When a short documentary is bad, it goes to hell. That hell is the tiny room at the museum that visitors are herded into before the tour starts. Someone hits the play button on a DVD player—after accidentally hitting eject—and tourists are subjected to a thirty-year-old documentary that everyone pretends to be interested in, at the risk of offending the tour guide. Aircraft Carrier, written and directed by Stephen Low, is a good documentary and will be spared this fate.
It’s all about RIMPAC, a simulated war exercise between 26 nations in which each gets to test out their newest and most advanced weaponry under battle-like conditions. Think of it as the world’s deadliest boxing gym where countries come to spar. For the home team, we have the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that serves as the mobile home for the rest of our naval arsenal. To get a sense of its power, the ship’s eight generators could energize a city of 100,000 people for twenty years without refueling. And it’s top speed? Classified.
In presenting the war simulation and the various “toys” therein, the documentary has access to a wealth of footage that can only be described as supercool—aerial ocean photography, interior cockpit shots, etc. Just the image of dozens of multinational warships sailing through the Pacific in formation is enough to make the hair on your arms stand up. In addition to actual photography, Aircraft Carrier puts to work some slick CGI, breaking apart the sophisticated war tech and detailing its innards.
“…RIMPAC, a simulated war exercise between 26 nations…”
It’s easy to be enamored by all the machines, but let’s not forget the thousands of personnel who make them work. Almost everyone on the USS Ronald Reagan wears color-coated uniforms that look nearly identical to the turtleneck outfits from Star Trek‘s pilot episode. The similarities don’t end there, as the colors even relate to expertise: green is for engines, red is for weapons, and purple is for fuel. When you combine this with the Space Force logo, maybe the future won’t be so bad after all.
Intercut between the fancy new technology are engrossing history lessons on naval warfare. Not only do these show how far the unfortunate reality of war has come, but how the mentality of it has evolved. For example, the submarine was at one time viewed as cowardly and unfair—like sneaking up on someone and shanking them in the back. These days, stealth seems to be just as valued as sheer firepower.
At the end of the documentary, the baritone voice that narrates Aircraft Carrier confirms what you’ve probably been thinking all along. “There is more firepower on the ships of RIMPAC than all the bombs used in all of the wars in human history,” he says so casually. Weaponry has progressed to such a point that should a world war break out again, it’s not one that we, the royal we, can come back from. It’s going to be the big kablooey. Drop the needle on “We’ll Meet Again” and pray the warhead hits you right between the eyes because you won’t want to be around for whatever’s left.
"…intercut between the fancy new technology are engrossing history lessons on naval warfare."