Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tony Bill|
|Produced by||Dean Devlin
|Screenplay by||Phil Sears
Blake T. Evans
David S. Ward
|Story by||Blake T. Evans|
|Music by||Trevor Rabin|
|Edited by||Chris Blunden
Flyboys is a 2006 British-American war drama film set during World War I, starring James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker, David Ellison, Abdul Salis, Philip Winchester, and Tyler Labine. It was directed by Tony Bill, a pilot and aviation enthusiast. The screenplay about men in aerial combat was written by Phil Sears, Blake T. Evans and David S. Ward with the screen story by Blake T. Evans. Themes of friendship, racial prejudice, revenge and love are also explored in the film.
The film follows the enlistment, training, and combat experiences of a group of young Americans who volunteer to become fighter pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille, the 124th air squadron formed by the French in 1916. The squadron consisted of five French officers and 38 American volunteers who wanted to fly and fight in World War I during the main years of the conflict, 1914–1917, before the United States later joined the war against the Central Powers. The film ends with an epilogue that relates each film character to the real-life Lafayette Escadrille figure on whom the movie was based.
Prior to America's entrance into World War I, a group of young Americans go to France, for different personal reasons, to fight in the French Air Service, L'Aéronautique militaire. One of them, Blaine Rawlings, faced with the foreclosure of his family ranch in Texas, decides to enlist after seeing a newsreel of aerial combat in France. Dilettante Briggs Lowry joins because of his overbearing father. African-American boxer Eugene Skinner, who had been accepted as an athlete in France, was motivated to "pay back" his adopted country. Beagle, a notorious thief, burglar and mugger, evades capture due to a tip off about his arrest and leaves America for France, believing that even criminals are forgiven if he registers in the French Army. Porter, a former Church pastor suffering dwindling churchgoers, decides to enlist to become a chaplain, and Jamie, frustrated by American neutrality, decides to join the war. These American recruits are under the command of French Captain Georges Thenault, while the veteran fighter ace Reed Cassidy, a fellow American, a womanizer, drunkard and traumatized ace pilot, takes over as their mentor.
During their training, each pilot struggles with the demanding flying; later, they have to face the aerial dogfights that dominate the front line missions. Rawlings meets a young woman named Lucienne whom he courts despite her hesitations about his risky profession. [N 1]
On their first mission to escort two bombers to attack a German ammunition depot, the rookie pilots are ambushed by Germans and two are killed while flying; Jamie is forced to make an emergency landing. While on the ground Jamie is strafed and killed by the German ace The Black Falcon, who returns to altitude and is met by the more chivalrous German pilot Franz Wolferd who shakes his head in disapproval.
During a later battle, Rawlings' single machine gun jams; while he tries to clear the jam, Wolferd—the pilot whom he had been chasing prior to the jam—gets him in his sights. As Rawlings closes his eyes to await the end, Wolferd fires a short burst, not striking the American or his plane. The German ace then flies beside Rawlings, before saluting and banking away toward home, sparing his opponent's life. Jensen who is shot in the neck and horrified by the deaths of his fellow pilots goes into shock and is kept from flying for some time. Many days later, Beagle is discovered by French officials for his criminal record in the U.S., after Lowry suspects him of being a spy. Rawlings convinces Beagle to reveal his crime instead of being executed for espionage. It is revealed that Beagle, while in debt to a bookie, attempted to rob a bank with a toy gun. His fellow pilots decide to allow him to fly again.
Rawlings attempts to repay the debt on another day, when French civilians, assisted by French and British soldiers, are being strafed by German fighters. During the fight he has Wolferd in the perfect position to shoot him down. He lets the German go, but when Wolferd dives after another American, Rawlings is forced to chase and kill him. Soon after, Beagle is shot down and his right hand gets stuck in his plane, after he crashes in the middle of a trench battle. Rawlings lands and risks his life against German fire to save him. Rawlings is forced to amputate Beagle's arm to free him from the wreckage. After this, Rawlings is alarmed to learn that German forces are going to invade Lucienne's village. Despite others disapproving of his conduct, they let him go. He single-handedly rescues Lucienne and her two nephews and niece. During his escape with Lucienne she is shot but survives. He returns to base, and instead of being arrested for his misconduct, he is praised by their Commander and awarded with a medal due to his courage.
