Telluride: Can 'The Aeronauts' Replicate 'Theory of Everything' Oscar Magic?

The last time Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones teamed up on a movie, James Marsh's The Theory of Everything (2014), the charming British performers and their movie wound up with Oscar nominations, and Redmayne took home a little gold man. Five years later, they are back together in Tom Harper's The Aeronauts — which, like Theory, features Redmayne as a venerated scientist and Jones as a formidable woman who helps him through thick and thin — leaving many wondering, naturally, if lightning can strike twice.

The Aeronauts, a $40 million film that had its world premiere Friday at the Telluride Film Festival (where I caught up with it on Sunday), amalgamates several true stories about hot air balloon travel into one about a wannabe meteorologist (Redmayne) and an widower adventurer (Jones) who, against all odds, wind up together in a primitive balloon seven miles above London in 1862.

Tonally, it is a bit unusual — it begins like a family-friendly farce, then morphs into a Jules Verne-esque caper and then becomes a rather dark and heart-pounding thriller, all the while devoid of any acted-upon romance. But, if one is able to suppress one's fear of heights, claustrophobia and gnawing questions (why do two smart people get themselves into such a bind? how plausible is it that they could have survived so many catastrophes? where do they go to the bathroom?) and just enjoy the company of two very likable stars, as well as gorgeous production design, cinematography and visual effects, not to mention a very effective Steven Price score and Sigrid end-credits song ("Home to You"), it kind of works.

Audience members at the Palm Theatre screening that I attended were with The Aeronauts every step of the way, based on their audible gasps and physical contortions and eventual hearty applause. In terms of the Oscar race, it is — for me, at least — too soon to tell if the film is Life of Pi (11 Oscar nominations, four resulting in wins) or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (zero Oscar noms), two films that this one sort of reminds me of.

Amazon is set to release the film in theaters on Dec. 6.