To Fly! (1976) – Film #0173

Directed by Greg MacGillivray & Jim Freeman
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1995

What It’s About:

This documentary short covers the history of human flight—from hot air balloons to the first airplanes to war planes to modern jets to spaceflight. 

Context and Significance:

To Fly! was filmed and released in IMAX, back when that format was relatively new. It had a significant impact in increasing the awareness of the IMAX format for American audiences, and it was the highest grossing documentary of all time up until 2004. 

It still has daily showings at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. (The museum is the entity that initially commissioned the creation of this film.) Back in 1996, it held the record as the “longest running ticketed film in one location in history.” I have been unable to find out whether or not this is still true, but seeing as it is still showing in that location to this day, it seems likely that it still holds that record. 

My Thoughts:

This film probably looks spectacular in IMAX. Unfortunately, its only official home media release has been on VHS, which I had to hunt down on eBay. (Luckily, it was only $7.) It doesn’t look particularly great on VHS. Still, even with the low image quality, I could tell that the camerawork was stunning. This film has minimal narration, and is mostly just aerial footage. It starts with a (somewhat cheesy) re-enactment of one of the first hot air balloon flights, but it quickly moves on to showing many other aircraft in flight (as mentioned above.) It’s not difficult to imagine why this film may have helped to increase the popularity of the IMAX format.  

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As mentioned above, this film’s only official home release has been on VHS, which can occasionally be found on Amazon or eBay. However, as I was writing this entry, I discovered that it had also been recently uploaded to YouTube. It appears that that video is just a digital transfer of the VHS, as its image quality is still not the best, though it also appears to be better than the rather blurry VHS that I got ahold of (which I’m guessing may have been slightly damaged, as my audio was wonky too.) Here it is on YouTube:

You can view a spreadsheet that details how you can find every film in the Registry (and also notes how you can help me, if you feel so inclined) here:

These blog posts are being compiled into a (very much work-in-progress) book, which you can view here:

Information sources and additional resources:

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