During an attack on a German Zeppelin, Porter dies after his plane is shot down by enemy pilots. Reed Cassidy is mortally wounded by the Black Falcon but, as his final act, destroys the Zeppelin by crashing into it. Rawlings reunites with Lucienne before she leaves for Paris. Before Rawlings leaves for another battle, his plane is presented with an eagle, Cassidy's former insignia, and Rawlings is promoted to Commander. Their next mission is to escort four bombers which are being sent to bomb the same supply depot from the first mission. Beagle joins the group, presenting a hook in place of his hand, and forgives Rawlings for amputating it. A few of the American pilots are killed, including Briggs Lowry, who shoots himself with his sidearm rather than be burned alive in his stricken plane. Nevertheless, the mission is a success and the German supply depot is bombed.
Upon returning from the bombing mission, Rawlings takes off again to exact revenge on the Black Falcon. He is followed soon after by Jensen, who has recovered from his shock and saves Rawlings. During the final battle, despite having jammed guns and being wounded, Rawlings evades his enemy and fatally shoots the Black Falcon with his pistol. Rawlings and three other pilots (Jensen, Skinner, and Beagle) survive the encounter and return to base.
The closing credits tells the fate of the remaining group members. Jensen flew for the rest of the war and returned to Nebraska and received a hero's welcome. Skinner enlisted in the US Army but was kept from flying due to his race; he later joined the Airmail Service. Beagle married an Italian woman and started a flying circus. Rawlings never found Lucienne in Paris. Heartbroken, he built one of the largest ranches in Texas, but never flew again.
- James Franco as Blaine Rawlings
- Martin Henderson as Reed Cassidy
- Jean Reno as Georges Thenault
- Jennifer Decker as Lucienne
- Abdul Salis as Eugene Skinner
- Philip Winchester as William Jensen
- Tyler Labine as Briggs Lowry
- David Ellison as Eddie Beagle
- Tim Pigott-Smith as Mr. Lowry
In writing the original drafts that formed the basis of the final screenplay, Tony Bill made an effort to incorporate the real-life adventures of a number of American World War I expatriates who served in both the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps, although pseudonyms were used throughout.
The casting of Franco in an action adventure feature at the time was considered a "stepping stone" to his rise as marquee player and movie star.
The film was shot on location in the United Kingdom primarily in spring 2005 although principal photography continued on into the summer. The trench scenes were shot in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, the same location used for Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan. The airfield and aerial shots were filmed on and above RAF Halton (near Aylesbury) where hangars, mess rooms and officers quarters were built adjacent to Splash Covert Woods. All scenery and props were removed when filming ended. The interior shots of the chateau were filmed at RAF Halton's officers' mess, Halton House. Some interiors and studio green-screen work were filmed at Elstree Film and Television Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.
The film was financed privately outside the standard Hollywood studio circuit by a group of filmmakers and investors, including producer Dean Devlin and pilot David Ellison, son of Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison; both spent more than $60 million of their own money to make and market "Flyboys".
The Nieuport 17s featured in the film included four replicas built by Airdrome Aeroplanes, an aircraft company based outside of Kansas City, Missouri. The other aircraft used were a mix of authentic aircraft (the Nieuport 17 that Franco used throughout filming was an original combat aircraft from Kermit Weeks' collection in Florida, specially brought over for the film) and replicas including Nieuport 17s, a sole Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter and a number of Fokker Dr.I replicas.
In preparing for the starring role, Franco took flying lessons. All the other main actors, except Jean Reno, were filmed in actual aircraft in anticipation of using the aerial footage in final scenes. (Reno pointedly refused the offer, with a "No thanks, I'm afraid of flying." admission). Very little other than Franco's closeups in a cockpit ultimately made it to the screen.
