Saturday, January 21, 2012

Getting it Right...or Not

Last night I went to to the movies. This, in itself is a rare occurrence because a) I'm a card carrying classic movie buff and b) I dislike sharing my cinematic experience with hundreds of newly found acquaintances, many of whom seem unable to silence either their mobile phones or themselves for the duration of the film.  I'm generally much happier sitting on the couch, watching the 1938 version of The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Magnificent Seven or In the Heat of the Night and munching from a bag of Twizzlers or popcorn, the acquisition of which didn't require a second mortgage. It's even more rare that I go on a film's opening night.

But last night was different.  I've got a soft spot for True American Heroes - and the subjects of last night's movie, Red Tails, were True American Heroes.  The movie is about the all African-American 332nd Fighter Group (FG), World War Two's famous Tuskegee Airmen.  While the Airmen are not the point of this post, it's important for me to at least indicate the depth of admiration I have for those men.  Bravery? Check.  Determination? Check.  Overcoming adversity? Check.  Intellectual ability? Check.  Integrity? Check.  Values? Check.  The Tuskegee Airmen, for me, represent a paragon to which I aspire on a daily basis.  They proved that being a "great American" has nothing to do with the color of one's skin.

For these reasons, I eagerly awaited the opening of Red Tails. I even bought my tickets online, in advance.  Got to the theater an hour early.  Stood in line and paid an exorbitant fee for popcorn an unsweetened iced tea from a mix. And I was happy to do so.  Finally, the movie started.

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is truly epic, their deeds heroic, their story one that should be passed down for generations.  They deserve a movie whose cinematic excellence rises to those levels.  Unfortunately, this one wasn't it.  I'll leave critiques of things like acting, cinematography and plot lines to the professionals.  Among the OTHER things that left me cold were the technical and historical shortcomings.  I'll only go through a couple, but I think you'll get the gist.

Not a P-51 - this is a P-47 Thunderbolt
The movie depicts the sinking of a destroyer by a pair of 332nd FG P-51D Mustang fighters.  The scene has a basis in fact - On June 9, 1944 the German Destroyer TA27 (ex-Italian Navy "Auriga") was sunk in Trieste Harbor by 332nd pilots.  In fact, she was, as the movie depicts, sunk by machine gun fire - that's what happens when you fail to secure your hatches during an air attack, and your magazines are left more or less exposed.  That''s where the similarities end.  The TA27 was not sunk by P-51's, it was sunk by P-47 Thunderbolts, an entirely different airplane.  Given the degree of computer generated effects with which other aircraft were depicted, one has to wonder why the movie's producers didn't insist on this bit of realism.  Did they not know, or did they not care?

In another scene, the 332nd takes on German pilots equipped with Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighters.  True enough - on a March 24, 1945 mission to Berlin, the 332nd downed three of these wonder weapons with their piston engined Mustangs.  The technical problem arises during the combat scenes, where Mustangs are shown absorbing multiple hits from the Me-262s, and one American pilot is shown continuing to fly after being shot by Me-262 guns.  This simply isn't accurate.

Why doesn't it work?  Because the Me-262 was armed with four MK-108 30mm cannons.  These cannons fired up to 660 rounds per minute, each round greater than an inch in diameter and packing about a third more explosive than the 30mm cannon shells currently used by the US Air Force's A-10 Warthog.  In practice, just four of these shells would take down a four engined B-17 bomber, and a single shell would wreck a single engined fighter.  A one second burst from an Me-262 contained 44 of these shells.  A pilot being hit with these shells would have been, well, shredded.  Instant lights out.

The movie contains other aerial improbabilities, such as the piston engined Mustangs keeping up with the jets that were 100 mph faster.  The combination of these errors and omissions is enough to leave even a casual history buff cold.

Two concluding thoughts - it didn't HAVE to be this way.  This sort of error prevention is what I - and people like me - do for the literary and entertainment industry.  More importantly, the true exploits of this band of heroes are impressive enough that simply telling it "like it was" would have been an effective, inspiring and appropriate tribute.


  1. Thanks for sharing the link to your blog here, Adam. I'm from the Guppy Thrillers group. I'm excited to follow your blog via my RSS feed. :)

  2. Oh bother! I was looking forward to seeing this. I don't mind a little bit of literary license or having to suspend my beliefs to a degree. But the things you mention are to say the least, disappointing. I agree it most definitely does not need to be like this.

  3. The frustrating part is that this movie COULD have been great. Oh well, it will make for an excellent "It's Friday and I don't want to want to leave the house; let's order some Chinese" movie.

    Hopefully someone WILL make the great movie in the near future.