Thunderheads is one of the new-era documentaries that Smithsonian Networks is producing. Rather than playing canned footage spliced together with a voice-over as was typical of old school documentaries, they’ve taken a reality TV approach to documentary making, following real scientists in their quest for knowledge and discovery. Thunderheads chronicles the efforts of an international force of 250 experts (though the action is limited to a small number) who make up I.C.E. – the International Cloud Experiment.
Seeking to discover the correlations between thunderstorms and climate, scientists pair up with pilots to fly into the midst of the massive storms to be found in Darwin, Australia to put their high tech instruments and smarts to the test. With limited funding, and therefore a tight schedule, tensions run high between the scientists and pilots who struggle to understand the other side’s perspective.
Though the team does succeed in gathering the data they are in search of, the documentary remains inconclusive as to what thunderstorms and their formation of ice crystals can teach us about climate change. The action included on Thunderheads represents only the beginning of a large-scale project – the data gathering stage. An additional three years of research are planned to analyze and examine the raw data. As such, the documentary is a bit of a cliffhanger, as it doesn’t include any conclusive ending.
With a run time of 46 minutes, this is a documentary that’s hard to resist for those with an interest in aircraft, meteorology, climate change, and science and weather in general. This cutting edge research introduces viewers to scientific concepts and technologies that the general public is typically unaware of.
The visuals are spectacular, including not only typical ground action sequences, but also breathtaking sequences of massive cloud action, huge rain storms, shots from space, and dramatic in-flight action shots. The disc includes standard scene selection, and is paired with optional English subtitles, and a choice of stereo and Dolby surround sound.