The virtues of "The Aeronauts" are real, but they are almost exclusively visual. Despite the hard work of the acclaimed actors in what seems like a strong story on paper, the drama presented is firmly determined.
The stars in question are Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne, who previously collaborated on "The Theory of Everything," for which Redmayne won an Oscar.
Clearly eager to work together again, the actors were drawn to the combination of director Tom Harper and screenwriter Jack Thorne, whose credits are heavier on TV and in theater than in film. And for what seemed like a highly dramatic and visual story.
This would be the "fact-inspired" story of British scientist James Glaisher and his determined quest in 1862 to climb higher in a balloon than the record-breaking French, taller than ever.
As the title implies, much of "The Aeronauts" takes place in a balloon floating over England. Cinematographer George Steel, shooting from a balloon, from a helicopter and perhaps more, has captured a series of splendid visuals, allowing us to experience what must float on Earth in a small basket.
Speaking of tiny baskets, the production has had the work of building what it describes as "a fully functional and accurate replica of a 19th century gas balloon," the Mammoth named the film and is 80 feet high and 55 feet wide. That's impressive.
(Given all this, it is a pity that the initially planned IMAX theatrical window for this movie did not materialize. If a movie would be a special treat to be seen at full size, this is it.)
The drama associated with the images, however, resolutely refuses to catch fire despite hard efforts in this direction. It seems, almost against its will, like a Boys Own family adventure, a special Saturday matinee, rather than an engaging adult drama.
"The Aeronauts" begins with a woman in a hurry to balloon at the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden in London. Amelia Wren (Jones) is not a spectator, she is one of the people who are rising, but we soon see that she has her doubts.
Waiting in the balloon is the scientist Glaisher, a real person and pioneering meteorologist. (Wren, although inspired by real aeronauts, is invented.)
Eddie Redmayne, left, and Felicity Jones in "The Aeronauts."
As we will soon discover, these two, though programmed to rise together, do not get along very well. He is a humorless budget that plays with the dials of his instruments forever, while she, a veteran balloon pilot, is a showboat and an artist with a gift to cheer the throwing crowd.
How did different people come to share basket space? A series of flashbacks fills us.
Glaisher, as it turns out, is a fanatic about getting science to prevent time, saving lives, something the gray beards of the Royal Society mock. The scientist thinks this can be done by analyzing the weather above the clouds, which causes even more derision.
We gradually learned that Wren is suffering from a form of PTSD because of the events surrounding the death of her husband, Pierre (Vincent Perez), a pioneer aeronaut and his co-pilot.
Wren and Glaisher meet after their husband's death. He needs her help to lift his breath, but she insists, "I'm not a rental coachman." A passionate appeal from Glaisher's friend John Trew (Himesh Patel) finally brings her.
The heart of the "Aeronauts", not surprisingly, is what happens when the balloon gets bigger and bigger, as greetings are exchanged like "ahoy clouds" and wonders like a halo or circular rainbow.
The two intrepid travelers are also at risk of losing their lives for a number of reasons, including increased cold and decreased oxygenation in the atmosphere as they rise.
One of the most endearing trophies of the "Aeronauts" is the notion of role reversal that has more experienced Wren rescuing newcomer Glaisher more often than he saves her.
Jones and Redmayne tried very hard to convince the film's narrative, even dipping their hands in the ice between shots so that they could convince convincingly on the screen.
Unfortunately, all these adventures seem more convincing on the page than on a non-IMAX screen. The balloon goes up, but the drama doesn't fly.
& # 39; The Aeronauts & # 39;
Evaluation: PG-13, for some dangers and thematic elements
Runtime: 1 hour 41 minutes
Playing: In the general release; on Amazon Prime December 20