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Red Tails: Entertainment, Yes. Storytelling, No

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I suppose if you hold your nose, Red Tails might be considered a decent movie in a it-could-have-been-a-lot-worse sort of way. And I understand enough of how the entertainment business works to accept a certain artistic license so I wouldn't raise much of an issue about the pilots flying D-model P-51s instead of the C-models they actually flew. It doesn't really matter in the telling of the story anyway, but Red Tails' fatal flaw is that it doesn't actually tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

It's really just a World War II fighter combat movie with an all-black cast and a veneer of racial tension when what I was futilely hoping for was a grittier story that illuminated the struggle these exceptional men went through to serve their country. Through dialog and plot devices, the uneducated viewer will get a vague sense of this but I think the word "Tuskegee" is uttered all of three times in the script.

But pilots are educated about the Tuskegee backstory, and I suspect if we're willing to forgive the film's technical errors and license with even the top-level bullet points of the story, we're probably not willing to be so generous with a script that just doesn't address a central part of the story: The Tuskegee program itself and what it represented. And speaking of the script, it manages a more or less steady trickle of truly horrid dialog, culminating in what will become, for me, one of the most ridiculous lines in all of film. When placing his pipper on a hurtling P-51, the German pilot of an Me-262 says, in subtitles no less, "Die, you African fool!" (I'm not making this up.)

In explaining his motivation for producing Red Tails in this interview, George Lucas says he shot it in the tradition of Flying Leathernecks and other World War II classics and intended it to read that way to the viewer. But this isn't 1942, and I think the device will be lost on most audiences. It was lost on me and I even heard him describe his intent. Lucas also contends that the only way to interest studios in marketing Red Tails was to sex it up with a bunch of — make that too much — stuff blowing up, burning and being shredded by machine guns. Even someone with the imagination of a turnip would see an unmistakable resemblance to Lucas' Red Tails' dogfight scenes and the X-wing fighters in Star Wars. The film could do with a lot less of that and a lot more character development that would inform audiences of what Tuskegee really was and what it means yet today.

Lucas and others have said the real point of Red Tails was to serve as an inspirational message for black teenagers, to show what can be achieved with determination, discipline and self-respect. Red Tails might do that, but I have a hard time believing it. I think audiences are sophisticated enough to parse storytelling not punctuated by stuff blowing up every 15 minutes. I know it can be done, because Men of Honor, about black Navy diver Carl Brashear succeeded brilliantly in doing this, all without relying on a CGI budget equivalent to the GDP of Honduras. Cuba Gooding Jr. was in that film too, perfectly cast as Carl Brashear. In Red Tails, not so much. His agent should forbid him to ever again accept a role in which he smokes a pipe.

So if you haven't seen Red Tails, should you? By all means. Lucas swears if the film succeeds, he'll shoot the prequel and the sequel which actually do tell the story of the Tuskegee Airman. What he's done so far doesn't quite get there. Here's to hoping the next film does.

A Thursday addition: Be sure to see the traveling exhibition called Rise Above produced by www.redtail.org. It will be at Sun 'n Fun and other venues this year. It has its own film and photos describing the Tuskegee program.

For readers interested, HBO's 1995 Tuskegee Airmen is relatively well represented in snippets on YouTube. Here's one that illuminates the barriers black pilots faced in 1942.

Click here to see an episode of Dogfights featuring engagements by the Tuskegee Airmen.

Comments (82)

Haven't seen this movie yet, but after reading this and several other reviews, I have to wonder why no one seems to remember the very-well-done (IMO) made-for-TV 1995 movie "The Tuskegee Airmen", starring Laurence Fishburne and Allen Payne. That movie really illustrated the struggles these men endured and how they overcame them, and for me is the standard Lucas had to, at least, meet. Sounds like he didn't do that.

We love your work, George, but...?

Posted by: Greg Amy | January 23, 2012 6:12 AM    Report this comment

I really don't know whether to be amused or afraid when a white man who was born after World War 2 tries to give a critique of a film that tries to tell a story of one of the most important stories of that period.

The fact is that most of us weren't there. At least I wasn't.

So I'll still see the movie - not because of Mr. Bertorelli's review, but in spite of it. And I'll continue to be amazed by the character of those who fought that war, as I have been for the past many years, and wonder if that character exists in today's America.

Posted by: John Leonard | January 23, 2012 6:14 AM    Report this comment

Small addition: maybe not-so-ironically, Cuba Gooding Jr also starred in "The Tuskegee Airmen" 1995 movie...

Posted by: Greg Amy | January 23, 2012 6:15 AM    Report this comment

I did see the movie yesterday and I would agree with all of Paul's points. The aerial dogfighting scenes were certainly fun to watch, but the storyline was pretty stereotypical and the dialogue felt like it was written by high schoolers, or maybe not even that good. It was enjoyable enough from an aviation standpoint, but not a really good movie all things considered.

Posted by: Jeff Schlueter | January 23, 2012 6:30 AM    Report this comment

Thank you! I saw Red Tails yesterday. I really, really wanted to like this movie. It was OK. The aerial scenes are great, but like Paul said, there's nothing in there about how the "Tuskegee Experiment" came about, or their training. And yes, I was reminded of the X-Wing fighters attacking the Death Star during the dogfight scenes. The German pilot villains were so cartoony I half expected to see Darth Vader flying an Me-262. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is a great one on its own. It didn't need to be Hollywood-ized. I wish Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg had tackled this movie instead.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | January 23, 2012 7:00 AM    Report this comment

Saw the movie last night. Of interest was the large attendance by the African American community. I salute Mr. Lucas for having the vision to make this film. It was well received, and certainly prompts dialogue (as is happening here). My wife & I give "Red Tails" four thumbs up! Not perfect, but definately worth seeing.

Posted by: David Conrad | January 23, 2012 7:04 AM    Report this comment

Come on, it is a great movie! Yes, some technical inaccuracies, perhaps, but it was never intended to be a documentary, so lighten up! It is historical fiction, and as such, it does a great job of providing entertainment, action, and airplanes in a believable historical setting. I am an aviation history buff, and if I enjoyed it as much as I did, so can you! My only unresolved question is why all the mud--it never rained?

