World War I action adventure focusing on America's first fighter pilots. The year is 1917, and the war is not going well for the allies. Although America has refused to enter the conflict, some of its more altruistic young men decide to take action. Blair Rawlings (James Franco) abandons his ranch and follows his dream to fly, opting to fight with his compatriots in France. Once there, he and the other volunteers are brought under the command of French Captain Thenault (Jean Reno), and war-weary American pilot Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson). Initially shunned by their fellow aviators, new squadron the Lafayette Escadrille soon begin to earn the respect of their comrades as they develop into a fearsome fighting unit.
World War I aviation action gets an impressive digital upgrade in Flyboys, a welcome addition to the "dogfight" sub-genre that includes such previous war-in-the-air films like Hell's Angels, Wings, and The Blue Max. While those earlier films had the advantage of real and genuinely dangerous flight scenes (resulting, in some cases, in fatal accidents during production), Flyboys takes full (and safe) advantage of the digital revolution, with intensely photo-realistic recreations of WWI aircraft, authentic period structures, and CGI environments requiring a total of 850 digital effects shots, resulting in an abundance of amazing images, many of them virtually indistinguishable from reality. Unfortunately, the film's technical achievement is more impressive than its screenplay, which conventionally and predictably tells the fact-based story, set in France in 1916, of the daring young pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, a pioneering French air-combat unit that welcomed American enlistees prior to the United States' entry into the war.
There's a familiar cliché to match every thrilling scene of aerial combat, but director Tony Bill manages to keep it all interesting, from the romance between a young American maverick (James Franco) and a pretty French girl (newcomer Jennifer Decker) to the exciting action in the air, which includes a stock variety of heroes (many of them composites of real-life WWI pilots) and an intimidating villain known only as "The Black Falcon," whose Fokker Dr-1 triplane (one of many in the film) recalls the exploits of German "ace of aces" Manfred von Richtofen, the dreaded "Red Baron" of legend. With impeccable production values that will impress even the most nit-picking aviation buffs, Flyboys
(like Superman Returns
, also released in 2006) was also one of the first feature films to be shot with Panavision's state-of-the-art Genesis digital cameras, resulting in beautiful images that meet or exceed the visual nuance of film. Flyboys
also benefits from painstaking attention to physical detail, making it easier to forgive its shortcomings as a generic and formulaic slice of romanticised history. So while some viewers may have wished for a more realistic and grown-up depiction of the Lafayette Escadrille, it's safe to say that Flyboys
will be thrilling its target audience for many years to come. --Jeff Shannon
--This text refers to the DVD