Is there anything more twee than a hot air balloon? It's the only vehicle that can lose a fight with a cloud. What about a hot air balloon filled with posh English people? What about a hot air balloon filled with posh English people with top hats in the 19th century? Why, that sounds about as genteel as tea and honeyed scones at Christopher Robin's house. "No!" screams the trailer for The Aeronauts, as its smooshes steampunk goggles onto its face, ready to convince you that balloons are in fact totally badass.
The Aeronauts is a movie ever so slightly based on balloon flights undertaken in the 1860s by James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), a nice and proper British scientist who broke the very low-bar high-altitude record of the time. Which turned out to be somewhat dangerous, in that he passed out for a while and one of his pigeons died. But that's not the vibe given by this trailer, which turns ballooning into an old-timey action spectacle, a weird high-octane twist on a vehicle powered by nothing more than air and Victorian stubbornness.
We get visions of these balloon jockeys punished by epic tornadoes, unforgiving frost, and easily destroyed wicker baskets, all while dangling in a CGI sky that seems as alien as outer space. The trailer has a very "steampunk astronaut" feel to it, with the svelte balloon being framed like a rocket, and a jaded aeronaut speaking of how the world only makes sense when she's "up there." There's even the tropey Apollo 13 character who is forced to stay on the ground and guide the aeronauts while wistfully saying, "Some reach for the stars, some push others towards them," as if these people are ever out of waving distance from each other.
And those aren't even the only high stakes in this two-minute trailer about, let us remind you, hot air balloons. Redmayne is shown to be on an epic quest to, um, be able to predict the weather a bit better, something he claims will save hundreds of thousands of lives. It's a notion so crazy and wild that he's scoffed at by his academic peers, who say things like "We're scientists, not fortune tellers." Meanwhile, his companion, the totally fictional Amelia Wrend (played by the somehow too British Felicity Jones), who's introduced to us by intensely whispering "I'm a really good aeronaut," has to deal with a lot of institutionalized sexism in the men's world of ... hot air balloons. The words "Women don't belong in balloons" are even spoken completely seriously, just so we know that she's breaking not just the cloud line, but the glass ceiling as well.
The Aeronauts trailer really wants to convince you that hot air balloons are actually cool and dangerous, and that the people who flew them were like early daredevil pilots and badass astronauts. But it does so with imagery that looks like it's straight out of a Paddington movie, with two actors who are so nice and so known for their effete indie vibe, and so it just doesn't work. Still looks like a good movie, though, as long as you don't have to pretend it's some sort of vertically minded Fast & Furious.
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