THE MATCH-UP: “Dark Blue World” is a Czechoslovakian film that is based on the fact that after the fall of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis, some Czech pilots escaped to Great Britain and joined the RAF. They served valiantly in the Battle of Britain and after. Unfortunately, when they returned to their homeland, the newly installed communist government imprisoned them as potential freedom fighters. The main characters are a veteran pilot and his young protégé. There is a love triangle involving a British woman.
“Red Tails” is based on the story of the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron. Also known as the “Tuskegee Airmen”, the unit escorted bombers in Europe in WWII. The story focuses on several members of the unit. It is a typical small unit movie with heterogeneous characters like the ladies’ man, the alcoholic, the black Jesus freak, the hick, etc. The movie deals with the institutional racism of the Army Air Corps, the political machinations, and the quest of the unit to prove itself.
FIRST QUARTER: Dogfight Quantity
The first category that will be used in the first round matches is how much air combat of the dogfighting variety appears in the movie. I used a stop watch for this. I ran the timer for fighter versus fighter as well as fighter versus bomber. I did not include strafing or any attacks on ground targets.
Dark Blue World = 7 minutes
Red Tails = 12 minutes
Red Tails 8
Dark Blue World 6
SECOND QUARTER: Plot
“Dark Blue World” is a love triangle with a war movie built around it. The romantic scenes take away from the war scenes and not in an entertainingly effective way. Although most war movies fans would argue the romance is a waste of time, in this case the romance is rushed and not realistic. The dynamics between the two friends is fine and there are some other characters who are developed so they can be killed in interesting ways. Other than the methods of death, the movie is very predictable. The quantity and quality of the dogfighting does not compensate for the lameness of the script. C
“Red Tails” is pious history lesson as cinema. The Tuskegee Airmen certainly deserved the coverage, but did it have to be in the Lucas/Spielberg style? The plot pushes all the requisite buttons. It’s a connect the dots movie. They overcome racism, doubts about competency, and internal conflicts. Throw in a romance so you hit all the demographics. Fine for a plot aimed at a mass audience that has not seen a lot of air combat movies, but very simplistic and predictable for any buffs. C
Red Tails 15
Dark Blue World 13
THIRD QUARTER: Realism and Accuracy
DBW does not claim to have real people in it. Franta, Karel and their mates are meant to represent the Czech pilots who flew for the RAF. Franta could be loosely based on Frantisek Fajtl who followed an arc similar to the movie character. The movie is realistic in its portrayal of the reluctance of the British to put them into combat. The movie does a good job in the intercuts to Franta in the labor camp after the war. These scenes are appropriately bleak. B
RT lays it on thick, but it does get the hurdles right. All the characters are fictional but Col. Bullard is obviously based on Benjamin Davis, Jr. The depiction of his political battles to keep the unit viable are exaggerated, but get the gist of the opposition. Most of the major vignettes are true. The unit did get a reputation for staying with the bombers, two pilots did sink a warship, there was a mission to Berlin that included an encounter with jets. The legend that the unit never lost a bomber has been proven false, but it is firmly implanted and the producers were not revisionists. The movie has major weaknesses, but accuracy is not one of them. As far as the realism, the CGI effects defy reality quite a bit. B
THIRD QUARTER SCORE:
Red Tails 23
Dark Blue World 21
FOURTH QUARTER: Cliches
Franta and Karel escape from Czechoslovakia in a motorcycle with a side-car. Karel bales out and meets a British woman who he subsequently proudly introduces to Franta (oops!). The core group celebrates Machaty’s first kill, but otherwise the movie characters do not do a lot of partying. Franta’s best friend dies trying to toss him a life raft. Machaty is a ladies’ man who picks up British chicks by asking for directions. B
Their crew chief is always upset when they return with damage to his planes. Lightning is such a ladies’ man that he woos an Italian girl even though in reality Italian women were discouraged from dating blacks. Lightning is a hot shot who often breaks formation to go after bandits. This includes his quest for glory by taking on the destroyer. The most egregious cliché is the ham-handed inclusion of an evil German pilot that the Red Tails call “Pretty Boy”. Gag! C
Red Tails 30
Dark Blue World 29
Both of these movies were seeded too high. Neither is particularly good, although DBW has its fans and was more critically acclaimed. However, in a tournament involving dogfighting, it seems slightly appropriate that the movie that is more about air combat moves on. Both tell important stories, but RT covers its unit’s history better since DBW is more the story of a few pilots. RT, with all its laughable flaws, is also more entertaining.