Posted by: Donald Godfrey | January 23, 2012 7:14 AM    Report this comment

I thought the movie was horrible. The story is based on the Tuskegee Airman the same way Titanic movie was based on the ship. The dialogue came off as though it was written by a teenager with a grasp on World War Two that is based on adventure novels and a vague cartoony idea of how adversity went. Every time the pilots were under attack or on the offensive the emotions and sequence of events were borderline slapstick. I was pleased that the Red Tails didn’t personally capture Hitler but halfway through the movie I was sure they were going to fly through the Eagles Nest and grab him on their way. The real history makes anything added as fluff unnecessary. Why would anyone exclusively add fluff to stories that are already bursting with “sex appeal”? I did hear a comment that “America has the best pilots like the Red Baron and Lindbergh” so good on our education system.

Posted by: Michael Hopkins | January 23, 2012 8:22 AM    Report this comment

I thought the movie was horrible. The story is based on the Tuskegee Airman the same way Titanic movie was based on the ship. The dialogue came off as though it was written by a teenager with a grasp on World War Two that is based on adventure novels and a vague cartoony idea of how adversity went. Every time the pilots were under attack or on the offensive the emotions and sequence of events were borderline slapstick. I was pleased that the Red Tails didn’t personally capture Hitler but halfway through the movie I was sure they were going to fly through the Eagles Nest and grab him on their way. The real history makes anything added as fluff unnecessary. Why would anyone exclusively add fluff to stories that are already bursting with “sex appeal”? I did hear a comment that “America has the best pilots like the Red Baron and Lindbergh” so good on our education system.

Posted by: Michael Hopkins | January 23, 2012 8:22 AM    Report this comment

The movie sounds like sounds like a big video game where you just sit and watch other people play it. Why not just stay home and play Wings of Prey on the PC and at least have some input on the mindless action?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 23, 2012 8:22 AM    Report this comment

Lighten up people! The movie was for entertainment purpouses only. If you want cold hard facts about the Tuskegee Airmen, visit your local library!

Posted by: Randy Banta | January 23, 2012 8:47 AM    Report this comment

Paul, if you want a better story of Tuskeegee then see the HBO movie. Lucas, for all his success, doesn't know how to recognize a good story. The original drafts of Star Wars were awful and if it hadn't been for the studio's rewrites Luke would have been introduced as a whiny unsympathetic sniveling snotpot. I have the actual pages. It's really bad. Now that he's successful he doesn't need to 'bother' with the studios, but what that means is that no one will properly re-write his story and what you get is the crap you see that could be a helluva lot better. Anyway, see the HBO movie and realize the crap the black pilots actually went through was MUCH WORSE than what was depicted in the HBO movie (HBO didn't want to portray it faithfully because 1995 audiences didn't want to believe it was really that bad. It was.)

Posted by: David Rosing | January 23, 2012 8:48 AM    Report this comment

If I understood Craig Fuller's interview with Cuba Gooding at AOPA Summit last fall correctly, Lucas owns the rights to this story and released them so the HBO movie could be made. I think George Lucas is well aware of the significant history of the Tuskegee Experiment and the fact that he is responsible for 2 movies on the subject is proof. So, the second movie was meant to make money. Why has that become such a crime in this country?

Posted by: Jerry Plante | January 23, 2012 9:01 AM    Report this comment

I put a link to the 1995 Cuba Gooding Jr. movie at the end of te blog. I did see it, actually, but couldn't recall many of the details.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 23, 2012 9:05 AM    Report this comment

Saw the movie Saturday. I really wanted to like it, but it seemed so shallow it was almost like reading a comic book... It was dissapointing.

From the technical side, going directly from P-40s to P-51Ds was inaccurate, not to mention that nearly every inanimate object they shot with the 50 cals exploded in a giant petroleum fireball, even the steam locomotive. And Lt. Little did a fantastic job of doing turns around a point in a P-40 low and slow enough to connect with a girl on an Italian rooftop without stalling! Also notice the neatly trimmed grass and lightly trafficked areas around the tents but then only the jeep track alone was a total mud bog! By the way, the credits showed that the only real B-17 used was "The Pink Lady" based in France. Most of the filming was done near Prague, Czech Republic. Lots of computer generated images (especially the air scenes) but you can get used to that.

Posted by: A Richie | January 23, 2012 9:07 AM    Report this comment

I saw the movie last night. I liked it, despite the continuous flow of Hollywood silliness. I had read an interview with Lucas in which he said he included most of the standard war movie cliches. And he was right!

The movie really takes place in a similar, but alternative universe than the one in which we live. Perhaps this is the way it was in a galaxy far, far away.

The two things that bothered me the most was the incredible destructive power of the .50 caliber machine guns use in this alternative universe, as others have noted.

I suspect the real commandeers of the Tuskegee units tolerated a lot less open insubordination than those in the movie universe. That's pretty standard in Hollywood military (see 'Top Gun' and 'Saving Private Ryan').

The other thing that really bothered was that in the alternative universe the basic fighting unit of the Air Corps is the 'squad'. Over and over again the pilots talked about their 'squads'.

What the heck is a 'squad' in the Air Force anyway. I never heard of it in 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.

What the movie got right was showing, in a exaggerated Hollywood way, the interesting and quirky personalities that one finds in fighter squadrons.

The Red Tail pilots, like the real pilots I knew, often have flaws, conflicts, and sometimes aren't the brightest blubs in the chandelier. But all rise to the occasion when the chips are down.

I liked 'Red Tails' despite its flaws.

Posted by: Jim Howard | January 23, 2012 9:48 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I don't know why you think the TAs only flew P-51Cs. They did early on but later flew Ds. I'm a member of and youth mentor for our local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. (at SWF) and last year modeled Lee Archer's P-51C for our annual dinner. This year I've done Roscoe Brown's--Roscoe should be at the dinner--and it's a -51D.

