I read Craig Thomas's cold war novel Firefox in the spring of 1982 and was unaware that a film adaptation was in production at the time. Having enjoyed the novel immensely, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the adaptation. The screenplay stayed true to the story and large passages of the book made it directly into the films screenplay. Then there was the sublime casting of Clint Eastwood as Mitchell Gant, the veteran pilot suffering with Post traumatic stress syndrome. Even the author Craig Thomas approved. The movie proved to be very entertaining at the time (I was fourteen), with its action sequences and special effects.
I recently discovered that Firefox is available on Blu-ray. The current US release has the movie paired with Heartbreak Ridge as part of a Clint Eastwood “double bill”. This region A disc features the shorter 124 minute print of the film. However there is a region B Norwegian Blu-ray available that has the longer 136 minute cut of the movie. I always this recommend version due to is expanded narrative and exposition. For those curious about the differences between the two versions, movie-censorship.com has a comprehensive photographic breakdown.
However regardless of which copy you see, there are some fundamental problems with both blu-ray transfers. The special effects sequences involving the MiG-31 utilised a process known as reverse bluscreen photography, pioneered by legendary effects supervisor John Dykstra. The high definition transfer unfortunately shows great deficiencies in the process and reveals an inordinate amount of image grain. Effects sequences such as AA missile launches and the rearward defence pod are also poorly realised, looking like just coloured cel animation. However the primary flying scenes featuring the MiG-31 still have a great sense of speed and there is some solid miniature work.
The main plot of Firefox is straightforward. The Russians have a plane that is technically superior to anything in the West, so the US intelligence services plan to steal one. Performances are low key and functional. Clint Eastwood does much to carry the film and Kenneth Colley is solid as Colonel Contarsky. Nigel Hawthorne is somewhat miscast as the dissident scientist and allegedly fell out with director Eastwood over his habit of filming rehearsals and using them as final takes. Firefox also features a very odd score by veteran composer Maurice Jarre which blends synthesiser based pieces with a traditional orchestral score. It often doesn't work and sits very uncomfortably with a lot of the movie. Yet the final suite of music played over the end credits is very engaging.
Firefox is very much a product of its time both cinematically and politically. Furthermore Clint Eastwood is a very lean film maker and some may find his approach to the narrative insufficiently exciting. Yet despite the movies age and the fact that the new hi-def transfer is unflattering to the optical process work, the real star of the movie is still the MiG-31. The design which is centred on stealth technology still looks plausible and extremely elegant. Regardless of the image grain, the sight of the plane flying over the ocean with the sunlight reflecting off its fuselage is still very impressive. Firefox is certainly not one of Clint Eastwood finest movies but it is one of his most curious, as it was a radical departure from the cop dramas and action comedy vehicles he had produced up to the time.