The Geek Life is a weekly look at what is happening in the Geek Culture. Movies, Comics, Books, Video Games and TV Shows encompass more than just release dates and reviews. This week the Geek Life takes off on Red Tails.
Yes, I am a card carrying Geek and I am willing to support George Lucas’ latest endeavor, Red Tails. The man has not only given me hours of entertainment in the Star Wars Universe with both films and toys, but has produced 3 great Indiana Jones movies (notice not a mention of 4). So when I saw that Red Tails, his long talked about and ambitious film, was finally going to hit the big screen I planned on seeing it opening weekend. When George went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart this only strengthened my resolve to see his movie. Watch the interview below via Hulu.
Since I am in Los Angeles I noticed that Red Tails was playing at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. To see any movie there is chance to walk the hollowed halls and see the imprints of all the famous stars that have come before. It is also the theater shown in all the documentaries about Star Wars with the line wrapped around the block. I Geeked up, put on a Star Wars t-shirt, and gave George some support on his opening weekend.
Just after the opening moments of the film I instantly hoped it would get better. The slaughter of American Bombers was accompanied by horrendous dialogue that was over simplifying the point. Fighter pilots were not escorting the bombers to the targets. Instead they were doing what they were trained to do and attacking the German fighters. The Germans knew this and sent a separate wave to engage the bombers and eliminate them. The plot of Red Tails unfolds as the African American fighter pilots are ordered to remain with the bombers and protect them. Their victory is measured in the amount of lives they save, not the amount of kills they score.
Red Tails does get to the heart of the problem and its story of defending American Bombers is the highlight of the film. We see our collection of heroes go from flying routine air patrols to their first combat mission. Their Tuskegee training is mentioned but not shown in Red Tails. The “prequel” mentioned by George on the Daily Show interview would obviously deal with that. Or we could simply watch Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. (again) in 1995’s Tuskegee Airmen.
When all was said and done I walked out of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater with a feeling of euphoria that I hadn’t experienced in a long time; that feeling that I had just watched an after school special. After all the information, historically, was presented I felt as if I did learn something. What irked me to this very day was that I didn’t see an entertaining film.
Historical dramas based on actual events are extremely difficult to tackle. What transpires in life does not always translate well to the big screen. Schindler’s List is not completely and historically accurate. There are some liberties taken, but the entertainment value of seeing it as a film is still ever present. Yes, what happened was a travesty but we learned a great deal about the heroes and villains that existed in that dark moment in history. Light “knowledge” was shed on the world about what happened (during the holocaust) and how people survived. Spielberg directed an incredible story and the performances of everyone involved brought that story to life. Where Red Tails fails is that it is not a well made film.
The story of these men hops all over the place. We see the comradery, the disillusionment, and the adversity they have to overcome. The film, however, is riddled with smaller plots that go nowhere. There is the alcoholic commander, the hotshot take-no-orders pilot, and the rookie looking for respect. Each is as cookie cutter as the next and you know the one with the most to lose (on screen) isn’t going to survive Red Tails. The life of these men in Italy is just brushed over gently. The battles their commanders are fighting for them back in Washington are seen, too. The shortest sub plot is one the main characters becoming a POW. The action is first rate but there is just too much going on to tell the full tale of these men.
On the Daily Show you spoke of just how much information there was to this tale of African American fighter pilots and how it had taken him years to get the story to a place where he could tell the meat of it all in the hopes to do a prequel and a sequel if Red Tails was successful. Forget about that the subject matter and that Hollywood didn’t want to produce this film. Hollywood, especially right now, isn’t going to take a chance on something that isn’t a sequel, prequel, adapted from a successful property, or an original idea. They want something with an audience already in place. What I have to ask is: why a movie, George? All I have to do is look to your best friend and his body of work and say: Band of Brothers. Stephen Ambrose’s 336 page novel could in no way be adapted into a feature film. Instead, Spielberg produced a miniseries that documented the life of these men from basic training to the last days of the war. It took ten episodes (varying in length) and if, by God, you weren’t crying at the end you never had a heart to begin with. If the story of Red Tails and the Tuskegee Airmen was so important to you, then why not follow in your best friend’s footsteps? Were you just afraid to march into the unfamiliar world of live action television? It’s not like you haven’t produced a TV series before. Perhaps you remember it? It was called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
The story of the Tuskegee Airmen does indeed deserve to be told, but not in a two hour movie. A cable miniseries would have allowed you to have told more of the story and perhaps given you something you haven’t had in a while with TV, clout. A WW2 story, told a la Band of Brothers, based on a book, and aired over 10 nights would have been TV gold. It wouldn’t have mattered what the subject was about. The audience is already in place. That new found TV clout probably would help cut the cost of your Star Wars television show you are trying to finance.
This brings us to another point. Why are you so worried about financing these projects yourself? You’re George Lucas. This hit me when the last trailer before Red Tails played. It was of course the 3D trailer for Episode 1. Red Tails made 19 million its opening weekend; 6 million less than Underworld 4. Episode 1 in 3D will make that its first hour and the entire budget of Red Tails (58 million) its first weekend. I know you aren’t the sole owner of Microsoft or Apple, but why aren’t you going all in on some of these labors of love? Use your Star Wars money to do it. There will undoubtedly be an Episode 1 3D Blu-ray release and Episodes 2 through 6 in 3D are scheduled for release over the next 5 years. George, really, what are you saving up for? Retirement?
This isn’t a bash on you, George, nor is this another fanboy wielding his plastic lightsaber trying to take down the Emperor. I sit here asking these questions because of you. My love for storytelling began because of you and a galaxy far, far away. What right do I have besides that to ask these questions? Well, I see myself as one of your financiers. Yes, that’s right, a financier. You might have been the one smart enough to keep your licensing rights, but I’m the one buying those products. I’m the one who has bought the holy trilogy 4 or 5 times over.
Robert Trate writes three weekly columns for Mania: the DVD Shopping Bag, the Toy Maniac, and The Geek Life. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings, Cosplay photos and film criticisms.
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