The Blue Angels Go Behind the Scenes

The Blue Angels. Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios. © Amazon Content Services LLC.

The Blue Angels take audiences behind the scenes as the film follows them throughout training, the 2022 season, and new selections.

I had an opportunity to watch the film by way of laptop to TV via HDMI cable. However, that’s just not the right way to experience a film of this scale. No, this is a film that audiences should experience in an IMAX theater if it is playing in a local IMAX theater. It’s really the best way to experience the film. The theatrical release will close on May 23 but if you’re unable to see it in IMAX, the documentary will start streaming May 23 on Prime Video. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice to watch over Memorial Day weekend. Oh yeah, you’d better crank the volume up so as to get the best experience out of watching the film!

The film puts audiences right there in the cockpit as pilots train for the upcoming season. Let me just say right now that the IMAX experience is worth it for the aerial footage alone. Aerial coordinator Kevin LaRosa II and aerial directors of photography Michael FitzMaurice and Lance Benson lead the aerial unit and go inside “the box” with IMAX cameras. Without camera mounts built for Top Gun: Maverick, the documentary would not have been able to capture a good chunk of thrills in the air. Don’t forget that we’re talking about a precision jet team that is flying as close as 12-18 inches apart while flying in a Diamond formation. While four members fly the diamond, two more are performing solos across the sky. It is a sight to behold until they come together as six to fly in the Delta formation.

The Blue Angels.
The Blue Angels. Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios. © Amazon Content Services LLC.

While film has been in the works for a number of years, the Blue Angels are approaching their 80th anniversary. Admiral Chester Nimitz, serving as Chief of Naval Operations, came up with the idea back in 1946. His vision was forming a flight exhibition team as a way of doing two things: raising the public’s interest in naval aviation and boosting Navy morale. I’d say that the team has more or less done the job in its overall history. The planes may have changed but the spirit remains the same, even as they’ve been flying the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet since turning 75 years old in 2021. In addition to the six jets, they have another plane that serves to transfer personnel and other cargo between shows.

The access that filmmakers get are unprecedented. There have been other documentaries about the Blue Angels but nothing to the extent of this film. It gives one an even greater appreciation for pilots with everything it takes to fly at such speeds. If just over an hour and a half of footage makes it into the final cut, I’m curious as to how much is on the cutting room floor. What they have is rather impressive even if there is a good handful of footage on the ground. We get to know key members of the 2022 season and what led them to become one of the Blue Angels. We’re there for the winter training, their homecoming reunion with family members upon returning home, performances and other visits during the season. It can get emotional towards the end of the film as some team members make their farewell in November.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the film has its low moments. For a film with Navy approval, it’s surprising that they would allow either of them in the film. At the same time, it shows the sacrifice on the part of America’s military. Since forming in 1946, 28 members of the Blue Angels have tragically died. The most recent death came when Capt. Jeff Kuss, an opposing solo pilot, crashed during a 2016 practice in Smyrna, Tenn. It’s probably the biggest emotional moment in the film. The other part, while nowhere close to being emotional, is showing the new recruits going through the G-force training and passing out. None of the team wears a G-suit because the frequent inflation deflation would lead to the control stick being moved.

The Blue Angels during the 2022 season.
The Blue Angels during the 2022 season. Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios. © Amazon Content Services LLC.

The 2022 season featured three new pilots while two pilots were flying in different positions. Captain Brian Kesserling was in his final year as flight leader aka Boss. Knowing that they rotate positions yearly adds to the challenges of training for new seasons each year. Now, imagine doing so with a camera crew during a time of year where there really cannot be any distractions! Despite new members rotating annually, the passion and dedication never leaves. The Blue Angels are not just six fighter pilots putting on demonstrations at the many air shows as they also include the support personnel. All in all, there are about 165 personnel. To give an example of how this film takes us behind the scenes, we see them doing debriefs following a training so that they can correct their mistakes–this includes chair-flying.

Once September comes around, they start taking the time to focus on bringing in new team members. It’s an intense process and what happens in the room ends up staying in the room. Because of the pandemic pushing things off, the filmmakers just happened to get extremely lucky during the 2022 season because the new recruits selected would include Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Lee, the first female pilot selected for the Blue Angels. The other would be their new Commanding Officer/Flight Leader, Alexander P. Armatas.

None of the pilots that make up the Blue Angels are retired. Their stay is brief but afterwards, they’ll go to another stop while serving for the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps. Executive producer Greg Wooldridge appears in the film but this is because he is the only three-time Boss in Blue Angels history. He’s the only person interviewed on camera who was not involved in the 2022 team. Anyway, plans to make a film were in the works for the 75th anniversary but the pandemic pushed things off. That’s where producer Glen Powell enters the picture–LaRosa II connected Wooldridge and Rob Stone with Glen Zipper and Sean Stuart. They brought on the Bad Robot team of J.J. Abrams and Hannah Minghella as well as Paul Crowder and Mark Monroe. They brought IMAX on board and the rest is history.

The Blue Angels.
The Blue Angels. Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios. © Amazon Content Services LLC.

The Blue Angels is a film that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible. In addition to getting a newfound perspective at the legendary team, the film just might inspire young children in becoming interested in aviation.

DIRECTOR: Paul Crowder
FEATURING: Brian Kesserling, Christopher Kapuschansky, Scott Goossens, Frank Zastoupil, Cary Rickoff, Julius Bratton, Monica Borza, Alexander P. Armatas, Amanda Lee

Amazon MGM Studios and IMAX Entertainment released The Blue Angels in theaters on May 17, 2024. The film will start streaming May 23 on Prime Video. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.