Flyboys (Blu-ray)

The critical and box office verdicts on Flyboys weren't exactly glowing. Full of clichs with the usual assortment of standard characters…the dull subplot about the lonely American pilot falling for a beautiful young French girl…wooden dialog...a decidedly old-fashioned tone. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

But this story about American pilots flying for the French in the Lafayette Escadrille prior to the U.S. entering WWI is more fact than fiction. While some details were certainly altered for dramatic effect, the filmmakers apparently stayed remarkably close to known facts, and to incidents that actually occurred.

All of this is discussed extensively in one of the most interesting commentary tracks I've yet heard. There actually was a black pilot in the Escadrille. The pilots did live in luxurious accommodations paid for by wealthy American sponsors. A young lion really was the squadron's mascot. The training devices were crude. The fatality rate was extraordinarily high in the powered wood and canvas kites that passed for the fighter planes of the day. And there was a code of chivalry between enemy pilots that seems ludicrously quaint today.

Furthermore, as odd as it might appear to critics and viewers whose only points of reference are from other movies, there's also a lot more fact than fiction here in the way young pilots of the era (or any era) interact, react, and function in this sort of environment.

I suspect that many of these things may have been too hard for mainstream audiences and critics to accept as fact, leading to much of the negative press and less than enthusiastic word-of-mouth.

But all of that aside, I'm a sucker for films with great flying sequences, and Flyboys has them in spades. Yes, many of the shots are computer generated, but they are so seamlessly assembled with live action scenes that the artifice is rarely obvious. And when it is, as when a topside gunner makes a mad, hopeless dash across his disintegrating dirigible in an attempt to avoid the inevitable, it actually could have happened that way. According to the commentary, defensive gunners actually were stationed on top of those overgrown balloons, protected by little more than a low rail.

And while some of the maneuvers "performed" in the film by the planes were likely a bit too extreme for the limited capabilities of WWI aircraft (not to mention their durability—I suspect that the structural challenges of G-forces were not well understood by either their designers or their pilots) they at least look believable.

This may not be the best looking of the high definition disc I've seen recently, but its 24 MBPS MPEG 2 transfer comes very close to it. The flying scenes are vivid and compelling. The entire movie was filmed in high definition with Genesis digital video cameras, and it's one of the best advertisements I can imagine for this new technology.

The audio is a champion here, as well. Even the lossy 1.5Mb/sec DTS core track (the DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio cannot yet be played by any Blu-ray player) is spectacular. And Trevor Rabin's rousing score deserves extra credit. Because of the limited budget of this film (which looks far more expensive than it was) the production could not afford a full symphony orchestra. But you'll be hard pressed to tell.

Picture: 9.0 (out of 10)…Sound: 9.5…Film: 8.0

(Reviewed on a Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, Panasonic PT-AE1000U LCD projector, 78" wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and Arcam AVR350 receiver. Speakers: Mirage OMD-28 L/R, Mirage OMD-C2 center, Mirage OMD-R surrounds, and Revel B15 subwoofer.)