JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Straight Up: Helicopters in Action (Director: David Douglas) - April 7, 2011
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Straight Up: Helicopters in Action

4 4
42 min.

Whirlybird wonders

Anyone who revels in beautiful scenery, spectacular shot making or a rollercoaster of ups and downs will want to take a ride on David Douglas’ literally uplifting documentary about flying machines with blades.

In just forty-two minutes, viewers learn how the autogyro morphed into a flying machine that requires all four of the pilot’s limbs to hover or speed above the ground. The various segments then delve into the uses of an aircraft that needs no port. The opening avalanche sequence is a magnificent tsunami of snow—one can only wish that all such search and rescue missions were as successfully concluded.

Made famous by M*A*S*H, the ability of the lithe, manmade birds to venture behind enemy lines provide quick medical attention and desperately needed food to innocent civilians (seen here is Sierra Leone) aptly demonstrates their usefulness to mankind, but armed craft also cause much death and destruction when employed as instruments of war. A plus/minus ratio would have made a fascinating side graph.

Drug and weapon smugglers seem easy targets for the one-two punch of overhead surveillance coupled with on land and naval take downs (you can almost feel the salty spray expertly pelted onto the hapless narcotic purveyors as they try to escape arrest by reaching the safety of international waters).

More curious still are the power line workers whose high wire acts servicing vital gridlines of electricity couldn’t be done without hummingbird-like air support. Physics buffs will be intrigued as logs heavier than the helicopters lifting them are seemingly effortlessly brought out of dense forest. Martin Sheen’s ad lib confession (“I’m afraid of three things: electricity, height and women—and I’m married too”) gives a decidedly human tone to the narration. Animal lovers will reluctantly cheer (the aerial chase and dart gun assisted capture must be petrifying for the unwitting beasts) the purposeful relocation of South African black rhinos.

The ability of the many shapes and forms of helicopters is only limited by the genius of engineers and amount of fuel left in the tank. The final air/sea rescue is a harrowing case in point. Luckily, the sharks had other prey in their sights that day.

This film is a shining example of tight narrative and superb editing (Barbara Kerr) combining with breathtaking imagery to produce a perfect storm of cinema for IMAX and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Michael Brook’s percussion-rich original score also supports the ever-changing settings with subtle bits of orchestration and hues (country time slips readily into the tree harvest). Bruce Springsteen’s “Better Days” suits the action to a tee. All that was missing were segments on traffic reporters and filmmakers.

Be sure to look for this well-crafted production in an IMAX wind tunnel near you. JWR

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Director - David Douglas
Cinematography - David Douglas
Editor - Barbara Kerr
Original Music - Michael Brook
Narrator - Martin Sheen
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
SK Films Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Musuem
Cross-reference(s): Please click on the image link(s) below
for related work:

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