‘The Blue Angels' Review: IMAX Doc About U.S. Navy Aerial Unit Alternates Dazzling Footage and Filler

amazon, ‘the blue angels' review: imax doc about u.s. navy aerial unit alternates dazzling footage and filler

If you've ever oohed and aahed at a fighter jet demonstration, you probably also wondered about the laborious efforts that must go into producing such an enthralling aerial display. The documentary The Blue Angels aims to answer all your questions, providing a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the venerable United States Navy and Marine Corps outfit that has probably done more to boost enrollment than anything other than the Top Gun films. The connection is further emphasized by the fact that Glen Powell, who played military pilots in both Devotion and Top Gun: Maverick, serves as one of the film's producers.

The Blue Angels, which tours the country annually for eight months at a time, consists of six jet fighter pilots flying in dazzling formations, sometimes no more than a terrifying 18 inches apart. Paul Crowder's documentary chronicles their 2022 season, from the highly competitive selection process to the rigorous training to the exhausting tour that includes not only the aerial demonstrations but also considerable outreach programs including visits to schools and hospitals.

Naturally, the film provides personal portraits of the various members, including the flight leader, Brian Kesselring, whose all-American, square-jawed good looks and intense personality could certainly provide plenty of acting opportunities should this flying thing not work out. "This place is the great equalizer," he explains about the rigorous program that separates the men from the boys. And thankfully, finally women, as we're later introduced to Amanda Lee, the first female pilot ever to be inducted into the program.

Kesselring leads the training, which includes desk sessions that have an almost ritualistic quality. The goal is to make six jets fly as one. "That's the Blue Angels magic," he says proudly.

And magic it is, with the film including generous amounts of amazing flight footage, much of it shot from within the cockpit, that illustrates the rigorous flying patterns, including their signature Delta Formation in which the six jets come together with seemingly impossible closeness. External views are provided by a helicopter outfitted with IMAX-certified cameras, representing the first-ever civilian aircraft permitted to fly inside the performance airspace known as "the box." Not surprisingly, the aerial camera unit involved was also responsible for the flying sequences in Top Gun: Maverick.

We also learn about the history of the Blue Angels, which was the brainchild of Admiral Chester Nimitz, who created it in 1946 to promote public interest in naval aviation. The film doesn't shy away from the tragedies that have dotted the program, which has had 28 fatalities since its inception. Their names and faces are memorialized on a large portrait displayed in the organization's headquarters.

The tremendous effort involved in the training process is best illustrated in a harrowing sequence in which we see several applicants participating in a centrifuge testing session. The pilots are not able to wear G-suits while flying because their inflating and deflating could interfere with the plane's controls. So they must counteract the G-force with sheer physical strength, clenching all the muscles in their lower bodies to prevent the blood from leaving their head and causing them to pass out. Two of the pilots in the session, their faces horribly contorted by the effort, do indeed lose consciousness, and it's very tough to watch. You'll find yourself clenching your own butt cheeks in sympathy.

The feature-length film features no small amount of padding, including looks at the family lives of several of the pilots, that demonstrates that it might have been more effective as the sort of 45-minute documentary short that regularly plays IMAX theaters in museums, etc. The Blue Angels has a more ambitious rollout, showing in IMAX theaters for one week before streaming on Amazon Prime, and this is one film that's definitely worth catching on the big screen.

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