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Fighter Pilot:
Operation Red Flag

Savant Blu-ray Review

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
Image / Boeing
2004 / Color / 1:78 widescreen / 40 min. / Street Date October 14, 2008 / 24.98
Cinematography William Reeve
Narrator Michael Hanrahan
Edited by James Lahti
Original Music Michel Cusson
Written by Denny Kuhr, Stephen Low, Joe Stanley
Produced by Stephen Low, Pietro L. Serapiglia
Directed by Stephen Low

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag is a truly eye-opening display of the latest combat aircraft in action, presented with the kind of immediacy that only IMAX delivers. Sponsored by the Boeing Corporation, it's a prestigious showcase for their wares, which include some of America's most advanced technology. Fighter Pilot wastes no time in delivering a cockpit view of a jet taking off and immediately nosing up into an almost vertical power climb. Everything is in perfect focus, from the buff on the plane's exotic alloy skin to the air base dropping away below. When the plane rolls we notice that its perfectly designed plastic bubble canopy doesn't distort the view, at any angle. Positioned at a particular angle to the sun, the canopy seems to disappear!

The show focuses on Operation Red Flag, a large-scale multi-national aerial war games exercise that appears to use the entire American Southwest as its playing field. Every shot in the movie is carefully crafted for maximum effectiveness within the IMAX format. We're accustomed to seeing military documentaries produced at the Signal Corps level, with uncomfortable-looking airmen standing about in awkward stage waits. Fighter Pilot gives us a briefing room with a hundred real pilots with that "hunter" look in their eyes, reaching for the pens in their shoulder pockets to take notes as their officers use sophisticated computer graphics displays to explain to them (and us) the nature of the training mission.

The 40-minute show spends a great deal of time in the air, watching formations of jets large and small taking part in the war games. Planes peel out and engage in very risky-looking chase maneuvers, often zipping between mountains and outcroppings near ground level. Dogfights resolve very quickly when one pilot manages to get his prey into the sights of his computerized targeting systems. The planes fight with air-to-air missiles, and with conventional large-caliber machine cannon.

The war game is a joint operation with other kinds of ground support aircraft, rescue helicopters and ground troops. At one briefing session a pilot is chosen to play the "downed" flier, who must avoid capture by enemy soldiers long enough for the air force to come to the rescue.

Back at base and in flying command airplanes, technicians at banks of unusual display screens monitor the progress of the game, watching dozens of color-coded combatants represented by graphics every bit as complicated as the newest video games. We're reminded that much of video game technology derives from military computer graphics. Unless IMAX cameras have suddenly become as versatile as handheld video, it looks as if the plane interiors were filmed on a set, like the briefing room material.

Back at base, live bombs and ammo are loaded for the final "hot trigger" exercise. Briefing officers stress the danger, and the show pays off with several impressive bombardment scenes. A pilot chosen as a focus for the docu tells us even he is impressed with the destructive potential of these weapons. Fighter Pilot's happy finish assures us that America's defense is in the hands of responsible men wielding technology that is truly futuristic.

Fighter Pilot is basically a promotional film by Boeing, and it looks to be a phenomenally expensive one. Dozens of aircraft are involved, in flying scenes far better, and more hairy, than anything seen in the movie Top Gun. Stephen Low's direction by necessity simplifies the complex operation, but his good work (and some good editing by James Lahti) keeps our interest with simple good storytelling. The camerawork is stunning; IMAX can obviously put fairly small cameras in very tight places and still come up with amazing oversized-negative clarity.

We wonder if showing the multinational mix of pilots is done to stress the role of America's allies, or to foster good customers overseas for Boeing's pricey wares. One can imagine a Saudi Arabian version of Fighter Pilot, for instance, that simply replaces the All-American hero seen in this version with a young Arab pilot. By the way, we see some very able-looking female pilots, and one scene has a female "high tech weapons consultant" rattling off tech specs, just like in Top Gun. She is, however, just giving pilots a run-down on various tanks and cannons that might be firing at them some day.

Aside from the disquieting notion that around-the-world sales of exotic arms isn't necessarily conducive for international peace -- Fighter Pilot assures us that large-scale war games like this one are needed to reduce the hazards of real operations, by guaranteeing that combat pilots have practical combat experience before they're sent in harm's way.

In actuality, with each of these jets costing many millions of dollars, the military must hone pilots to be as reliably perfect as the jets they fly. The pilot's life still comes first, but you can bet a flier cleared for combat today has probably been "training engineered" to function as part of the plane itself. No mavericks need apply.

Fighter Pilot carries a long list of special digital effects credits, which unfortunately brings the reality of many scenes into question. As the featurette included shows that the big explosions are real, we wonder which scenes were created or augmented with digital work. The planes shoot flares and other projectiles to simulate missiles and guns, and the visuals are exotic enough that we can't tell what's real and what is not. The movie has an excellent spirit and a good feel -- my hypersensitive "that's fake" radar stayed quiet almost all the way through -- so I hope that the action and excitement is as authentic as it looks.

Image and Boeing's Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag will have aviation fans and most warm-blooded males riveted with its brilliant imagery and exciting visuals. My Blu-ray copy was like a dose of eyewash, with a 5.1 audio track to match. I skipped the trivia quiz but watched the ten-minute making-of featurette. It's sure to impress viewers that Fighter Pilot was not an easy film to put together.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent +
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Making-of featurette, quiz
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 19, 2008

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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