Posted by: Stephan Wilkinson | January 23, 2012 9:57 AM    Report this comment

Even though I'm just another "white guy born after World War II", I saw the movie this weekend and I agree with Mr. Bertorelli's comments. I don't think it is asking too much of Hollywood or of talented, award-winning film makers like Mr. Lucas to give us a brilliant and accurate account of a very interesting time in history. This can also be very entertaining. It has been done in the past, and with Mr. Lucas there is hope for both the "sequel" and the "pre-quel".

Posted by: Joe Morgan | January 23, 2012 10:17 AM    Report this comment

Just a comment on the posts about the dog fight scenes looking like something out of Star Wars. That might be appropriate as, if I remember a documentary on Return of the Jedi correctly, Lucas did not like the way the Star Wars "dog fight" scenes were coming out, so he provided WWII gun camera footage as inspiration. He seems to have brought it full circle...

Haven't seen it yet, but I will and try to enjoy it through the general public's eyes, not an aviation history buff's eyes. It may provide some opportunities for dialogue in my little circles to acknowledge the struggles and contribution of these folks.

Posted by: Don Erwin | January 23, 2012 11:07 AM    Report this comment

I did see the movie and with some reserve.I hoped it wouldnt be like other hyped and blown out of proportain movies of the past.Well it wasnt.While the aircraft may not be acurate the story line did come through to me.I think that it did bring attention to these great men and it will drive people to truly seek out the history of them.The movie was very good and I can only hope Mr.Lucas follws up as he said.I'm no critic to say the least but an average American who really appreciates what they were able to do.To me the story line was written very long ago.This movie is an A+ to me.

Posted by: Rick Hughes | January 23, 2012 11:09 AM    Report this comment

lucas spent $93 million of his own money to make this movie. i think he earned the artistic rights to do whatever the hell he wanted with it. people go to movies to be entertained, not educated. leave that to the learning channel or the history channel. it's a movie. made by someone who stopped telling good stories since star wars 4-6. but he sure is excellent at the special effects! it's eye candy. enjoy it for what it's worth.

Posted by: Amy Zucco | January 23, 2012 11:11 AM    Report this comment

Despite the technical problems any airplane buff will immediately see, credit must be given for the protrayal of Col. Noel Parrish. Parrish was the white commander of Tuskeegee Army Air Field and fought for the TA many times within the Army. The actor Lucas chose does resemble him fairly well...kudos to that detail!

Posted by: A Richie | January 23, 2012 11:30 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you hit the nail on the head, I came away thinking I just watched a "B" movie, something made for TV. The whole movie lacked professionalism, I couldn't believe this was the best that Lucas could do.

BTW. I thought I was the only one who noticed the pipe thing...

Posted by: Rick Martin | January 23, 2012 11:52 AM    Report this comment

Lighten up folks. Its a movie. I saw it and am glad I did. I am also glad Mr. Lucas chose to make it. Anytime I can see P-51's on the big screen, real or pixelated, I am a happy guy. Yes, for all you rivet counters out there, I did notice all the mud under those bright sunny skies, but for a moment I was transported to Italy in WWII and that's all I ask a movie to do.

Posted by: jan burden | January 23, 2012 12:12 PM    Report this comment

I agree with Paul - entertaining, definitely worth seeing, but Lucas could have done better to show just how difficult it was for these pilots and ground crews to deal with the prejudices of the day. Most of the landings all seemed very artificial to me - long floats to touchdown then stopping quickly with littel ground run. The pipe was a distraction in every scene it was in and took away from Cuba Gooding's performance, IMHO.

I have nothing but admiration and respect for this part of the Greatest Generation who not only had to endure all the negativity thrown their way, but when it came to putting their lives on the line in combat, performed bravely and effectively.

I installed the TACAN/DME at Tuskegee in 1971 when I worked for the FAA, having gone to college just down the road at Auburn University, but in those days knew very little of the history - I wish I had. It would be an honor to meet any one of these heros.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | January 23, 2012 2:15 PM    Report this comment

Anybody notice in the movie when they did the 1,600 mile run to Berlin (based on an actual mission on 3/24/45) they flew the whole mission WITHOUT drop tanks? Published P-51D range w/o tanks is 950 miles...oops. The drop tanks is what gave really the Mustang its range. Ironically, in the movie there were rows of drop tanks stacked neatly next to the airfield tents!! I know, it's just a movie, but geez..:-)

Posted by: A Richie | January 23, 2012 2:49 PM    Report this comment

I saw the movie on Saturday with my 13 year old son. He thought the movie was great. Even though I have told him about the Tuskegee Airman before and pointed them out at past AirVentures, I don't think it ever really struck home with him what those men did. I'm willing to bet when we go AirVenture this year, he's going to be a whole lot more interested.... Isn't that what matters most?

Posted by: Rick Bennett | January 23, 2012 4:54 PM    Report this comment

I was kind of looking forward to this one. But I see that the MPAA rating is PG-13. That usually means a very generalized story. Mass audience appeal. Think I'll wait for a really good documentary.

Posted by: Matthew Lee | January 23, 2012 11:24 PM    Report this comment

Actually, I didn't think and don't think the 332nd had only C-model Mustangs. But they didn't getn Ds until later in the war. The film's frame of reference was "the new planes." And when they transitioned from the P-40, those were C-models.

They also flew P-47s.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 24, 2012 8:32 AM    Report this comment

I think the PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the accurate depiction of wounded and killed airmen, and because of one use of the 'N-word'.

War really not generally a 'G' rated subject.

Posted by: Jim Howard | January 24, 2012 10:03 AM    Report this comment

It occurred to me later what I would have done to improve this movie. After the opening credits, give us one minute of photos of the actual program, the men, the airplanes, the theatre. Explain in short subtitles what the Tuskegee program was and how it came out of a period of intense racial prejudice.

Then say..."this film is a dramatized version of the Tuskegee Airmans' experience." That would give the necessary context.

As it was, the movie had a lot of perplexing plot confusion. Why did the CO have the drinking problem? What purpose did that serve in the storyline? Ditto the love interest. Films like Saving Private Ryan have shown us that audiences don't require this. Nor do studios, at least if your Steven Spielberg or Tom Hanks.

