Producer Dean Devlin loves to blow crap up. Making a big splash as the writer/producer of Independence Day, he makes sure his movies, from The Patriot to Godzilla, have plenty of explosions. In his latest production effort, Flyboys, Devlin applies his "let's blow something up" moviemaking philosophy to World War I flying aces.
The Lafayette Escadrille was made up of Americans who volunteered to fight for the French against Germany before the United States officially entered WWI. Taught to fly by the French military and sent up to battle better armed and trained German pilots, they had a life expectancy of anywhere from two to six weeks. Or, to put it another way, they lasted only a little longer than this bomb of a movie survived in theaters.
Heartthrob (and not half-bad actor in some situations) James Franco is the lead Escadrille pilot, Blaine Rawlings. Fleeing his foreclosed family ranch, the cocky cowboy clashes with the Escadrille's French captain, Thenault (Jean Reno), who recognizes his leadership and fighting skills. Veteran American Ace Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson) also sees Rawlings as his natural successor and they strike up a grudging friendship. When not battling the Hun, Rawlings woos Lucienne (Jennifer Decker), despite the fact that he speaks no French and she no English. The rest of the Escadrille is comprised of typically stereotypes that you can almost mark with a "he dies" stamp when they first appear on screen.
The movie follows a distinct patter of the squadron going up into battle with the Germans, having one or two people killed in the order of when it will break your heart the most, and then returning to ground for either wooing of the French lass or soul searching by the Flyboys themselves. It goes on for far too long. Several of the ground scenes should have been cut, especially one that casts suspicion on an ineffective pilot as a possible German spy. The scene starts promising but devolves into almost idiotic comedy.
The flying scenes are actually pretty well done, saving this movie from complete disaster. Using a combination of CGI and miniatures, the scenes never look really fake and will appeal to 14 year old boys and the 14 year old boy inside of anyone. Unfortunately, Director Tony Bill hasn't made a feature film since 1993 and his ensuing time in television has given too much of cliché ridden visual and pacing style. Also, if you see the film advertised as being from Academy Award winner Tony Bill, don't be fooled into thinking he won that for directing. He was a producer of 1973's The Sting, which won Best Picture.
In the end, there is just too much movie here for the quality of the story or performances. World War I and the fighter pilot is certainly fertile ground for an interesting story, this just isn't it. If you do rent this movie, be sure to keep the fast forward button handy. There is a fun 45 minute highlight reel hiding inside this 2 hour plus mediocre movie.
When a $60 million budgeted movie makes $14 million worldwide, the last thing you expect is that they will release it as a Two-Disc Collector's Edition. But, fortune favors the bold (or so they say), so maybe it's the right move. All of the features are on the second disc, with the first disc containing the movie and an audio commentary by Director Tony Bill and Producer Dean Devlin. It's a pretty decent commentary with them covering things in a straightforward cheerleader type way, but it's interesting to hear how some of the shots were done. Also, as a drinking game you can count the number of times Devlin says "now might be a good time to talk about...."
The second disc contains a plethora of featurettes, that you can watch individually or using a "play all" function. Lasting more than an hour, they run the gamut in terms of quality and interest. It is pretty clear that a few of them could have been cut out and the whole release could have been only one disc.
"Real Heros: The True Story of the Lafayette Escadrille" is the longest and most substantial extra. A 30 minute segment that was obviously intended to play on television as advertising for the theatrical release. The focus is on the comparison of the film with the real members and exploits of the Escadrille, but there is information about all the filmmaking aspects. The comparison of the characters in the movie to their real-life counterparts is interesting and you do develop an admiration for what these men did at what was really the infancy of flight. "Whiskey and Soda- The Lion Mascots" also covers a real event in the Escadrille, obtaining live lions as their mascots. Some pictures of the members holding lion cubs are shown.
Two segments, both under ten minutes, cover the filming of flight sequences from very different perspecitives. "Taking Flight- The Making of a Flying Sequence" is a straight forward look at the use of CGI and some models to create the elaborate battles that make the highlight of the movie. "Life of a Miniature Stunt Pilot" is supposedly a video diary of one of the miniature men that are blown up when models of the planes are lit on fire and crashed. It looks like something that the drunken crew member who shot it thought was hilarious, but comes across as juvenile. I literally think a ten year old could have put together something better.
There is an Escadrille museum, and the curator spends about five minutes talking about the actual planes that were used in World War I and those used in the film. It is somewhat interesting, although a flying buff would likely get a lot more out of it than the casual fan. Finally, two cast members flew with the Blue Angels and there is a five minute featurette on that. It has nothing to do with the movie and watching a guy fly in an airplane and go upside down is of almost no interest to anyone.
The other extras on the second disc include a trailer, which made the movie look even worse than it actually was, and a handful of deleted scenes. The scenes show that even more distracting and non-essential ground stories were shot, which is really scary. It's almost like the people creating the movie felt that seeing yet more boring non-flying scenes would be needed. One scene is somewhat funny, but not intentionally. The character in the scene is supposed to be missing his hand, but clearly they did not want to digitally erase it since they were not using the scene, so his hand is visible, even as he looks down and refers to it being gone.
The final extra is a demo of a Flyboys video game for the PC. The demo is interesting if you like first player shooter games and I'm guessing this was the real reason for the second disc - to hawk the video game. Without this addition, this could easily have been a one-disc release.
This movie is all about visuals and they look great on the widescreen version. Also, the sound is crisp and sharp. That said, it's really a silk purse on a sows ear. The featurettes are substantial and somewhat well-done, but in the end, it's just hard to make a mediocre movie into a great DVD release.