Mill Creek Entertainment // 2010 // 416 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // November 13th, 2010
"It's the story of ingenuity and perseverance, of a dream that refused to die."
The first inflight movie was a silent version of The Lost World, and Bob Hope once gave TWA passengers an airborne preview of his movie, Bachelor in Paradise ("No walk-outs"). Those are my favorite fun facts from Birth of Flight: A History of Civil Aviation, an eight-part series on air history, now out on DVD. It seems to have originally run as The Amazing World of Aviation: Past, Present and Future, the title that appears on screen.
The eight episodes are on three discs:
* "Early Aviation"
Leonardo Da Vinci, balloons in Paris, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Alexander Graham Bell, Harry Houdini, Sopwith Camels, and the first airborne cat are featured in a fast rundown of flight's baby steps.
* "Post WWI/Brainstorming"
They probably meant barnstorming, because that's one of the main topics. Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, Charles Limburgh, and a host of early record-setters are featured.
* "Aviation Advancement and Design"
Fokker, Sikorsky, and Hughes are among the aviation pioneers featured, along with a look at the zeppelin. The Hindenburg disaster and the deadly failure of the Bonney Gull are also highlighted.
* "Early Commercial Aviation"
Air mail and passenger flights, complete with luxurious sleeping berths, are featured. An extended segment shows the march of Lockheed planes around the world.
* "Seaplanes Development and Use"
The Wrights were right there at sea, too. Explorers Richard Byrd and Roald Amundsen are featured, along with Pan-Am's flying boat service and the infamous Spruce Goose.
* "Jet Aircraft Development"
Turbo-prop engines went into duty first. A race between the De Havilland Comet and the Boeing 707 to get airborne first followed. A tour of a Pan-Am jet powder room is featured. Early jet crashes are also covered.
* "Post WWII Commercial Aviation"
The world's major airlines, including SAS flights over the North Pole, are featured. Air ferry and helicopters are featured. The Beatles are among the stars seen disembarking from planes in newsreel footage.
* "Airport Development and Modern Aviation"
In 1928, Croydon Airport in England started the Airport Age with conveniences including a bookstall and a hotel. From there, the history of stewardesses, the Royal Stratocruiser, and the Tel-a-Dex airport info machine are featured.
The first episode of Birth of Flight has a lot of facts about early flight. They all go by in a kind of a blur, augmented for the most part by still photos or illustrations. It's interesting, but you probably won't retain that much. That turns out to be a quirk of history, since TV news crews just weren't hovering around when Wilbur and Orville Wright took to the air at Kitty Hawk. From the second episode on, Birth of Flight becomes a feast of film footage.
The documentary makers provide a lot of information, but what makes the series entertaining is their eye for the offbeat and downright kitschy. Occasionally, this falters, as when they use a fake TV border illustration for 1930s newsreel footage (there might have been a few TVs in the 1930s, but this was movie film). However, you'll probably be hooked when you see a barnstormer playing golf on the wing of a plane. You might wonder where those balls landed and reflect on how little you'd have liked to have been underneath, but you'll undoubtedly want to keep watching.
With a combination of newsreel footage, promotional film, and company footage, Birth of Flight not only covers facts (Do you realize that zeppelins got a million miles in without crashes?), but also captures the romance and sheer silliness that once accompanied flight. Film footage of the reservation process or an in-flight cocktail lounge might come across as kitsch today, but it shows you that people used to actually enjoy going up in an airplane. Better still, it's often scored with a retro cocktail style that adds just a hint of cheesiness.
The picture and sound quality, as you'd imagine, varies considerably, given the wide range of source material. There's nothing that's in too-bad shape, though.
There are no extras. If, like me, you're the sort of person who could have an entertaining evening watching cheesy promotional films in full, you'll be disappointed, but I suspect there's enough kitsch for most of you.
If you're actually wanting to retain facts, read a book. Watch this afterward, but it'll be best to actually study.
If you're one of those Beloit College freshmen who hasn't even lived in an age when flight was fun, you need to see this. If you do remember at least a little bit of the Airport Age or the Jet Age, you might still like it. It brings a sense of gee-whiz to something we now take for granted, and take for granted that we'll suffer through.
Not guilty, although airlines get a reprimand until in-flight cocktail
lounges are once again more common than body cavity searches.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 416 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* National Air and Space Museum