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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Netflix Nonsense - Red Tails

Here we are again with Netflix Nonsense.  As I try to get the most out of my $8/month, I've decided to sit down and blog about what I just watched on Netflix.  We turn our attention now to what will probably go down in history as the final film produced by Lucasfilm before it was bought out by Disney, the World War II epic Red Tails

Red Tails movie poster

If you'd been following the works of George Lucas for a while, then the fact that Red Tails was finally made is astonishing.  Lucas had trying to make his film about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen since the mid-1980s.  Throughout the 1990s, it was thought for quite some time that Red Tails was a codename for Episode I, as Return of the Jedi had the similar-sounding codename Blue Harvest.  Lucasfilm even wound up sending out a press release saying that Red Tails had nothing to do with Star Wars.  In 2005, as part of the Episode III hype, I remember seeing an interview with George Lucas in which he said he pretty much made the prequels just so he could use the money to fund all the dream projects he'd been trying to get off the ground for years.  The first one was Indiana Jones using a crystal skull to fight aliens.  And next, was Red Tails

The Tuskegee Airmen, for those who don't know, were a legendary group of African American fighter pilots during World War II.  The US Army was segregated at the time, and the prevailing racism of the day said that African Americans didn't have the right stuff to be fighter pilots.  While the Tuskegee Airmen were originally an experiment to see if African Americans could indeed be fighter pilots, the war ended with them becoming one of the most highly decorated fighter groups in the Army. 

Sounds like something right up Hollywood's alley, right?  Overcoming racism, high-flying adventure, and Nazis get blown up.  But, as Lucas discovered in the 20+ years trying to get it made, Hollywood felt that a film with a predominantly African American cast wouldn't be a draw at the box office.  And after watching it, well, it wasn't the African American cast that caused it to bomb at the box office.

When all was said and done, this was a pretty cliched war movie.  All the stock characters are there:  the by-the-book commander, the maverick who plays by his own rules, the jokester, the rookie fresh out of the academy, and, as Bart Simpson once eloquently put it, "the quiet religious one who's the first to die." 

Well, he doesn't die.  He gets horribly burned and discharged from the army.  But still. 

As such, they go through the stock World War II style adventures.  One is shot down and captured behind enemy lines, we've also got the daring bomber runs, and an unbeatable enemy ace.  The racism that seems to be the most fascinating angle of their story is almost tacked on as an afterthought.

That being said, though, with the full power of Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic behind him, the special effects are spectacular, with massive waves of fighter planes and some pretty good CGI dogfights. 

It's funny, talking about Lucas's involvement.  The film was directed by veteran TV director Anthony Hemingway.  However, Lucas did step in and direct some reshoots when Hemingway's TV commitments got in the way.  You can tell which scenes are Lucas's, because actors who were really good before suddenly plummet to Episode I-levels of woodenness.  So the inconsistent acting didn't help.

There's a great movie to be made about the Tuskegee Airman.  Let's call Red Tails a noble first draft. 

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