Wednesday 31 January 2024

" Masters of the Air " new Spielberg/Hanks drama currently on Apple TV


review by Daniel Brown

“..'Masters of the Air' (based on the book of the same name by Donald L. Miller) brings the World War II air war over Europe to life courtesy of the same team that created “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”, notably Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. The series centers on the 100th Bomb Squadron of the Eighth Air Force based in England, rightfully nicknamed “The Bloody Hundredth” for the frightful casualties they endured.

The air war is usually interpreted by civilians as clean and pristine compared to the mud and blood on the ground but in fact, the Eighth alone suffered more combat deaths than the entire Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater. Flying in tight formations in the worst weather imaginable, enduring -50 temperatures in unpressurized aircraft and fighting off waves of German fighters, the crews of the B-17s were sitting ducks. Many who weren’t killed fell to mental breakdowns.

“Band of Brothers” is one hard act to follow but this is your basic buddy movie with an ensemble cast; the only actor I recognized is Austin Butler (“Elvis”). I’ve only seen two episodes and they have yet to gel as characters I care about. The dialogue isn’t quite up to the superb standards of its mighty predecessors but the graphics are excellent and the attention to detail noteworthy. The portrayal of the combat missions are terrifying enough and the plot lines will branch out as the series progresses.

For any aviation aficionado, the real heroes are the B-17 Flying Fortresses, the actual metal birds not the CGI editions. In all, this is a worthy addition to the Hanks/Spielberg team’s effort to commentate the Greatest Generation before they pass off into memory. That alone is reason to watch 'Masters of the Air'....”

review by Richard Hill

"..Was really hoping for a factually accurate representation of Air Combat in WW2, but what I was presented with (and in fairness I'm only 2 episodes in, so it might improve) is revisionist [pro-American, anti-English] nonsense that spends more time portraying squadrons, for want of a better word, "fannying around" than actually flying.

It spends precisely zero time building the main characters up during training like Band of Brothers. As a result, I just have zero emotional investment in any of them. Also, and sadly, the writers have fallen into the trap of creating the main characters like a lot of modern characters are. That is, they've been written to be overly cool, confident, super accomplished, "Mary Sue's" that can do no wrong and win at everything they do. Examples of this is fighting with the British in the pub where the American pilots (who are known as and, until this point, portrayed as, being overly confident and brash), immediately switch personalites with the British (who are known as and, until this point portrayed as, more reserved), and utterly humiliate a British pilot by dancing all round him, making him fall over. The result is that, really, the main characters are just thoroughly unlikeable and boring that you have absolutely no emotional investment in. The absolute opposite of Dick Winters et al from the peerless Band of Brothers.

But really, a lot of it was really down to the overconfidence of the US leadership. They refused to learn lessons identified by the RAF and Luftwaffe that bombing during the day was counterproductive. Sure, you may be able to hit the target more on the first run, but by the end of it, you had so few bombers and crew left you couldn't reliably hit anything. This was proved correct when, on 22nd October 1943, the 8th Army stopped bombing it's unescorted daylight raids because they realised it was unsustainable. During this time, the USAAF, working with RAF Bomber Command, tried switching to night bombing, but found that the B-17s simply weren't capable and the crews not skilled enough to bomb with any amount of relevant precision. The ONLY reason day bombing could continue was due to the P51, which could escort bombers all the way to the target and back again.

Not only this, but the much vaunted (and boasted about in the show), Norden Bombsight, was nowhere near as accurate as it is believed. Under test conditions, it was great. Under combat conditions where aircraft had to zig zag to evade being hit by flak and flying over poor European weather conditions, meant that it was barely more accurate than night bombing anyway! Meaning many of those deaths were a waste.

Sadly, what we've got here is a total misrepresentation of actual history, portrayed by a bunch of unlikeable characters simultaneously embodying the worst stereotypes of American soldiers and "modern" character development by writers that seem to have completely lost the ability to create a likeable character. The best I can say is that the visuals are good..."

review by Jeff

" As a former Air Force pilot and present day airline pilot, I am very impressed by this show so far. It takes a subject that isn’t easy for the public to understand and gives them a sense of the realities of aerial warfare. During that timeframe, aviation was fraught with dangers and terror. Outside of the Combat, just flying aircraft was dangerous. That still exists today. I remember that training missions in the U.S. were often more dangerous than wartime missions. Only discipline, knowledge of the aircraft and teamwork brings you home. The scene where all the crews from all the aircraft from the bomb group were reading the exact same checklist to start and takeoff exactly the same way is what aviation is about. Discipline in addition to skill. Then you add the unknown and terror of WWII aerial combat with flak batteries and fighter planes, especially prior to fighter escorts like the P51 Mustang and you get a sense of the terror that existed every day. And the difference in the type of war experience. The partying and comradeship and drinking in pubs in England portrays a play hard, because tomorrow may never come situation. It’s a completely different type of war then the 101st Airborne or First Marines experienced, but it was brutal and terrifying in its own way. My only complaint so far is still with CGI aircraft. It’s a technology for movies that’s improving, but still needs some work..."

review by Chris Anderson

"..So far the first two episodes are I would say, drawn from Harry Crosby's memoir 'On a wing and a prayer' rather than Masters of the air which if you’ve read will know it is an overview of the whole 8th airforce campaign with reference to the 100th BG’s characters part in it. What has impressed me the most though is the attention to detail in the small things which ordinarily would go unnoticed. I live nearby to the old Thorpe Abbotts airfield and have walked in the area many times. I tried with aid of old photographs to imagine the locations of buildings, runways and hard stands which have unfortunately long gone. It’s quite clear though that the production team have really done their research, most likely with aid of the museum at the old airfield control tower and the 100th bomb group association. The airfield in the show is not just visually accurate, it’s actually dimensionally accurate! it’s amazing to see such continuity in a show or film these days. One error I would point out though is there is a scene in episode 2 where they are watching an air raid from a shelter at the accommodation site. Butlers character says “Norwich is getting it tonight” unfortunately although Norwich was bombed extensively during April to May 1942 there were no raids of the magnitude shown in July, August 1943. I know my comments are geeky but from a local to the area I appreciate the detail..."

A visit to Thorpe Abbotts on my model blog;

Visiting the ghost airfields of Norfolk and Suffolk