VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the August 9, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Alex Lasker and Wendell Wellman, and based on the novel by Craig Thomas, Firefox is about a jet that doesn’t exist. The MiG-31 Firefox looks like the SR-71 Blackbird — you know, the one the X-Men flew — but in the book, it was a MiG-25.
How do you make a not-so-real jet look real? You get John Dykstra. He came up with a brand new technique for shooting the plane — which would be against a clear blue sky and not in space like the flying in the Star Wars movies — called reverse blue-screen photography. He coated the plane with phosphorus paint and shot it with harsh light against a black background, then ultraviolet light to create two mattes that would separate the model and the sky.
The Firefox is the kind of plane that could win the Cold War. Radar can’t see it, it goes Mach 6 and the weapons are controlled by the pilot’s brain. The British and Americans decide to steal it, sending former United States Air Force Major Mitchell Gant (Clint Eastwood, who else?) to steal it with help from the three scientists who made the jet.
I never saw Firefox, but I sure played the laserdisc arcade game.
The game came out nearly two years after the movie. Published by Atari, it used almost thirty hours of real footage that came right from the movie. It was pretty awesome to get to hear Eastwood’s voice while you pretended to be flying this incredible stealth war machine.
After making this film, Eastwood never worked with. his longtime editor Ferris Webster again. He never told him why and they had worked together for a decade. Webster had even moved closer to Eastwood to make editing with him easier. Supposedly, he died heartbroken.
Craig Thomas, on the other hand, loved Eastwood. When he published a sequel book, Firefox Down, he changed the plane to be more like the movie. The book had the dedication “For Clint Eastwood .. pilot of the Firefox.” Several of the characters from those books also appear in Thomas’ novels Winter Hawk and A Different War.
This movie always seemed like Star Wars to me. I may not have been all that off, as two actors from The Empire Strikes Back show up: John Ratzenberger, years before Cheers, played a junior officer in both movies while Kenneth Colley plays Colonel Kontarsky in this and Admiral Piett in both Empire and Return of the Jedi.
As for the Firefox itself, it was painted white and shows up in Chevy Chase movie Deal of the Century.
I felt about this movie probably the same way I would have as a kid. It’s thrilling when the jets battle in the air and the rest of the movie is waiting for the jets.