Ditto minutes of time lost to stupid dialog, some of cliche. There was one use of the word "nigger" to get it on record. If you wanted a harsher assessment, we would have heard it more than that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 24, 2012 1:14 PM    Report this comment

But it evidently had a good weekend at the box office. Lucas said if it did $20 million, it would be in the game. It did a little over $19M.

From a news report: “Just saw Red Tails,” actor LeVar Burton tweeted. “Tonight my inner child will dream of heroes who look like me. Thank you, George Lucas!”

Maybe it is inspirational after all. Hope so.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 24, 2012 1:17 PM    Report this comment

So basically this movie is in the same category as Iron Eagle and Stealth? Explosions, bad dialog, and unrealistic flying sequences? I may go just for laughs.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 24, 2012 2:39 PM    Report this comment

Not nearly as bad as Iron Eagle. But not nearly as good Band of Brothers, either. Call it a solid B+, which a little work could have fixed.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 24, 2012 3:03 PM    Report this comment

This move is a LOT more accurate than Iron Eagle!!!!!

Posted by: Jim Howard | January 24, 2012 3:10 PM    Report this comment

The trailer to the film kept me from getting too excited about its release. Hundreds of aircraft in the sky going every which way turning on a dime...ugh. Video game audiences might go for it, like my 15 year old son who thought it was fun but 'had a random plot' didn't really learn much about the grit behind the struggle of the men. I give it a C+, as a B means very good to me and it was ok, but after seeing SP Ryan and B of Brothers, I think the wrong filmmaker made the movie. Maybe the video game aspect will appeal to the kids well enough to get across some of the men's struggles though, then Lucas will look brilliant.

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 24, 2012 4:46 PM    Report this comment

The movie house was packed and at the end there was a standing ovation. Not much more can be said

Posted by: Robin Rice | January 24, 2012 5:55 PM    Report this comment

I am always amazed at film makers who make aviation-type films but don't do their technical homework. Lucas should have known that every red-blooded pilot in the world is going to see this movie some time or the other. The technical stuff bugs me. As already mentioned the 50 cal. action was nonsense, but the scene that really miffed me was when our hero has a purser on his tail and he does the power-off high G pull up to a top roll-over or stall, dropping the nose verticle to down and then pilot gunning his pursuer. Really, try that sometime. By the time you've got airplane up, over and reversed, your guy is either well past you or he's above you and you're a few minutes away from being dead.

C'mon George, we don't know squat about X-wing fighters so you can get away with stuff there, but there are enough of us around who know airplanes.

Posted by: Jim Kabrajee | January 25, 2012 9:47 AM    Report this comment

"Every red-blooded pilot" isn't Lucas's audience. As I've said before, his audience is teenage boy, especially teenage African-American boys who badly need heroes who aren't rappers or gang-bangers. (Lord knows many of them don't have fathers in attendance.) Red-blooded pilot or elderly anorak rivet-counter, Lucas couldn't care less what we think. And I think that's fine. Go check out Airshow Buzz if you want to see real P-51s.

But I do like having "a purser" on your tail. Is that like getting chased by a steward?

Posted by: Stephan Wilkinson | January 25, 2012 10:38 AM    Report this comment

Red Tails could have and should have been so much of a better movie. The effects and air combat scenes were entertaining, but that's about all that was good about it. Screenwriting, directing, cinematography, were pretty bad. When even Cuba Gooding Jr. can't make the dialog work, you know there's something wrong. If you look at the crew on IMDB, you'll find that the Director's background is mostly in TV crime dramas, which explains the short scenes, odd cut scenes, and general odd-ness of the film. The writer/screenwriter's credits are also mostly shorts and TV (pretty bad TV at that), not big, grand films like this. Same with the cinematographer. Had Lucas hired more competent folks, and filmed it somewhere other than the Czech Republic, perhaps it would have turned out much, much better. Frankly, I think he just tossed his $93mil down the toilet.

Little details make a difference. Cuba's character was never in a scene without a pipe in his mouth, which got old, but the pipe was never smoking, and in the infirmary the IV bottles were held together with self-adhesive wrap bandages that didn't exist in 1984, much less 1944. You can sometimes get away with that kind of stuff in TV (where the director's experience is from) but not in a big budget feature film. Given the importance of the story and the men about whom it is written, this should have, and could have, been much, much better.

Posted by: Charles Seitz | January 25, 2012 11:24 AM    Report this comment

"which explains the short scenes, odd cut scenes, and general odd-ness of the film. "

I noticed this, too. Now that you link it to TV, I see where it came from. Lots of plot statements through short vignettes makes the story hard to read. These failed to inform the larger story line.

On the other hand, box office was good over the weekend and reviews have been generally positive, with some reporting of the inspirational factor for kids that Lucas was after.

Some of these reviews also seemed to argue that the Tuskegee experience came through.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 25, 2012 11:41 AM    Report this comment

For all those apologists for the movie that say "it's only entertainment"

Remember, the story of the TA has been ignored for years. This is the first and lasting impression most people will ever have of the TA--and it's flawed.

What's wrong with an inaccurate movie? Think of this--most moviegoers opinion of of Navy aircraft pilots are from "Top Gun"--and most of their opinions on Air Force pilots are derived from "Iron Eagle." Most of their "knowledge" of Pearl Harbor comes from the hokey film of the same name. Is THAT what you want them to believe?

Why NOT demand accuracy? Lucas made a big error, and should be called on it.

Posted by: jim hanson | January 25, 2012 12:20 PM    Report this comment

Paul's got it right! As a man who grew up in the south in the '40s and who worked on a farm and in construction with African-Americans from my earliest years, I can say without fear of contradiction that the dialect and the dialogue of all of the actors, collectively, was the worst I've ever heard. Beyond that, I found aspects of the film downright demeaning. "Lightning?" "Lightning!" Wasn't he one of the main characters in the old TV show, "Amos and Andy" (which was run off the air for being racist and for stereotyping blacks.) Why not Rastus too? On a different note, the frequently superb Cuba Gooding, Jr. served as nothing more than a nervous pipe rack. And, in the name of historical accuracy, I don't believe that by late 1944 the Germans had a destroyer at sea anywhere, much less alone in the Med. What a terrible disappointment was this movie. The story is so worth telling, such a fine testament to men who fought so bravely against both the Germans and the 'system' that dominated their world. They deserve far better.

