Thursday, September 1, 2011


 Clint Eastwood has an incredible and enviable career in the film industry over about a hundred years. Well may be not that long, but this legendary actor/director has been around for well over half the life of film itself. I don't need to go into details as I'm sure all of you, at some time, have watched a film starring the man, or one directed by him.

 But when you look at that career and start firing off titles, I bet the name Firefox will very rarely,  if ever crop up. It is far from a masterpiece, and I can almost safely bet that many film aficionados under the age of 30 may not even know of this Eastwood acted/directed/produced film. And yet there it is plain for all to see. It may not be a great film but it also isn't bad. But more that, in view of Eastwood's advancing years, I thought I'd give it a re-visit.

 Firefox is of course based on Craig Thomas' 1977 novel of the same name. I read it many, many years ago now, including it's sequel Firefox Down. Craig Thomas was a pioneer of what came to be known as the 'techo-thriller', which where massively popular throughout the 1980's and 1990's. Tom Clancy, more than any other author, probably epitomised the genre. But there were others besides Craig Thomas such as Patrick Robinson, Dale Brown, and Stephen Coonts to name a few. I read them all as I've always enjoyed military affairs ( certainly those authors listed where among the better of the genre I believe ). If you didn't live through the era I cannot overstate that this genre was huge, and sold literally millions upon millions of books.

 It is now an all but dead genre due to its success. But all things that become popular are subjected to overkill in the greedy search to milk it for every buck possible. I found myself swamped by the amount of books being written and lost interest after a while. Surprisingly though, for all its success, very few of these techo-thriller were ever adapted to film. Tom Clancy's novels are an almost glaring example for bucking the trend though.  The Hunt For The Red October is probably the best film of his novels that were adapted, with the others varying in quality, not to mention Jack Ryans!!

Post film cover of the novel.
 I read most of Craig Thomas's novels and consider Firefox his best. The novel itself is based on an actual event where a Soviet pilot defected to Japan in the 1970's. Before I finish up on the novel it must be shown how a film can influence a book no end. When Thomas wrote the sequel to Firefox, titled Firefox Down, he dedicated it to Eastwood, writing 'For Clint Eastwood - pilot of the Firefox'. Sadly the novel was never adapted to film though. The thing with the film's success was that subsequent novels of both Firefox, and Firefox Down, all had a picture of the aircraft from the film on the cover.

 The film itself was made in 1982, and to younger audiences the Cold War will be no more than a period of history. But many of us lived through it, and Firefox was filmed under these conditions. Much of the novel is based in Russia as the Americans and British send in a pilot to steal the Firefox and fly it to friendly ground. But due to Cold War restrictions Russian locations, let alone Eastern Bloc ones were out, so Vienna and other Austrian locations were used instead. One of the quiet sentiments of the film that may now escape many is the under current of the Cold War, and the film does have a  propaganda feel to it at times. Understandable of course considering this was 1982 and the Cold War was still on.

 Clint Eastwood may be the big name actor here but the 'Firefox' ( MiG 31, NATO codename, 'Firefox' ) is the real star!! In 1982 this was heady stuff indeed! I remember as a 12 year old being of awe of it, and all the boys at school drawing pictures of it everywhere, and wishing they could fly the Firefox! In Craig's novel the Firefox isn't anything like the film's version. Craig based his aircraft on the then MiG 25, albeit a more advanced version ( in Firefox Down he changed its appearance to match that of the films ). For the film 9 models were constructed for filming. One was a life sized mock-up which is seen in the hanger. Two were remote controlled for aerial sequences, and  6 were miniatures for special effects filming. Models of course being the main special effect technique of the era.

 The special effects used for the aerial sequences were very much those used in the Star wars films. I was surprised at how they still stacked up reasonably well today even after 30 years. Sure they have dated, but this is pre-CGI ( which has its faults ), but the use of models in filming is one I prefer over CGI. Visual datedness aside, the aerial scenes are still at the heart of the film, and interestingly in a 2 hour long film the Firefox is in the air for nearly an hour of that.

 So in 1982 this was an unquestionably big budget film. The 1980's lets face it wasn't an era that produced many truly great films, and Firefox isn't one of them! It was certainly a commercial success even though it was critically panned. But it isn't a bad film. It follows a fine novel remarkably well and I've always admired it for doing so. I think Clint Eastwood as Mitchell Gant was well cast, and he plays a post-combat stress sufferer very well. In the novel Gant's condition is magnified, but Eastwood does have enough with the screen time in showing how Gant was suffering in times of extreme stress.  The rest of the cast is virtually unknown now and I could only identify Nigel Hawthorne easily among them.

 I find a lot of the criticism of the film somewhat unfounded. I think if you have read the novel then the film will stack up quite well in comparison. When I look back at the 1980's it was somewhat barren era cinema wise, with the likes of Arnie and Sly starting their reigns of muscle mutted awfulness.  Firefox was a good example of a 1980's blockbuster. One where you could actually understand the dialogue ( no Arnie accent or Sly mumbling ), and there was shock of horrors, a plot!

 Certainly not a great Clint Eastwood film. I'm sure there are many out there who don't even realise it is an Eastwood film at all. But it is far from the awful outing it is made out to be. I think it a good example of a big budget 1980's blockbuster which made prodigious use of the special effects of the time. Eastwood himself is excellent as the combat traumatised Mitchell Gant and Craig's fine novel is superbly adapted to the screen.

 It may be now more a film of nostalgia for those who read the novel and saw the film in 1982 but it is also one of Clint Eastwood's most forgotten about films.  Visually dated certainly, but still worth a watch none the less. And read the novel if you get the chance!

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for a cool site on the Firefox itself:

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