July 13, 2013 -- If you are familiar with the Smithsonian Channel's Aerial America series of documentary films in which all the footage is taken from the air, you'll know what you are getting with this new Blu-ray collection from Inception Media Group. If you haven't seen any of these shows, you may be surprised by what's in, and not in, the series.
I expected a lot of scenery from a series of educational travel programs shot from the air, but that is only a small part of “Aerial America: New England Collection.” Instead, the emphasis is on buildings of historical importance, buildings where famous people lived -- lighthouses, barns, restaurants, mansions, hotels, state houses -- an endless parade of buildings.
This perspective seems strange to me as a longtime professional photographer, since viewing buildings from the air is not an ideal perspective. For one thing, you are not seeing inside of the buildings. For another, you are not viewing the buildings from the architectural angle they are meant to be viewed, which is ground level.
There are a couple of scenes in Bridgeport, Conn. which illustrate this approach clearly -- shots of the statue of P.T. Barnum. These looked to be taken from a great distance with a powerful telephoto lens. It doesn't provide a very good look at the statue. You can also see outside of the nearby P.T. Barnum Museum as you hear about all the interesting things inside that you'll never see in this film.
Scenery: beaches, islands, mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, sweeping landscapes, that is the strength of aerial photography. When you see buildings from the sky, they just look strange, because that is not how most people see buildings. That is how helicopter and airplane pilots see buildings. Seeing buildings from the air is different, that's for sure. It does offer the opportunity to show the buildings in a wider geographical context, but this was not done in this series very much, either. Most of the state sections on the disk end with a brief montage of stunning scenic shots, some of which appear in a small box next to the credits, giving a hint of what could have been.
This disk, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, covers a lot of ground, 4.6 hours worth. Each state feature is divided into 11 chapters. I tried watching two states in one sitting, and it was a lot to take in. I found that watching one a day worked better. Earlier in the day is better than late at night. Presentation is wide screen format (16x9) with 5.1 digital surround sound. I watched this on both a big screen hi-def TV and on a bigger movie screen and hi-def projector with a 5.1 surround sound system.
The narration, by Jim Conrad, is rather subdued and unobtrusive. The disk index has a “play all” option, or you can select a state from a list. Unlike some blu-ray disks, you can press the “stop” button on your remote and then later resume play from the point where you left off. Many blu-ray disks have the annoying feature of starting over from the beginning after the stop button is pushed and play is resumed.
Having lived in Massachusetts for a time, and having traveled in New Hampshire and Maine extensively, one thing I noticed about these state features is that most of the scenes are shot during the height of the fall colors. The imagery is very good, as you would expect. The fall colors in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are spectacular, to be sure, but the mountains of New England look great in snow, too. Winter is a season absent from these features. For instance, in the book “Maine: A View From Above,” by Charles Fell includes some interesting aerial scenes shot in winter.
What you do get on this disk is a lot of history about these New England states, from the Native American inhabitants, to the first European settlers, wars, political movements, religious influences (like the Shakers) and many famous people who were born in these New England states, or who lived there (such as Rudyard Kipling, who lived in a house called Naulakha in Dummerston, Vermont for four years).
A constant in all these shows about states are the state capitol buildings and the homes of the rich and famous, like horror author Stephen King's house, for instance. There are also scenes of business and industry. You will also hear the words of some famous poets and authors, including Robert Frost.
There is some scenery, too, particularly the trees that turn bright red, orange and yellow in the autumn, and places like Mount Washington, Mount Monadnock, waterfalls, beaches, cliffs, national and state parks and other scenic areas. Wildlife is conspicuously absent, probably because helicopters disturb wildlife (they are used to herd wild horses). Instead of wildlife, you see a lot of human life, pedestrians, hikers, swimmers, sunbathers, cars, boats, roads and cities.
There are a lot of interesting stories told in this series, such as that of lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis, known as “the bravest woman in America” who rescued 18 people over the years, and is the only keeper in U.S. history to have a lighthouse named after her. The series also pays homage to those who have successfully preserved buildings and the scenic wonders of New England. Other interesting tidbits include the foundation of the Republican Party (as an anti-slavery party) in New Hampshire and the history of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Stratford, Connecticut.
This series exploring the New England states has a narrow focus, mostly history and architecture, as seen from the air, with some interesting scenery, too, but not as much as you might imagine from the title of the series. Credits for this series include Skyworks and Tusker Television. This disk rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.