Posted by: Robert Greene | January 25, 2012 12:25 PM    Report this comment

Well, Bob, you're wrong. As a member of the Tuskegee Airmen association, I can assure you that a flight of four 332nd P-47s sank the German "torpedo destoroyer" TA 27--formerly the Italian Auriga before its transfer the the Germans. 274' long, 1,100 tons, certainly not a battleship, obviously. TA Gwynne Peaerson got credit for the sinking. Date was 9 June 1944.

Posted by: Stephan Wilkinson | January 25, 2012 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Back in 1982 there was another movie that pushed the envelope of historical accuracy. It had marginal special effects and included corny dialog as well. It was called "The Right Stuff". It motivated this then 22 year old to get off his duff and get his pilot's license because Chuck Yeager was so cool. Thirty years later I'm on my fourth plane with Instrument ticket working on my Commercial for fun. I still love seeing the movie on occasion to this day. I hope Red Tails succeeds to inspire in the same manner.

Posted by: Doug Winston | January 25, 2012 1:32 PM    Report this comment

Ok, so we all know and appreciate the inspiration this movie may create; and that's a good thing.

But as most of us here being pilots (or near to it), we can't resist thinking we could have made the movie a bit more authentic. So, please pardon the technical critiques. It's a rough crowd...

But that Lomcevak/flipover/whatever manuever the hero did in his P-51 (at maybe 250kts nonetheless) would be very interesting thing to see in real life! Thank God for airplane movies!

Posted by: A Richie | January 25, 2012 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Hanks and Spielberg made what was probably the best non-documentary ever made--NOT the big-screen "Saving Private Ryan"--but the made for TV miniseries "Band of Brothers." It was so good that I've often wondered how they could make anything this good for TV.

Unlike this "film"--Band of Brothers also followed a group of people--telling their story, and getting the audience involved. The technical accuracy was amazing--the special effects (like the number of C-47s depicted) was so real as to be almost undectectable. They followed the FACTS--and the facts were pretty amazing by themselves, without embellishment.

This "small screen" masterpiece remains the standard for history-based "docudrama"--and by comparison, "Red Tails" doesn't come close. Paul's assessment is correct.

Posted by: jim hanson | January 25, 2012 3:24 PM    Report this comment

Funny that you should say so...I've read a number of comments on military and warbird forums from people far more knowledgeable than I am--and I write regularly for Military History magazine--that specifically mention the numerous glaring inaccuracies of "Band of Brothers."

Posted by: Stephan Wilkinson | January 25, 2012 4:11 PM    Report this comment

"Glaring inaccuracies"? That Ambrose wrote that Albert Blithe died from his wounds, but actually lived? That Easy Company "returned to England on June 29" but actually was "after July 1"? That Joseph Libgott "returned to San Francisco to drive his cab", but actually became a barber? That when Winters tells the German Colonel that "you may keep your sidearm" when in reality, Winters says that HE kept it?

Compare these picayune gripes with the wholesale inaccuracies listed throughout this thread. Unlike the issues with Red Tails, none of the items listed with Band of Brothers affected the portrayal of the story itself.

If the audience that Lucas is playing to is people that have no appreciation for historical accuracy and portrayals--then let them play with their X-boxes.

The Tuskegee Airmen, however, deserve better.

Posted by: jim hanson | January 25, 2012 6:34 PM    Report this comment

What inspired ya'll to fly?

Posted by: Doug Winston | January 25, 2012 6:42 PM    Report this comment

With managed expectations you will like the movie. It was a B+ in my view. I am not to disappointed by the wrong P51 models used in the movie.....the fact that it did not emphasize nor explain/focus on Tuskegee...but is was a good movie. My (white & flying) family enjoyed the flying (digital and real) but it also gave us the opportunity to discuss the racial issues with my 15 year old that were (appropriately) prominant multiple times in the story line. I think its an important movie for the family to see and grasp the opportunity to discuss the serious issues displayed from our history..............both the ones we can be proud of and those we are not.

Posted by: Michael Lefever | January 25, 2012 7:37 PM    Report this comment

This is where it might help to be a bit less anal and allow a wider audience to find their own entry into the understanding of the story behind the Tuskegee pilots. Whether tape used or a model of aircraft was correct matters little to those who are moved by the story. Lucas said he was appealing to young Black kids via the video games and explosions to lead them to inspiration. It wasn't made for historical accuracy but to inspire. To miss that major intent and focus on technicalities only shows a narrow viewpoint. We need all the inspiration we can get to grow the pilot population, so though I'm not a fan of the hyped video explosion for thrills, I still hope it does well as a vehicle to inspire any receptive kids who see it.

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 25, 2012 9:28 PM    Report this comment

If the audience that Lucas is playing to is people that have no appreciation for historical accuracy and portrayals--then let them play with their X-boxes.

This is where it might help to be a bit less anal and allow a wider audience to find their own entry into the understanding of the story behind the Tuskegee pilots. Whether tape used or a model of aircraft was correct matters little to those who are moved by the story. Lucas said he was appealing to young Black kids via the video games and explosions to lead them to inspiration. It wasn't made for historical accuracy but to inspire. To miss that major intent and focus on technicalities only shows a narrow viewpoint. We need all the inspiration we can get to grow the pilot population, so though I'm not a fan of the hyped video explosion for thrills, I still hope it does well as a vehicle to inspire any receptive kids who see it.

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 25, 2012 10:06 PM    Report this comment

This was a very good movie with just the right amount of action and dialogue to hold the viewers to the seat of their chairs for the whole presentation. The race issue was handled well and tastfully. It was a far better movie than what I expected it to be. Some critcs are being redidiculously negative in their reviews!

Posted by: Michael Magnell | January 26, 2012 12:08 PM    Report this comment

Delighted to see some good sense and maturity enter the discussion.

Posted by: Stephan Wilkinson | January 26, 2012 1:12 PM    Report this comment

"Delighted to see some good sense and maturity enter the discussion."

