Perhaps one of the most challenging things that someone can ever do is to be a pathfinder. Since there’s so much that can never be anticipated when trying something new, there’s always the possibility that what you are trying could get you killed. Nowhere is this more evident than the realm of flight. When we’re on the ground, we are safe. If something goes wrong, we can just step down onto the ground and escape from danger. However, when hurtling through the sky at tremendous speeds and altitudes, the risk becomes enormous. Sometimes these new adventures can be built up in steps, but sometimes you’ve just got to accept the risk and hope that luck is on your side. Fortunately, the reward of being the first in something is what pushes us to advance the world. This week’s two movies highlight what it’s like to be the first to fly.
The Right Stuff
Length: 193 minutes / 3.22 hours
When compared with the first flight by the Wright Brothers in North Carolina, the risk and the reward were much greater when we broke the sound barrier or put a man into earth’s orbit. Flying a few feet off the ground for a minute is inherently much safer than being strapped to a towering pillar of explosives that will hurtle you into the free-fall of orbit. Even with tremendous amounts of training and safety equipment, the chances that something could go wrong are so great that there’s no doubt that the first astronauts were the most courageous men America has ever seen. And yet, we did see success and we used that success to proceed to the greater goal of landing on the moon.
The Right Stuff is about the paradigm shift from flight in the air to flight into space. Even though some pilots like Chuck Yeager (Sam Shephard) were still focused on learning how to fly faster, breaking the sound barrier many times over, there comes a point where airplanes reach their limitations. With Russia already having sent a man into earth’s orbit, America was struggling to catch up. In fact, America had been a step behind in almost every stage of getting into space. It was imperative that we would get space flight down pat so that we could eventually send our astronauts to the moon, thus finally beating the Russians in the space race. And yet, the challenge of getting a man to and from earth’s orbit safely is certainly impressive enough, all things considered.
How to Train Your Dragon
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours
Even though How to Train Your Dragon is animated, don’t take its message any less seriously. In a setting that enforced the physically strong, it would take someone who was mentally strong to really create a serious change in thinking. After all, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. While this film’s strong non-discrimination undertones aren’t too heavy handed, there was just something with the process involved with learning to fly on a dragon that spoke to the engineer in me. It really comes back to the rush of having done something that no one else has ever done before and being able to help change a society steeped in its outdated values.
Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is perhaps the least-viking like person in the history of the vikings. He’s not nearly strong enough to fight the dragons that relentlessly attack his village, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to use his mind to overcome his physical limitations. When he finally downs a mysterious and dangerous dragon known as a Nightfury, he finds out that he doesn’t have the heart to kill it and instead begins the process to understand the savage beast. Soon he and the dragon, which he has named “Toothless”, become close and he can finally take to the skies, proving to all his fellow vikings that perhaps everything they knew about dragons was wrong.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 forays into the flight of the unknown