Saturday, September 23, 2006


I saw the new Dean Devlin-produced WWI fighter ace movie Flyboys tonight. I first saw the trailer about a month ago, and boy, let me tell you I was jazzed for this one. I loves me some biplane dogfight action!

So why am I disappointed? It's not like I don't like the film. I do. There's great stuff here, but like The Blue Max this one's just off in places. The dogfights, of course, are glorious... for the most part. Devlin has bragged in interviews how computer animation allowed them to make the aerial battles more spectacular than was remotely possible with The Blue Max, but the trouble is, half the time I can readily tell I'm watching CGI. The glossy sheen on the images is off-putting. I feel like I'm watching an elaborately-choreographed video game. Another thing that bothered me is the monoculture of airplanes in the film. The Lafayette Escadrille flys Nieuport 17s exclusively in the movie, although they also flew Spads. More annoying is the fact that the only German fighter shown in the film is the Fokker Dr.I triplane. The movie's set in 1916, but the Fokker tri wasn't introduced until 1917--the flyboys of the film would've been up against German Albatrosses for the most part. But more than that, the triplane is made out to be a model of air superiority--it wasn't. Yes, it was the most manuverable plane in the sky and could climb exceedingly well, but the triplane has so much drag that it was slow at a time when speed was becoming the most important trait in battle. On top of that, shoddy workmanship led to the planes having unreliable performance--the top wings literally would fall off during flight. Now the Fokker D.VII biplane--that one really scared the willies out of everyone.

The film's attention to historical detail is abyssmal much of the time. There's a big German land advance on the ground which gobbles up a lot of territory, and nobody seems to notice or oppose. In reality, the Escadrille took heavy losses during the German assault of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, but this, apparently, ain't it. There's also a spectacular battle around zeppelin L-32 over Paris with a Fokker fighter escort. First off, L-32 was a navy zeppelin that was shot down over Britain in September of 1916. But even more annoying was the fact that this zeppelin's making its bombing run on heavily-fortified Paris in broad daylight. Zeppelins were huge, slow-moving targets, so they only made their bombing runs at night. Anti-aircraft fire from the ground would've blow this one to shreds long before it reached Paris. It's the sloppy, cavalier disregard of facts like that really undercuts my enjoyment of the film. I could almost forgive the stereotypical stock characters and paint-by-number Hollywood script on this one if they'd just not be so dumb otherwise. I mean, really. They make the effort to get a lion to play the role of "Whiskey," one of the original Lafayette Escadrille's two mascots, but can't even manage an accurate zeppelin battle? And the way the hero's one-on-one showdown with the Red Baron wannabe "Black Falcon" is too ludicrous for words.

Again, I liked it in spite of its faults, but before I see it a second time I'll make sure to down a couple of beers first.

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