“Aircraft Carrier” Documentary Provides Unique Perspective and Insight Into Naval Aviation And F-35 Ops At Sea.

Jun 01 2017 - 1 Comment
By Tom Demerly

Beautiful Visuals Meet Mechanical Understanding in Aircraft Carrier Documentary. With some cool footage of F-35B and F-35C stealth jets.

Large format filmmaker Stephen Low has taken his IMAX cameras to sea for the filming of his new hour-long documentary Aircraft Carrier. The 43-minute long film premiered at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. in the United States on May 24 and has opened at large format IMAX theaters around the U.S. this week.

We had a chance to preview the film at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. The Henry Ford, formerly Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford Museum, has a large format IMAX movie theater and sound system. If you haven’t seen one, an IMAX theater is a large format film theater that uses much larger imaging film and screen for higher resolution. It is combined with a more immersive sound system and frequently uses 3-dimensional filmmaking requiring the viewer to wear 3D glasses to see the images correctly and with as increased sense of depth perception.

The Henry Ford Museum also has an impressive collection of historical aircraft including a 1928 Ford 4-AT-B Tri-Motor Airplane, the “Floyd Bennett,” Flown Over the South Pole by Dean Smith as commanded by Richard E. Byrd on Nov. 28, 1929. The museum also houses a Fokker Triplane used on various early arctic expeditions.

Aircraft Carrier was shot mostly on and around the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), a Nimitz-class nuclear powered carrier commissioned in 2003 with a homeport of Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. She carries a massive crew of over 5,000 personnel in both the air wing on board and for the ship’s crew. The ship itself is over a thousand feet long.

The film and the format work together to communicate a feeling of size and grandeur. The opening scenes are breathtaking and, like any well-made film or documentary, draw the viewer in.

Filmaker Stephen Low operates a large format IMAX film camera (credit: Stephen Low Company)

The IMAX filmmaking crew with their camera helicopter (credit: Stephen Low Company)

There are effectively three themes to Aircraft Carrier. Firstly, there are sweeping visuals that entertain and inspire. Secondly, there are historical insights that add context. The slides used in this segment are excellent. And finally, strong technical graphics that, while probably the weak visual link in the film – especially in large format – do an excellent job of helping the viewer visualize complex systems onboard an aircraft carrier.

Another segment of the film focuses on new F-35C and F-35B operations and the testing and integration of the Joint Strike Fighter into the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines. These sequences are visually remarkable in clarity and composition. When you add the 3D visual effect they have depth and resolution that feel like seeing the flights in person.

A screenshot from Aircraft Carrier showing JSF blue-water ops.

The strength of Aircraft Carrier is that it offers fresh and inspiring imagery for the aircraft enthusiast and a set of basic insights for the non-aircraft enthusiast to remain interested. It’s a good film to take people to who are not aviation experts or enthusiasts, but it is visually exciting enough to keep the aircraft enthusiast interested. Finally, since this is a quick little film at only 43 minutes it is great for young audiences.

Mostly, this is a beautiful and reverent visual and sensory experience that does a better job than any Hollywood movie of showing naval aviation at its most remarkable.

If there is an IMAX theater near you, seek out Aircraft Carrier; you will most certainly enjoy it.