Historical thrills of 'The Aeronauts' best seen on the big screen

Brad Keefe
“The Aeronauts”

As someone who still loves the theatrical movie experience, I’m always going to be an advocate for seeing films there. As someone who also subscribes to all the major streaming services, I also know the game has changed.

When friends ask my recommendations for a movie, they’re asking whether they should just wait for it to hit a streaming service.

So here’s the predicament for “The Aeronauts,” an Amazon Studios production that’s getting a short theatrical release before it hits Prime.

It’s obvious that Netflix and Amazon both want to be taken seriously as studios. The playbook is a theatrical release to qualify for Oscar contention, followed by a streaming release that gives the services a captive audience of subscribers.

Let’s just say I know a lot more people who have seen “The Irishman” at home than in a theater.

“The Aeronauts” is not on the level of “Irishman” or last year’s “Roma,” but it’s also an experience that will play much better on the big screen.

Set in 1862, it tells the story of a record-setting hot air balloon flight. Wait… hear me out.

Daredevil Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) is the pilot of this flight. She’s been contracted by meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), whose belief that man could actually predict the weather has been scoffed at by his peers.

While Amelia brings fanfare to the public launch in London, James is all business. To paraphrase a favorite guilty pleasure (“Twister,” obviously): He’s in it for the science, not the money.

The chronicle of the flight to go farther from the Earth than any man or woman ever is intercut with flashbacks that let us know how these two characters got here, from James’ scientific obsession to Amelia’s past tragedy.

I will definitely say that “The Aeronauts” is a lot more thrilling than what you expect when you hear “hot air balloon movie.” As they climb through the atmosphere, the peril grows. If you share my fear of heights, get ready.

Director Tom Harper mixes elements of historical biopics and thrillers, sometimes evoking the same sense of wonder and danger as “Gravity.”

The backstory is less effective, but the film is, ahem, elevated by the perfect casting and excellent chemistry between Jones and Redmayne.

Alas, “The Aeronauts” doesn’t crack the heights of the year’s best, but it’s also best seen on the big screen. And If I can’t get you to do that, give it a whirl later this month at home.

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3 stars out of 5

“The Aeronauts”