Beta: To Fly! (1976)

September 3, 2014 | By


ToFly_Beta_cvr_sFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Good

Extras:  n/a

Label: Smithsonian

Region: NTSC

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / IMAX

Synopsis: Brisk chronicle of Man’s quest to become airborne, and ultimately soar into space after conquering Earth’s own celestial realm.

Special Features:  n/a




This 27 minute IMAX film (funded by Du Pont’s Conoco) was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution to play at their National Air and Space Museum to celebrate America’s Bicentennial. Premiering July 1, 1976, “the longest-running and most universally popular film of its kind ever produced” has been reportedly seen by 150 million people (or so says the videotape’s ad copy).

Directors Jim Freeman and Greg MacGillivray honed their skills as cinematographers, especially surfing documentaries, and To Fly! is filled with elegantly composed images which trace Man’s journey from the ‘horizontal world’ to the more liberating ‘vertical world,’ enabled by flight.

From balloon to planes and ultimately spacecraft, the duo’s film is still quite impressive on the small screen, especially shots where the camera of cinematographer Brad Ohlund swoops over and around landscapes, filling the screen with the textures of rapids and crop fields, and dizzying white swirls of barnstorming biplanes.

A few edits seem a little rough, and the dialogue and performances in the early scenes involving a balloonist ascending and gliding over his naturally splendiferous state are quite awful, but the visuals take over once the narrative jumps to the barnstorming era, and the directors have fun strapping the IMAX camera in front of a locomotive, plane, or behind aeronautical showmasters the Blue Angels. The wide angle shots of their formations, dispersing in separate streams are quite magnificent, and Bernardo Segall’s score ties the film’s segments together with elegant orchestrations of his thematic material.

The sound mix for the dialogue scenes is a bit rudimentary, but the sound design becomes more elaborate (and directional) in later scenes, especially during the montages involving split-screens, mosaics, and the blast-off of a NASA rocket. Segall’s music for the film’s closing scenes around Earth’s orbit and beyond is quite haunting, and the renderings of the planets as a futuristic craft glides by the camera holds up fairly well.

To Fly! reportedly ran for years at the museum, and was eventually released on videotape in 1985 – a rarity for any IMAX production.

Co-director Greg MacGillivray was twice nominated for an Oscar for the short documentaries The Living Sea (1995) and Dolphins! (2000). Jim Freeman also directed Above San Francisco (1973) and The Magic Rolling Board (1976), and also served as co-cinematographer on the Oscar-winning short Sentinels of Silence (1971) and Douglas Hickox’ Sky Riders (1976).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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