Since when do people who have a different point of view than yours lack common sense and maturity? I always figured you to be...more common sense than that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 26, 2012 2:56 PM    Report this comment

The producers of the film paid technical experts to avoid the obvious errors mentioned by other.

The fact that there WERE so many means that either: A. The experts weren't doing their job OR B. Lucas decided to ignore the errors in favor of an inaccurate story line.

Stephan--as a writer of non-fiction, people depend upon writers to get the story straight. If a reader (or viewer, in this case) finds that there are factual errors in the story, EVERY word for that writer or producer will be suspect--their entire credibility called to question. Even the FACTS behind the rest of the story will be held in doubt.

Their record speaks for itself. Embellishing an already outstanding record does the TA or the movie producer any good. Example: How do you suppose a person new to aviation would feel when they find out that contrary to oft-told assertions (perpetuated in the movie) that the TA DID lose bombers to other aircraft?

Posted by: jim hanson | January 26, 2012 3:24 PM    Report this comment

Example: How do you suppose a person new to aviation would feel when they find out that contrary to oft-told assertions (perpetuated in the movie) that the TA DID lose bombers to other aircraft? -

Depends on the individual. If they have common sense, they'll know before discovery that any high risk war action might have casualities. That wouldn't affect their recognition of the success and heroism of the TA at all. If the person is easily led, shall we say, immature, and lacks a good measure of common sense, he/she might be surprised. What's the point here? That in order to recognize the spirit of an event or worthiness of a group every minute detail has to be correct in its delivery or the prospective student is lost to aviation forever? People will find their own truth to something whether the 'facts' were correct or not. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Now, whether common sense is also good sense is another thing...

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 26, 2012 5:34 PM    Report this comment

The Tuskegee Airmen proved one thing, and one thing only. No matter what color, sex, race, or creed...once you leave the ground, we're all equal. The fog won't lift because you're white. The thunderstorms won't dissipate because you're black. If you fail to have knowledge, and you leave the ground, you will die. When it comes to flying, It's not WHO you know, BUT WHAT you know. If you want a real story, talk to some of those black aviators who completed military flight training, being the only one in their class (60's & 70's). Thank you Tuskegee Airmen, for proving equality among human beings. I will go see the movie for what it is.....entertainment.

Posted by: John Dyer | January 26, 2012 6:22 PM    Report this comment

"Depends on the individual. If they have common sense, they'll know before discovery that any high risk war action might have casualities. That wouldn't affect their recognition of the success and heroism of the TA at all. "

The point isn't about the TA--that's long been acknowledged. The point is accuracy. Lucas paid the tech advisors--then obviously DECIDED that the REAL story wasn't juicy enough--he CHOSE to embellish it--or to use an old phrase, "gild the lily"--as if the product itself could be improved.

YOU may view it as "entertainment"--but to the majority of viewers, they will take it as history--and it is far from accurate. Writers and film producers do not have a mandate to educate, but they shouldn't mislead, either. Lucas must have been a classmate of Michael Moore, as they both end up producing "crockumentaries."

Errors will happen in any production, but they shouldn't be deliberate. A writer is believable as long as his/her facts hold up--how long do you suppose Paul or Avweb would be around if they DELIBERATELY falsified information?

Posted by: jim hanson | January 27, 2012 8:26 AM    Report this comment

I saw this with my HS aged kids. They got a lot out of it from an intro-to-these-famous-airmen sense, so that's a plus. But they are hardly movie critics, so from an older person movie going perspective, I'd give it 2.5/5 stars at best. Solid DVD film, but not worth a theater visit. In hind sight, I'd rather have paid the same money to see Star Wars again on the big screen instead.

Posted by: Mick Anderson | January 27, 2012 8:48 AM    Report this comment

Writers and film producers do not have a mandate to educate, but they shouldn't mislead, either.-

Who says? Prove it to be deliberate for malicious intent and I won't go to the theatre. But even the wonderful Civil War documentary by Ken Burn's had some embellishment- he said so himself.

Both Lucas and Michael Moore used their own money for their own creative purposes to make films they believe in and hope some others may find thought provoking and interesting.

I can only assume since you refuse to allow them their creative freedom and take from their films the best intent of message and history as they see it that, actually, you are trying on this blog to state that anal retentives really do get invited to parties, and that's a 'fact' I would consistently dispute.

Hope you at least enjoyed the popcorn.

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 27, 2012 2:05 PM    Report this comment

@I can only assume since you refuse to allow them their creative freedom and take from their films the best intent of message and history as they see it that, actually, you are trying on this blog to state that anal retentives really do get invited to parties, and that's a 'fact' I would consistently dispute.

Who is not "allowing them their creative freedom"? All you can do is to point out that what they have produced is not accurate--and if people want to watch the cartoon, they are free to do so.

"the best intent of message and history as they see it". As they see it? They KNEW it was wrong, and they did it anyway--obviously, they didn't think that the real actions of the TA were heroic enough, so they embellished it.

You also have to wonder about the hypocrisy and ethics of someone that USES the inspiring story of the TA to flog their own "crockumentary".

Nobody has advocated preventing people from watching this--only fair warning that it shouldn't be taken as authentic. In giving that warning, Mick Anderson (above) says it all--save your money and watch an ADMITTEDLY escapist fantasy.

YOU may wish to live in fantasy land, but don't inflict your fantasies on others.

Posted by: jim hanson | January 27, 2012 2:39 PM    Report this comment

just saw Red Tails.Not Acadamy award stuff however well worth seeing.Couldn't Lucas have devised a more practical way to have the Aviator discover his heart throb other than orbiting her rooftop perch. Really lookd terribly phony.I can forgive a lot but that sequence blahh. Really liked all of the other props and scenery.Go see it..

Posted by: Irving Slone | January 27, 2012 2:52 PM    Report this comment

Nobody has advocated preventing people from watching this--only fair warning that it shouldn't be taken as authentic.-

Warning from whom, the thought police? What would happen to a young 12 year old African American kid if he did take it as mostly authentic? Truly inspired, he's off to become a pilot and proudly supports the TA for the rest of his life, clear now on what the 'facts' are or not. Will you implode?

