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FlyboysFlyboys on DVD

If you love airplane movies, you have to see Flyboys. Ditto if you love a good war movie.   Not only is Flyboys one of the best war movies to come along a long time, it's one of the best aviation films to come along in a long time, if ever.

The movie's inspired by the true story of the legendary Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron consisting of American volunteers flying for France in World War I. It appears to be made up of misfits and/or loners, some of whom are seeking adventure, others of whom are on the run from a variety of demons – you know, the usual mix of people that show up in stories such as this.  Except, of course, this one is fact-based.

Star James Franco's character, for example, has just lost the family ranch and is running from the law for a bit of minor violence he committed out of frustration.  Another is a rich kid who's basically being sent off to war to make a man of him.

This diverse group comes together at flight training school, a bunch of basically wet behind the ears kids who have no idea of what they're getting into.

They find out soon enough, of course. They even get an inkling of what's to come the first time they try to get into the Mess and the cynical, and more seasoned and bloodied, pilots rebuff them until they've earned the right to drink with them.

Eventually, they earn that right, thanks to some of the best movie dog fighting scenes seen since the Battle of Britain.

All of the standard war movie situations are here. There is the cowboy, the "Jesus freak", the phoney, the crusty, cynical older pilot who's seen it all, the romantic interest thanks to a pretty local girl.  But don't let that turn you off; what could've been hackneyed or maudlin is handled very well by director Tony Bill, and the movie works on many levels.

But it's the flying scenes that really star in this film (sorry, James).  The producers have given us a wonderful feel for flying, including the three dimensional aspects of airborne battle.  As you'll see if you watch some of the supplementary materials, they accomplish this partly through "motion capturing" actual aircraft, a technique used before in such movies as the Polar Express, King Kong, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy - except that in those films they were capturing human performances, not those of magnificent old flying machines.

Needless to say the flying scenes are exhilarating.

Some of the stuff isn't completely accurate historically; for example, most of the German fighters were not painted red, but overall the film makers have done such a good job that they deserve a little artistic licence.

Available in multiple editions, including Blu-ray and Pan&Scan (the latter of which should be avoided at all costs), TechnoFile received the two disc Collector's Edition. It's presented in anamorphic widescreen, compatible with 16 x 9 televisions, and the picture quality is excellent.  The picture's nice and sharp and with good contrast.

The English audio soundtrack offers the choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or dts surround.  The sound quality is excellent, especially the dts track, with very good use of all five channels, and the low-frequency effects come in very handy during a warfare scenes, as you might expect.

Here's a quick list of the extras:

  • Audio Commentary by Director Tony Bill and Producer Dean Devlin
  • "Real Heros: The True Story of the Lafayette Escadrille" Featurette
  • "Life of a Minature Stunt Pilot" Featurette
  • "Whiskey and Soda- The Lion Mascots" Featurette
  • "Taking Flight- The Making of a Flying Sequence"
  • "The Real Planes of Flyboys" Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • collectible cards
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Flyboys Squadron DVD-ROM Game

As mentioned, the featurette where they show the motion capturing of the planes, along with other special effects techniques, is particularly fascinating if you're into the technology of the filmmaking.  The historical stuff's pretty good too.

It's too bad this movie disappeared from theaters fairly quickly.  It's a fine film, a type rarely seen anymore, and it really deserves to be seen.

Flyboys, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
139 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, widescreen TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1/dts 5.1 surround
starring James Franco, Martin Henderson, David Ellison, Jennifer Decker, and Jean Reno
Produced by Dean Devlin, Mark Frydman
Written by Phil Sears and Blake T. Evans and David S. Ward, directed by Tony Bill

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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