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'Magic of Flight' is wild thrill ride

Documentary takes viewers from Wrights to Blue Angels

Lt. Cmdr. Scott Anderson rolls out of the "double farvel" in "The Magic of Flight."
Lt. Cmdr. Scott Anderson rolls out of the "double farvel" in "The Magic of Flight."
Macgillivray Freeman Films

THE MAGIC OF FLIGHT — *** — Large-screen documentary on flying; narrated by Tom Selleck; not rated, probable G (nothing offensive).

Flying is the perfect subject for the enormous IMAX screen, as witnessed by one of the first large-screen hits, "To Fly." "The Magic of Flight" revisits the wild blue yonder and is at its very best in midair.

Narrated by Tom Selleck, the film contains an abbreviated history of the hunt for a flying machine and the ultimate triumph of Dayton's bicycle-building Wright brothers. Archival photos of the Wrights' inventions show ingenious but startlingly frail constructions.

In stark contrast, modern footage of the Navy's Blue Angels as they practice close-order maneuvers for their popular air-show routine emphasizes the almost unimaginable speed and power of today's aircraft.

"It takes a practiced hand to stitch up the sky," Selleck tells us. To which, after seeing the young aviators at work, we can only say, "No kidding."

Cameras mounted inside the cockpit reveal vivid images of pilots straining like weightlifters to pull the planes through the most gravity-defying spins and dives — without losing consciousness. Cameras under the fuselage show the F/A-18s knifing through the air in heart-stopping formations; you couldn't park a car in the space between the planes.

Equally startling is the footage from the underbelly of a fighter jet landing and leaving the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean.

The film also features modern aerobatic fliers, civilian performers who seem to break the laws of physics in tiny biplanes.

The film was financed in part by a group of aviation firms, so its attitude toward its subject matter is unabashed enthusiasm. Given the extensive cooperation of the U.S. Navy in the film's production, at times it begins to feel like a Blue Angels recruiting poster.

Still, that's a small price to pay for the chance to hitchhike on the wildest thrill ride on — or near — the Earth.

"The Magic of Flight" is not rated but would probably receive a G. Running time: 40 minutes.