For me, my interest in and study of the Mexican American war was fueled as a 12 year old kid by the movie 'The Alamo', said to be historically accurate but later was found to have some historical flaws. I love the movie to this day, and that love has absolutely nothing to do with the FACTS.

If you have such anger about this flick I suggest you contact Lucas for an explanation and the theatre for a refund. But calling the movie a 'cartoon' or a 'crockumentary' only shows your inability to be gracious to others to allow them their own experience. If that's the world of Reality, I'll gladly take my fantasy land. Enough said for me.

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 27, 2012 5:03 PM    Report this comment

No "anger" here--just the observation that it shouldn't be taken seriously--much like Lucas' Star Wars. At least he didn't try to pass those pictures off as authentic.

Perhaps this film should have a warning on it--much like Gores "Inconvenient Truth" in Britain is required to have--for entertainment purposes only.

If this product were being advertised and sold like any food or drug product regulated by the Federal government, the producer would be charged with false advertising.

"Prove it to be deliberate for malicious intent and I won't go to the theatre" Well, the facts WERE changed, and obviously WERE manipulated, were they not?

"Cartoon"? Well, it IS animation, is it not?

"Crockumentary"? DOCUMENTARY films have their facts straight. Well, since even you acknowledge that it isn't factual, it ISN'T a documentary, is it?

Posted by: jim hanson | January 28, 2012 3:02 PM    Report this comment

Ok, I can play a little longer but I have to be home by dark...

No "anger" here--just the observation that it shouldn't be taken seriously-

Other than you, Jim, I don't think anyone is.

Perhaps this film should have a warning on it..-

Less freedom, more regulations from those who would think for me? No thanks. Gas leaks, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados and nuclear missles, sure,...but a flick? C'mon man.

Well, the facts WERE changed, and obviously WERE manipulated, were they not?-

I don't really know, and could care less if they were. History is interpretation - even eye witnesses each have their own viewpoint of events. Events occur, but their oral or written histories are always varied. Shoot for the understanding of an event, its nugget of truth. That's all you need in my book.

And no, it's not a cartoon, no matter how you spin it.

Finally, the fact that it's NOT A DOCUMENTARY - (oops,cap key got stuck, sorry) does not correlate to an invented word for a new review. Many films are made based on facts that are creatively and intentionally open for interpretation. Embrace your individuality, step into a new frontier of personal reality and daring off the fact-based path. Fear not, nothing is lost that shouldn't be. All is Well.

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 28, 2012 5:35 PM    Report this comment

Ridley Scott should have done this instead of George Lucas. Scott's penchant for research and historical accuracy would have done a greater justice to the story of the Tuskegee Airmen than this Star Wars, video game, hokey dialog version. Just seeing the trailer was enough for me, or maybe when it hits Netflix and I'm running out of choices...

Posted by: Manny Puerta | February 1, 2012 9:06 AM    Report this comment

Dave--At least we agree that this film is not to be taken seriously.

Warning on the film--all kinds of products have warnings on them. As mentioned, "Inconvenient Truth" has one for British audiences, warning that it isn't factual.

How can you NOT know that the facts were changed? Those facts are well-documented, and presented in this thread. Lucas paid historical advisors, and chose to ignore the facts. That is malicious intent.

"Creatively open to interpretation"? Then sell it as "Star Wars"--a cartoon not based on fact. What other realities are you willing to suspend? That the Japanese were really concerned with the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity sphere?" That "Stalin was really a kind old 'Uncle Joe'?"

Not a cartoon? Well, it IS pixelated drawings is it not? It DOES depict things that never happened, even you admit that. Is that not a cartoon? Since it IS a cartoon, what color should Lucas have made the sky to match the one in YOUR world?

Posted by: jim hanson | February 1, 2012 1:06 PM    Report this comment

"No "anger" here..."

Well, you certainly sound as though your head is going to explode.

"Inconvenient Truth" has [a warning] for British audiences, warning that it isn't factual."

A vast oversimplification and inaccurate accounting of a complex situation. It involves a civil case brought about by a truckdriver and anti-climate change activist who protested the film's showing in UK schools, and the result was not that the film now requires "a warning that it isn't factual for British audiences." Do a search.

And no, I won't argue about that case any further.

Posted by: Stephan Wilkinson | February 1, 2012 1:28 PM    Report this comment

Stephan disputes that warnings had to be attached to "An Inconvenient Truth" in Britain. The case is Dimmock vs. Secretary of State for Education and Skills." Here's the verdict:

"The court ruled that the film was substantially founded upon scientific research and fact and could continue to be shown, but it had a degree of political bias such that teachers would be required to explain the context via guidance notes issued to schools along with the film. The court also identified nine of what the plaintiff called 'errors' in the film which were departures from the scientific mainstream, and ruled that the guidance notes must address these items specifically."

Guidance (warning notes)WERE required to be attached before the film could be shown to kids. In a separate but similar finding, that was also the case in New Zealand.

At least in THOSE countries, you can't pass made-up "facts" as being true. Maybe that will be adjudicated some day in the U.S.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 1, 2012 4:06 PM    Report this comment

Dave--At least we agree that this film is not to be taken seriously.-

Clever twist on meaning, but that's not what I meant and you know it. Even though this horse is hamburger, if some kids take aspects of the film seriously and are inspired by it, Lucas was successful, and will produce the prequel and sequel for added clarification down the road. Sounds like a plan to me.

As far as historical facts, though I'll never convince you of this, my opinion is that there are always inherent biases by humans when collecting facts that make an objective truth impossible for any particular event. Always as time unfolds, new information and awareness is combined with the facts from the past to show the event in present time in its best favor - yet still, always subject to revision. We're worlds apart on this subject.

I've seen way too much in my life, from Vietnam to a dream coming to fruition today of miracles and magic to follow a narrow, fact-based path of living. The road of life is so much richer than having just the mercurial 'facts' for roadsigns, yet, you'll always still find me using updated checklists... ;)

Posted by: Dave Miller | February 1, 2012 5:37 PM    Report this comment

Dave--" if some kids take aspects of the film seriously and are inspired by it, Lucas was successful". Run the flip side of that--if PEOPLE (not just kids0 see the made-up portions and find that they are false, they may well doubt ALL of the facts presented. Are you really advocating passing off fiction as good information? How far do you suppose Paul would get with readers if he did that? Would they ever trust him again?