Flyboys has been widely criticized for its lack of historical accuracy. The most serious lapse was the blending of the Lafayette Escadrille with the Lafayette Flying Corps, a sub-unit where the real-life Eugene Bullard actually served.
Various details of World War I fighter aircraft technology shown in the film were inaccurate. For example, the aircraft engines in the CGI scenes are pictured as not moving. On the rotary engines used in some early aircraft, the engine case and cylinders rotated, with the crankshaft bolted to the airframe. The spinning of the cylinders improved cooling and allowed for fewer parts, making the engine simpler and lighter. The propeller was attached to the crankcase (the opposite of radial engines). One operating rotary engine appears in a scene that takes place in the repair hangar. The Nieuport and Fokker aircraft used in the movie are flying replicas built with new radial engines, due to the unavailability of original-type rotary engines. This detail can be briefly seen in the final combat when the black Fokker is taking off after Rowling's ground attack at the German airfield.
Another error is that the American pilots are operating the Nieuport 17, while the Germans are operating the Fokker Dr.I, which entered front line service some time after the Nieuport 17 was no longer operational.
The singular use of Fokker Triplanes, which were not in widespread operational use, is contentious and almost every Triplane was also painted red in the film, indicating that the Triplane was in Jasta 11, the "all-red" unit. Despite this the remaining pre-production aircraft, designated Dr.I, were delivered to Jasta 11 and Idflieg issued a production order for 100 triplanes in September, followed by an order for 200 in November 1917. Although its leader, Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron", flew four "blood-red" Triplanes (although undersurfaces remained blue) the film production named the leader of its squadron- "The Black Falcon". The Red Baron was fatally wounded either by Canadian Ace Roy Brown or by Australian Cedric Popkin who was part of the ground forces below on April 21, 1918, whilst flying low above the Somme Valley. On the director/producer commentary track for the DVD release, Producer Dean Devlin noted that they were aware the predominant use of red triplanes was historically inaccurate, but wanted to give clear visual signals to the audience to enable them to easily distinguish friend from foe in the aerial sequences.
The film's only military adviser for the entire project was Jack Livesey, a convicted defrauder, who fabricated his résumé and military service to gain employment as an administrative assistant at the Imperial War Museum, London. Livesey was charged and convicted with fraudulently claiming £30,000.00 in benefits. Livesey had served three years in the British Army Catering Corps. His claims of service in Northern Ireland, the Falklands conflict and that he was a curator of The Imperial War Museum were not true.
In the film, the RMS Aquitania is depicted as a luxury liner; however, in early 1914, she was converted to use as an armed merchant cruiser, and by 1915 had been put into use as a troop transport ship, painted with dazzle style camouflage; however, the film might have used it to demonstrate the style of transport ships during the war.
Flyboys received mixed to negative reviews, based on the hackneyed dialogue and inconsistency of the plot, although public acceptance was more forgiving, focusing more on the realistic aerial scenes. Rotten Tomatoes, as of September 2006, gave it a "Rotten" rating of 33%.
The film opened at #4 the box office with a gross of $6,004,219 from 2,033 theaters for an average of $2,953 per venue. The bottom fell out from then on; the film dropped 61% in its second weekend. It ended up with a total of $13,090,620 domestically, $4,744,235 internationally, and a total worldwide gross of $17,834,865. Variety named it one of the 10 biggest box office flops of the year.
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- Bill, Tony and Dean Devlin. "Special Features: Audio Commentary." Flyboys (DVD: Full Screen). MGM, 2006.
- Daily Mail "Jack Livese." Benefit Cheat John Livesey escaped jail thanks to fantasy Falklands Heroics, 2008. Retrieved: May 16, 2012.
- Mancini, Louis. "RMS Aquitania." Monsters of the Sea: The Great Ocean Liners of Time, 2008. Retrieved: August 24, 2008.
- "Flyboys (2006)", Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: April 4, 2012.
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- Farmer, Jim. "The Making of Flyboys." Air Classics, Vol. 42, No. 11, November 2006.
- Winchester, Jim, ed. "Fokker DR.1: JG 1". Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes (Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-641-3.
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- Official website[dead link]
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