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Case Number 24699: Small Claims Court

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Whittle: The Jet Pioneer

Shelter Island // 2010 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // October 21st, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge Alice Nelson is leaving on a jet plane; don't ask when she'll be back again.

The Charge

Just sucks itself along like a Hoover.

The Case

I'm sure most of you have never heard of Frank Whittle (I know I hadn't), nor can you imagine a time before the jet engine. Frank Whittle not only lived before the advent of the first jet airplane, he was the man solely responsible for designing an engine that allows us to fly from New York to London in a mere seven hours.

Whittle: The Jet Pioneer is a documentary chronicling the difficult road British Royal Air Force engineer Frank Whittle walked in order to get the first jet airplane off the ground. In a race with the Germans, Whittle had to fight his own government who had so little faith in the idea they didn't protect the patent from the Nazis, who almost beat Britain to the punch. Even after the British government gave Whittle permission to go forward with the project, they refused to provide the funding needed, making an already difficult task even more so. If Britain had given the go ahead to Whittle when he first came to them with his turbojet idea, they could've had jet planes at the start of WWII, which would've made for a very different conflict.

This sounds fascinating right? Well, it could've been, but documentarian Nicholas Jones makes a film that feels like it's ripped from of the pages of some stale instructional text book; presenting Whittle's life with all the excitement of a tenured high school history teacher.

If you are a lover of all things aviation, you should enjoy Whittle: The Jet Pioneer. If you have only a passing interest in airplanes, you might find it a bit dry. In interviews, Whittle appears to be quite a charming character, but sandwiched between details of his fascinating life are far too many scenes discussing the technical aspects of his work. After a while, it all starts to sound like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Historically, this is a fairly detailed film, but as an entertainment vehicle, folding laundry accumulated over a week by husband and the three kids was far more interesting than this dull experience.

Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer has the look and feel of a decades old PBS special; not just the black and white wartime footage, but also the later color interviews with an elderly Whittle. The Dolby 2.0 Mono audio has a flat and tinny sound that fits the quality of the visuals, but still allows for dialogue that is easy to understand. Extras include six strewn together featurettes that seem like footage lifted off the cutting room floor; maybe it should've stayed there.

I know it is a miraculous feat when a 350,000 pound piece of metal flies through the sky. I appreciate Whittle's hard work and the sacrifices he and his team made to bring about the functionality of the jet engine. I just wish Whittle: The Jet Pioneer was a more engaging film, for those of us not as well-versed in a technology that has truly changed the world.

The Verdict

Sir Whittle is great, but this documentary is Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Shelter Island
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes


• IMDb
• Official Site

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