Flyboys (2006)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: James Franco, Jennifer Decker, Jean Reno
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes

Was it just me or was "Flyboys" flying completely under the radar when it hit theaters? It wasn't until the DVD showed up on my desk that I actually noticed this film and decided to give it a check up. I love movies about the early ace pilots of World War I, a time when you had to ask yourself what is really more dangerous, the war or the act of flying.

Loosely inspired by true events "Flyboys" tells the story of the Lafayette Escadrille, a small group of American pilots during World War I, who decided to help France in a war their own country hadn't even engaged in. It certainly took a certain character and panache to decide to go to war and risk your life for a country that isn't your own, and for some of the young men it was an escape or the opportunity for an adventure like no other.

Once in Verdun, these young Americans are trained to become pilots in double-decker planes. Among the recruits is Blaine Rawlings (James Franco) from Texas who quickly shows incredible talent and skills handling these airplanes and the people around him. Time after time they engage German fighters in the air during missions to protect their own bombers, attacking zeppelins, enemy installations and so forth. And every time they learn the hard lesson that war is gruesome, harsh and merciless, as one by one their own numbers are decimated until only a small handful remain.

"Flyboys" turned out to be a great cinematic experience with wonderfully choreographed dogfights. The fact alone to see World War I fighter planes soar through the skies engaging each other was a marvelous experience. It has a totally different feel and dynamic than modern jet fighters, of course, and the sense of how the enemy pilots actually connect on a personal level adds an incredible amount of drama to the events. These pilots are not anonymous entities, they are people that signal each other, that look into each others' eyes as they shoot and try to kill each other. Much of the aerial footage is computer generated but for the most part I have to admit it could have fooled me. It is incredibly well done und the physics as well as the models are rendered in such a convincing way that often it becomes impossible to tell which airplane is real and which has been computer-generated.

While the dogfights are clearly the main attraction of "Flyboys" the story nicely supplements the film. A flourishing romance between Rawlings and Juliette (Jennifer Decker), a local French girl, helps to give the character a sense of purpose as he connects with the people he's actually fighting for. The dynamics among the pilots, rivalries, camaraderie, etc. helps to create drama in the plot, propelling things forward. It is all held together by great performances by the cast including a great Jean Reno as the captain of the escadrille.

[Note: After publishing this review we were informed by MGM that the copy we reviewed was a screener copy that is not representative for the final version and all technical comments would therefore not apply. Given the track record of quality of MGM and Fox, who is handling and authroing MGM's DVDs these days, I have decided to withdraw my previous comments and hold back on a verdict until the final version is actually available.]

The release is complemented by a 5.1 channel audio track that is solid and comes across as very dynamic. Sound effects are used aggressively throughout the discrete channels for maximum impact and you will hear sounds enveloping you from all directions. Dialogue is well integrated and is never drowned out by the music or the sound effects, thus always remaining understandable and clear.

The release comes complete with a commentary track that features director Tony Bill and producer Dean Devlin. I found the track to be well balanced and interesting as the two discuss the production of the film in the UK as well as their cast and, of course, history and the way it was brought to life on the screen with the help of computer generated imagery. The track is full of information and is never dry or too shallow to enjoy.

Also included are a few deleted scenes, which are in fact, extended scenes rather than completely new scenes. They nicely supplement the DVD as well as a quick look at the original Lafayette Escadrille and the special effects in the movie. Both featurettes are way too short to convey anything of relevance, really and turn out to be more of a disappointment than an asset.

"Flyboys" is a great movie that engaged and totally hooked me – in fact it could have gone on for another hour and I wouldn't have minded at all. The extras on the disc are decent enough, though for hard-core fans the 2-disc Special Edition may be the even more attractive version with additional supplements.