Having seen a space shuttle liftoff in person and living near Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, I’m a bit of an airplane and flying fan. Not the hardcore “know every model number and its specs” kind of buff, but someone who enjoys a nice behind-the-scenes or in-the-cockpit view from time to time. That’s what I expected to see when I popped in Legends of Flight on Blu-ray 3D, which was produced in association with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Instead, the 44-minute film is more of and a documentary about Boeing’s evolution into the 21st Century. It’s not nearly as compelling as I thought it’d be, maybe even a little bit boring. And the 3D effects barely justify the “Blu-ray 3D” moniker.
Legends of Flight on Blu-ray 3D opens with a digitized version of an albatross being constructed in front of your eyes, from bones to muscle to feathers. The meaning behind this opening doesn’t make sense until about two-third of the way through the film, when the narrator explains Boeing’s drive to create a “natural” flying machine as elegant and built for flight as the albatross. But the sequence is definitely appropriate in terms of its animation, considering both the amount of CG content in the film and the fact that most of its best 3D effects ironically come from those animations.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few decent 3D effects in the “real world” shots. For instance, when viewers first see inside Boeing’s manufacturing facility in Everett, Washington — which we learn is the largest building on Earth — the Boeing 787s going into production do provide some intriguing depth at times. The best 3D in the early going takes place at the Paris Air Show, when the camera moves around various airplanes and you see noses and wings up close with lots of forced perspective and depth. You get to go right up close to the wheel well of the Airbus A380, and when the headlight flips on, you feel like you’re standing up there right in front of it.
But then comes the next major animation shot, and it’s hard not to be blown away by comparison. Back at Boeing’s facility, the narrator (and airplane designer) draws his concepts in the air with his finger, while a glowing line traces his route and results in a wireframe plane floating in the middle of the screen. It looks great, with some slick depth as the plane models swing around in all directions. The only hiccup is that the wireframes have a tendency to generate what feels like crosstalk (the snafu when 3D ghosting goes bad). That’s not at all what happens here; it’s truly just the lines maneuvering close to one another as the wireframe moves around. But it appears a bit garbled and “crosstalk-y,” so it’s worth noting as a bit of a distraction. It also undermines the 3D feel of the scene and some of the rest of the crisp 1080p imagery in this movie.
The issue comes up later as well, when viewers see a wireframe creation of the Wright Brothers’ plane. Fortunately, this scene includes some of the best surround-sound I’ve experienced in a documentary, and to a certain degree, some of the best surround-sound I’ve experienced in any Blu-ray 3D so far. The filmmakers just make great use of all the channels, and with so little ambient noise in a CG animated scene, it really lets you focus on the surround effects.
The disappointment of all these wireframes is that they foreshadow almost every airplane visual in the second half of the film. The only real “Legends” in the film are the Steerman biplane, Super Constellation and Harrier, and all of them are shown briefly via real-life footage but predominantly (and in-air) as pre-rendered CG graphics a la a Disney*Pixar film. To be fair, a lot of the animation goes into CSI-like territory, where the camera zooms-in to the aircraft interior with neat 3D effects. When they animate the creation of carbon fiber, the effects are almost TRON-like and have a great feeling of descending into the fiber itself. That’s cool. But having grown accustomed to CG graphics in all those aviation video games over the years, it would’ve been nice to actually see these planes at altitude in their native, not animated, forms.
That said, Legends of Flight on Blu-ray 3D is essentially a documentary about the construction and public unveiling of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and the views inside the cockpit of the 787 are bound to make Microsoft Flight Simulator fans drool with delight. Of course, they’re real, not animated, so that counts for something right there. Also, the in-air sequences we see of the 787 in flight are all real video footage, which actually seems refreshing because of all the other CG imagery throughout the film.
Legends of Flight on Blu-ray 3D does have one Making-Of Featurette, which like most bonus features on a 3D Blu-ray is presented in 2D. The meat of this bonus feature is comprised of comments from the director about how cool it was to film these aircraft, because he’s clearly an airplane enthusiast. It also (and rightfully) includes interviews with one of the CGI modelers about how important it was to get all the details right in these planes, both because aviation enthusiasts will hold the modelers accountable and because the film showcases the planes so closely. As is the case with most Image Entertainment 3D Blu-ray releases, the feature also includes a bit of information about the 3D camera itself and the 65mm film on which this picture was filmed, as well as some seemingly raw video (read: straight off the Handicam) of director/editor/animator interactions. On the whole, it’s a pretty boring feature, particularly after the 10-minute mark of the 24-minute segment, but it’s there if you want to watch.
Legends of Flight on Blu-ray 3D was a total surprise to me, and not necessarily in a good way. I expected to be hit with dozens of up-close 3D views of legendary planes like those in the Smithsonian. Instead, I got a documentary about Boeing that feels like it was funded by the plane manufacturer itself, complete with the self-aggrandizing title of “Legends of Flight,” as if Boeing was giving itself that nickname. The film’s not bad, by any means, but it was a disappointment due to the perceptions I had going in. If you know you’re about to watch a film about creating the 787, you’ll likely be pleased as long as you set expectations that half of the film is comprised of animations, and one-fourth of the remainder doesn’t even talk about the 787 directly. If you think you’re in for a 3D treat that covers the SR71 and Spruce Goose, among others, you’re in for a bit of a letdown.
Score: 7 — The documentary content is decent, but the production relies too heavily on animation and doesn’t cover a broad enough scope of aircraft in light of the film’s title.