or that they were slowly floating up in the sky and taking measurements and pushing the limits of the balloon.
It is as if the filmmakers didn’t have enough of a story to keep the film’s momentum going, as many of the flashbacks seemed long and unimportant to the current events. It is like the filmmakers are padding the runtime and giving us information that isn’t relevant and therefore that we don’t need. In addition, there didn’t seem to be ideal places to have these cuts, they just felt inserted into scenes in order to change up the scenery and the atmosphere for the audience, but in order for that to work you have to have an investing story that you’re in and an investing story that you’re cutting to, and, at least for me, I don’t think it works because I wasn’t really invested in either one, and also because the cuts didn’t really make a cohesive story. The way the film works is simple, here’s them on the balloon, here’s some of her backstory, here’s more of them on the balloon, here’s some of his backstory, back to the balloon and something’s wrong, more backstory, and so on and so forth for 100 minutes.
So if all that sounded too harsh, just know I don’t hate this movie. There is just nothing that stands out to me, and honestly in its defense, the movie’s Amazon release definitely hurt it. It is a good looking movie with some great shots, and the story does have a few strong moments of tension, and it would have looked and sounded great in IMAX. This is the perfect example of a movie that was made to be seen in theaters, as it really ups the viewing experience in every way and I think keeps audiences more engaged in the story and really in the moment with the characters. I watched it in the dark on a fairly big TV screen with a solid speaker system, and was left feeling like I missed out on a pretty cool experience had I been given that option. Not to say that a theater would have fixed all of its problems, but it would have upped the quality and improved my viewing experience, which would have left me with a more positive reflection of it, and for that I will give it a point back despite what it lacked in pacing and character development. 6/10.
So, Aeronauts? Did you see it? What did you think? Want to weigh in on the whole streaming vs. theaters debate? What’s the next review you want to see from us? Any 2019 ones we missed you want us to catch up on? Please answer any or all of those questions below, and/or leave a like if you enjoy these reviews and are looking forward to more in 2020! Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!
-review by Rachel Grosselin