Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fly Boys

When I was in my late teens, I was interested in WWI air combat. I read several biographies of fliers and I could recognize most planes. Given that, I'm in a much better position to appreciate Fly Boys than most critics.

It's really good.

During the early years of the war, several Americans joined the French Army to help against the Germans, partly to repay the help the French gave America during the Revolutionary War. They formed the Lafayette Escadrille, the best known flight group in the war (with Richthofen's Flying Circus a close second).

While the characters in the movie are fictional, the general events are real. Lafayette Escadrille really existed, they did live in a chateau, and they did have a lion as mascot (later they acquired a second lion).

This is not an anti-war movie nor is it a pro-war movie. It is just a war movie. WWI was a bloody war and the war in the air had a high fatality rate. This is reflected in the movie. Every mission has deaths. They are not grizzly, Private Ryan deaths but neither are they glossed over.

The characters are believable. We follow a group as they go from recruits to trainees. We see them shocked after their first taste of combat and we see the survivors become toughened veterans.

The movie also has a side-romance which is the most believable war romance I can remember. At the beginning, neither party can speak the other's language so we watch as they struggle with the language barrier. Also, the woman is just an ordinary woman. She is not a countess or a resistance leader or anything. She is just a French woman caring for a farm and a couple of kids.

I do have a few quibbles. The Germans are all flying red Fokker tri-planes (except for the Black Falcon's black tri-plane). The tri-pane was not that common and there was only one all-red one which was flown by Richthofen himself (except he got most of his kills flying a red Albatross). Also, you clearly see the bullets flying through the air in a straight line. I've seen footage of tracer rounds from WWII and the bullets' path was not anywhere near as straight. I am sure that in both cases, this was a decision by the director to make it easier for the audience to follow the movie.

The trenches and the front in general are also absent except for two scenes, one short and one extended. This was probably a financial decision.

Unfortunately, the movie opened to poor reviews. Critics are not ready to embrace a movie that does not have a strong anti-war message. While this one plays up the uselessness of that war, it is not a message that can be applied to other wars. Too bad because this is one of the best World War One movies made.

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