The epic first stage in the adventure of human flight didn’t begin with the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk but with daring inventors and aeronauts in 18th century Paris. In a period of just 19 months, humanity not only left the ground for the first time, but a handful of brilliant and colorful pioneers developed all the essential features of today’s hot air and gas balloons. Their exploits fascinated Benjamin Franklin, who was serving in Paris as the American ambassador, and created a sensation in the city.

To explore this extraordinary burst of innovation, NOVA recreates key flights, including the world’s first manned voyage on November 21, 1783. A descendant of the Montgolfier brothers, who invented the hot air balloon, will join a team to build a highly accurate replica of the fragile paper and canvas craft using 18th century tools and materials. NOVA reveals the secrets of how the Montgolfiers invented flight, and evokes the thrilling and daunting prospect that the balloon pioneers faced as they left Earth for the first time.


“Ben Franklin’s Balloons” is another recreation documentary from PBS. The guys at Public Broadcasting are really starting to tread heavy into History Channel territory. But, they want to keep things more in the History Hipster aesthetic. Watching the Montgolfier descendant piece together the 1783 recreation is neat, but I need to take a second look at the principles on display.

Ben Franklin feels almost incidental to the documentary. I get that Franklin was a total fanboy of the Montgolfier brothers during his time in Paris. That being said, it’s weird to see such scientific efforts from the pre Revolution era getting limped into the dawn of Enlightenment. Still, it felt like the film limped to its hour long run.

The DVD comes with no special features. The A/V Quality is pretty strong for the release. The transfer is on par with the last couple of PBS documentaries. The same goes for the Dolby 2.0 surround track. In the end, I’d recommend a purchase.

RELEASE DATE: 11/25/2014

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