Straight Up: Helicopters in Action 

(NR) 2 1/2 stars

(NR) 2 1/2 stars
When I was young I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. The sweeping beauty of rotary aircraft and the majesty of panoramic vistas beneath you touched something within me. Straight Up: Helicopters In Action, which is beginning its exclusive run at the IMAX theater this Friday, gets the majesty and sweeping beauty right, but not much else. Most documentaries follow character arcs and/or a line of narrative development, but not Straight Up. It merely offers several short vignettes of people at work with helicopters, ranging from military applications to U.N. food distribution. They’re all less than 10 minutes long and zip from set piece to set piece with the barest of transitions. Nothing but choppers, choppers, choppers for the 45 minute running time. Helicopter porn. Not always a bad thing, mind you, but the drawbacks are particularly glaring. Few of the chopper pilots or crewmen develop any real character; most of them never even get a name. And in the majority of cases the missions being filmed are staged with painfully artificial overtones and strained one-size-fits-all situations. The cookie-cutter approach and the clumsiness of the editing keeps Straight Up from reaching the level of such great IMAX documentaries as The Coral Reef Adventure. Every so often minor character bits pop out that suggest how rich this film could have been. One rescue diver explains his partner’s nickname by noting, “He was so worked up on his first time out that he forgot to put on his fins before diving. Ever since we’ve all called him ‘Flipper.’” Martin Sheen narrates with the same gently condescending tone he uses when Jed Bartlet is addressing a group of schoolchildren. But the generic script doesn’t leave him much to work with: “The soldiers need to fly in to gather information about the enemy! In comes Comanche, invisible to radar!” The visuals are everything you might expect from an IMAX documentary, making this watchable, light entertainment: night rescues at sea, electrical line repairmen sliding down onto half-million-volt wires from above and Coast Guard choppers intercepting smugglers. The filmmakers capture a wonderful sense of light with numerous silhouette shots at sunset. If you’re a fan of grand landscape scenery or if you ever wanted to fly a helicopter when you were young, Straight Up is definitely worth a look. Just don’t expect too much besides pretty pictures.

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