"my opinion is that there are always inherent biases by humans when collecting facts that make an objective truth impossible for any particular event." There's no bias--the facts are just that--the facts. Lucas, through his paid historical consultant, was AWARE of those facts, and thought they weren't good enough to "sell". That diminishes the REAL story of the TA. Example: "We never lost a bomber". That isn't true--and it has been common knowledge for decades.

Embellishing a story is never good--whether you are a politician, job applicant, or anybody else I can think of. Why you think this is a good idea--not even bothering to mention it--is beyond me.

For MOST of us, though, the truth not only suffices in the case of the TA, but telling it is the right thing to do.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 1, 2012 6:00 PM    Report this comment

if PEOPLE (not just kids0 see the made-up portions and find that they are false, they may well doubt ALL of the facts presented. -

Those wouldn't recognize a fact even if it was printed on your flier you would be handing out at each theatre anyway, so save your money and dissapointment and stay home. Besides, once again, ad nauseum, they are not the target audience.

Are you really advocating passing off fiction as good information?-

Good information? No, but as a vehicle for inspiration, you bet.

How far do you suppose Paul would get with readers if he did that? Would they ever trust him again? -

I don't trust Paul. Or you. Or anyone but myself to get the 'facts' out of information that you or Paul or anyone might be talking about. I only trust what I can personally verify, until that point it's all knowledge without category, unless I take it further and verify. This, however, has nothing to do with previously stated social protections and assurances in safety and well-being for the good of the whole. Continued.

Posted by: Dave Miller | February 2, 2012 1:12 AM    Report this comment

"Lucas, through his paid historical consultant, was AWARE of those facts, and thought they weren't good enough to "sell". -

unless you personally heard that from him, that's an assumption, being passed off as a fact. Keep an eye out for those Moral police, I hear they are everywhere.

Embellishing a story is never good--whether you are a politician, job applicant, or anybody else I can think of. -

Personally I love embellishment, it keeps ofttimes boring facts interesting and alive when necessary, and is Lucas' perogative with making his films.

For MOST of us, though, the truth not only suffices in the case of the TA, but telling it is the right thing to do.-

Never been in the MOST column, always been a cliff hanger and found the truth to have many layers and entirely individual - no one ever sees truth the same. But telling the story as best as one can about the TA is a noble goal.

Posted by: Dave Miller | February 2, 2012 1:13 AM    Report this comment

And no, I won't argue any further either.

Posted by: Dave Miller | February 2, 2012 1:19 AM    Report this comment

Something I've realized here is that we are tossing George Lucas' name around like he produced, wrote, and directed it. He didn't. He was only the Executive Producer. This means he provided or found the financial backing for it. That's what a Producer does. The Screenwriter, who crafted this bit of historical fiction, is a gentleman named John Ridley. The Director, who oversaw its filming and who is responsible for the look and feel of the film, is a gentleman named Anthony Hemingway. So let us give credit (or blame) where it is due. And let us call it what it is - a historical fiction. It's not a documentary. It's not a true to life story. It is a work of fiction based on historical events, people, and places. I think when placed in that context, it becomes much more obvious what the point of the movie was - to entertain within the context of historical events.

Posted by: Charles Seitz | February 2, 2012 9:25 AM    Report this comment

You're holding out a little, Charles. Ridley co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron McGruder, who is a comic strip writer. (Boondocks.)

It's easy to see how that film would be storyboarded from a comic book. (Good or bad, take your pick.) Lucas continues to say he provided the original script.

Whether any of this matters, who can say? But it does explain the feel and appearance of the finished product.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 2, 2012 9:47 AM    Report this comment

No kidding? The screenwriter is comic strip writer? Honestly, midway through the movie that's exactly what it seemed like I was watching, a high-tech comic book. But hey, we don't get to see many WWII airplane movies so you gotta settle for what you can get. Some real-life Mustang sound effects would be nice, I love to hear that scream...

Posted by: A Richie | February 2, 2012 11:11 AM    Report this comment

The other night I saw "War Stories with Oliver North", a documentary featuring the story of the Red Tails. It was a good show, but one of the TA vets interviewed proclaimed that "We never lost a bomber" and Col. North repeated this assertion again during his show. But unfortunately, research has shown this not to be true. I have the greatest respect for this elderly gentleman (God bless'em), but my point is that even first-person witnesses can sometimes get things wrong. I have experienced this myself and as a result I have to rely on notes and records rather than memory.

Posted by: A Richie | February 2, 2012 11:23 AM    Report this comment

The 1995 movie, Tuskegee Airman, also made the claim that the various squadrons lost no bombers to enemy action, but the contemporary record seems to suggest about 20 were lost.

By the way, I've been doing some research after seeing Red Tails and one of the more interesting things I came across was an episode of Dog Fights that explains the Berlin mission.

I posted a link above. The entire episode is on YouTube. It has interviews with Brown, Archer and McGhee and is accurate to the type of aircraft used.

It also illuminates something else I didn't know. The Germans attacked that bomber group with a captured P-51. Brown went after it, but broke off the engagement.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 2, 2012 11:55 AM    Report this comment

Interesting. I'll be seeing Roscoe Saturday night at our annual Tuskegee Airmen dinner and will try to remember to ask him about that.

The "never lost a bomber thing" all started with a story in the Chicago Defender--a major black-audience newspaper--in 1945, when the reporter printed that claim. Might have been true at the time, but probably wasn't even then. In any case, the claim never got double-checked and was simply accepted as truth forever after, until somebody--not sure who--did some research. (Much like so many references one sees on the Internet that just keep getting repeated and copied and eventually make their way into Wikipedia. After all, Wiki doesn't require truth or proof, they just need a "citation"...which could be an Air & Space article by me, mistakes and all...)

We local TAI chapters have been "ordered" by TAI national HQ to -never- make the "never lost a bomber" claim in any of our speaking engagements, publications or other public interfaces.

Posted by: Stephan Wilkinson | February 2, 2012 1:16 PM    Report this comment

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