TV review: 'Pittsburgh From Air II' rises above original film
The Monongahela River at sunset is among the shots on the WQED documentary "Pittsburgh From the Air II."
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WQED Multimedia has sky-high hopes for "Pittsburgh From the Air II."
Debuting Thursday night at 8, the show promises more surprising views of Western Pennsylvania, this time shot during fall 2011 and spring 2012.
The station also plans to stream the program live at www.wqed.org in response from viewers outside of the local television market. Testing the social media waters, WQED will allow viewers to register to win free DVD or Blu-ray copies through use of the #PGHAIR Twitter hash tag or by texting PGHAIR to 94253.
"We're excited to distribute 'Pittsburgh From the Air' through multiple platforms," said Deborah L. Acklin, president and chief executive officer of WQED Multimedia.
Like its predecessor, "Air II" is a colorful hour of sweeping landscapes and sunsets with occasional comment from WQED's Rick Sebak.
"The goal of this kind of program is to not let it be story-driven through narration, but picture-driven and musically driven," said Darryl Ford Williams, vice president of content for WQED Multimedia.
Footage was shot using a Cineflex V14 high-definition gyroscopic camera mounted on a Cherokee helicopter. The first "Air" was a surprising success in terms of DVD and Blu-ray sales, selling about 10,000 copies.
"We knew it would be popular, but we didn't expect the overwhelming response we received," Ms. Ford Williams said.
In "Air II," it doesn't take long for viewers to realize Allegheny and six nearby counties are at their spectacular best in autumn. There's an overhead shot of bright orange mountains of pumpkins at Trax Farms in Finleyville with tight bunches of yellow or pink chrysanthemums lining outdoor market shelves.
From McConnells Mill State Park in Lawrence County to the Flight 93 Memorial in Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, the vivid reds, yellows and oranges of the trees provide a dramatic backdrop.
"Nearly 60 percent of the state is covered with forest," Mr. Sebak's voice informs.
"Air II" improves upon the original in creating the occasional theme, such as "Friday Night Lights." Cameras swoop down on high school football games at the "Wolverena" at Woodland Hills High School as well as Fox Chapel and Hampton high schools and Kiski Area's Davis Field.
There's a montage of houses of worship, including Rodef Shalom and St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland. Possibly the most striking image is from the "Men at Work" theme, where we see a giant industrial chainsaw dangling from a helicopter as it clears tree branches from nearby West Penn Power lines.
"I think everybody will remember, because, who has ever seen that?" Ms. Ford Williams said.
Another improvement on the original: Scenes are better captioned. Although many of the scenes will be obvious -- Pittsburgh's bridges, Ohiopyle, Pitt's Cathedral of Learning -- it is helpful to know that the Salisbury Viaduct is in Summit Township, Somerset County or that the Armstrong County Courthouse is in Kittanning.
Although its tough to compete with fall, the greens and yellows of spring don't get short shrift and one man-made scene is particularly cool.
As thousands of runners crowded the streets for the Pittsburgh Marathon last May, they looked like so many shifting pieces of confetti pouring through the canyons of buildings.
From city to country, it seems, there's always a nice view.
With music by Jamie Peck -- who won a regional Emmy for his "Air I" composition, "Pittsburgh From the Air II" was executive produced by David Solomon. Frank Caloiero is producer, editor and sound engineer.
The film was produced in partnership with UPMC.
First Published October 3, 2012 12:00 am