Posted in: Disc Reviews by William O'Donnell on February 3rd, 2012
Forgive the impending fun-with-words but, hot on the TAIL of the theatrical release of Red Tails is the Blu Ray release of this 1995 interpretation of the same story. Based on the actual group of airmen who were the first African-American fighter pilots in the United States Army Air Corps. This film follows the first cadets through their training and onto their various combat and mission in North Africa and Italy during World War II.
The true story that this film is based on is fascinating in its historical context. It is a shame that this film resorts to using overly staged scenes of corny drama to tell it. The lead cast is loaded with great talents, such as Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr, who certainly give good performances, but are stifled by cliched catchphrases instead of being given some deeper, character building, dialogue to perform.
On the plus side, we were not bashed over the head with preachy lessons on racial discrimination. Instead, the film took a more dignified approach by letting their outstanding efforts be evidence instead of simply being a novelty experiment. These men proved themselves to be more than just worthy of their placement in the air corps., but were true fighting heroes that saved many lives and earned many honours.
The flying sequences are impressive looking. Plus, the splicing of original WW2 footage into the action is truly appreciated. Said splicing adds weight to the historical significance of these pilots and their efforts. The film takes its time getting to the action and never relies on it to maintain attention (I fear Red Tails may use the very opposite tactic).
Widescreen 1.77:1. On one hand, this is a made-for-TV film. On the other, this is an HBO production. That means the visual quality is above that of your average TV movie. The picture is not crystal clear but all tiny details are apparent in the way one would expect from Blu Ray. The only distortion is some haziness in the darker tones. A good update considering this is a non-theatrical release from the mid-nineties.
DTS Master Audio 5.1 in English, DTS Digital Surround 2.0 in French and DTS Digital Surround 1.0 in Spanish. The music is loud but never overpowers any dialogue or sound effects we need to hear. Care went into the mixing of all three track options. Some sound effects sound a bit harsh, such as boots straping on a dusty wood floor, that could have been treated better, but all in all things remain good.
Subtitles available in English, French, and Spanish.
A booklet featuring some original photos of the pilots. A nice touch for history buffs.
Red Tails might get more viewers since it is backed by George Lucas, but it will not outdo the quality of this version of the story. The characters in this film may be amalgamations of the original subjects, but they still do a good job honouring their memory.
Fun Fact: Cuba Gooding Jr. Stars in both this and Red Tails, but as different characters.