There have been many films made about wars. In fact, if you look at some of the most referenced, celebrated, and moving films that have ever been created, most of them are about war. And yet, the majority of these war films focus on the battle that happens on the ground. Very few deal with the air battles, and even less deal with the fight at sea. Is this because it’s more difficult to film aerial and nautical battles? Perhaps. However, for those films that do tackle the difficult task of filming these battles, the result is spectacular cinema. While naval battles may be exciting in their own right, nothing can hold a candle to the aerobatics and skill needed to be a flying ace, dueling in the skies for supremacy. This week’s two films highlight the men who took to the skies to defend our freedoms and liberties.
Length: 144 minutes / 2.40 hours
Perhaps one of the most impressive things about the early age of cinema is what they could accomplish. The technology was so new that very few knew what it was capable of. Still, that didn’t mean that they didn’t try new things. Some of the most impressive filmography I’ve seen has come from the toddler years of cinema, ages before computers were able to do these effects with ease and simplicity. This is why the dogfights in Wings were so impressive. Not only did they go to the lengths of strapping cameras on actual planes and using them to re-enact dogfights, but they went so far as to add color to the film to simulate the fiery demise of those planes: one frame at a time.
Jack Powell (Charles Rogers) has the need . . . the need for speed (see Top Gun (1986)). His interest in fast cars motivates him to join the Air Corps when World War I starts. He heads to France with his rival in love, David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), both aiming to become flying aces. Before they even get off the ground, they’re given some advice by Cadet White (Gary Cooper), right before he takes off on his own mission. Through the war, Jack and David become fast friends, despite the fact that they love the same girl. As the war progresses, the battle for the skies intensifies. Eventually, one of them is killed in action, which means the other has to head home and inform the grieving family.
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours
While Wings may be an impressive spectacle for its time, it pales in comparison with the battles conveyed in Red Tails. This is one of those films that just goes to show the impressive influence of computers on modern cinema. Since everything in the sky is created inside the virtual construct of a computer, the camera has much more freedom. It has freedom to get close to the planes and to move about the battlefield as an interested observer. Say what you will about Lucasfilm and their handling of plots, actors, and other aspects of their movies, but there’s one thing they certainly can get right: flashy battle sequences.
One whole World War after Wings, Red Tails highlights the battles of the Tuskegee Airmen. Of course, since this company was comprised completely of African American men, some of their battles were not against the Germans, but instead against the racial prejudices of their fellow American soldiers. As they fight for equality on the ground, they finally get a chance to prove themselves worthy in the air. Where other airmen were interested in becoming the next ace, and not on the mission at hand, the Tuskegee Airmen kept their discipline and helped protect the heavy bombers used to take out strategic German targets. Eventually, their skills earn them the respect they deserve, not only as soldiers, but as men.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 flying ace features