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

After seeing the "Flyboys" check disc DVD the other day which wasn't representative of the final DVD release, I decided to take a look at an authoritative version of the film, namely the final Blu-Ray version that IS representative of the final release. 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. Since I also enjoyed the film itself, I didn't mind at all to revisit it after just a few days time.

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.

Now for the real meat, the technical implementation of the release. Coming as a dual-layer Blu-Ray disc that provides 50GB of storage the transfer is absolutely marvelous. Encoded as a 1080p transfer using MPEG-2, this transfer is a true revelation. It certainly helps that the original was a digital source since the entire film has been shot using digital cameras with effects footage that was also processed exclusively in the digital domain. That gives encoders a pristine source to work with which makes the encoded result all the more better. As a result the image is absolutely sharp and revels in rich and finely delineated detail that it knocks your socks off. The film offers a great-looking cinematography with rich colors and strong contrasts and it is great to see it all spring to life in this Blu-Ray version. Edges are razor sharp and textures are wonderfully colored and shaded bringing out every little hue and gradient. Even during the incredibly fast-paced dog fight scenes the image remains clear and never washes out or blurs unnaturally. In a nutshell, this is an extremely cool transfer that will please even the most discriminating viewers.

For the audio aficionados among you you'll be pleased to hear that a lossless 5.1 DTS HD audio track is included on this disc that is absolutely spectacular as well. Bombarding you with sound from all directions the track offers an impressive dynamic range that adds punch to the overall excitement of the film. It also reveals subtleties that I could not find previously. These may be minor details sometimes, but there is something about the sound of a roaring propeller engine when you seem to be able to hear every single piston churn, with the slightest ringing clatter of the exhaust pipe in the mix. Some of these incredible nuances are reproduced so nicely in this mix that it makes the track super-effective and convincing.
Dialogues is well integrated and is never drowned out by the music or the sound effects, thus always remaining understandable and clear.

Never mind that I'm gushing, but this disc offers you a brutally impressive version of the movie that fans will salivate over.

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.

Like the commentary track, many of the extras on this release are carried over from the DVD Special Edition – which I have not been allowed to see.

You will find a few deleted scenes here, which are in fact, extended scenes rather than completely new scenes. They are a nice supplement to the release, no question.

A number of featurettes are also included, giving you about an hour's worth of material about the making of the film. A look at the original Lafayette Escadrille, the special effects in the movie as well as the planes, the dog fight scenes and more is covered here in some detail. Most of the material is presented with interview segments featuring director Tony Bill and producer Dean Devlin as they share their honest – and infectious – enthusiasm for the movie and the production.

As an exclusive feature the Blu-Ray Disc contains an Aerial Guide Track. It is a trivia track that pops up as you watch the film. While it is nothing revolutionary, it gives you the chance to learn more about the film as you go along.

"Flyboys" is a fun 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 Blu-Ray Disc is a great showcase release that offers up incredible image quality with a spectacular audio track. Add to it a number of great extras filled with information and behind-the-scenes looks, and you have a winner. It is great what a 50GB Blu-Ray disc can do, as all the extras on the disc are presented in 1080p high definition resolution. When you compare that to HD-DVD releases that still make you flip over the disc to see some standard definition bonus materials, I think the storage advantage of Blu-Ray is clearly evident in releases like this one. If you have a Blu-Ray player, check out this release!