Reviewed by Kenneth Chisholm:
This video series, which is a condensed version done as a television series in 1985, depicts the adventures of a young pilot. At the beginning, he was the heir apparent to become the senior head of an airline. However, his best "friend", who has unscrupulous ambitions, has other plans. That fiend gets our hero drunk, and with him not thinking clearly, talks him into recruiting to be part of a mercenary force in a civil war torn middle eastern country. Specifically, the division designated Area 88, for the jet fighters. So, the next morning, the hero finds two men at his door waiting to encompany him to that country and when proves less than willing fulfill a contract he has no memory of signing, they literally drag him there.
Now our hero fights as a fighter pilot in that civil war. On the more personal level, he is fighting for survival in a role he never wanted and for goals that mean nothing to him with his greatest fear being that in that fighting, he will lose his humanity before he loses his life. The only options for leaving are serve for 3 years, raise a multi-million sum from his per kill pay to buy out his contract (very difficult considering he has to cover the cost of his plane, maintence, weapons and ammunition out of his pay) or escape and try to dodge the ruthless Escape Killers who are hired to prevent that. On top of that, his false friend is keeping track of him and has no intention of letting him survive his tour of duty...
I like to describe this film as "Top Gun with humanity". While that piece of jingoist tripe was a macho glorification of the seemingly bloodless fighting between air jockies; Area 88 is a far grimmer study in war. While there is furious action of air engagements, you often seen the horrific effects that fighting has on people, both in their physical deaths and mental degradation. In this film, glory is nothing and survival is everything. These pilots are people who are as cut off from normal lives as the base is, being placed in the middle of the desert. Just the fact, the hero must deal with the psychology consequences of war, puts this series on a whole other level apart from Top Gun.
The flaw of this series is that the action in the civilian takes on the cliched standards of soap opera. This shows mainly in the blackhearted machinations of the villian doing his dirty work, both in seeking the hero's death as well as making shoddy airliners that kill hundreds. However, it does play a relatively minor part, and it plays an interesting counterpoint and illustration of the grimly downbeat tone of the series.
Parent's Guide Rating:
red (recommended for mature audiences)
This film is a war story meant to be fairly realistic in nature. Thus, blood in the air combat flows freely as you see the pilots themselves die messily as their planes are destroyed. One heavy even goes so far as to kill a helpless pilot parachuting down after he ejected and you see the last terrified look in that pilot's eyes. Treated much more obliquely is the scene where a shoddily built plane that was acquired by the villian develops serious mechanical failures resulting in an off screen crash that kills hundreds. With that in mind, a parent could use this as an example to show that air war is not a videogame and causes real suffering, but considering that this is animated, that point might be lost on the kid.
Another thing that would be off putting for kids, is the relentless downbeat tone of the series, where even the victories by the hero just mean that he is sliding to an emotional abyss that he can't seem to escape. This leads to an ending that can be seen as simulateous depressing and yet ambiguous.
As noted before, the hero gets into this situation partially on account of getting drunk enough to be talked into it, which can serve as a cautionary note about drinking.
The one female lead, the hero's girlfriend is really quite passive in the standard role for this kind of story. However, she does initiate the search for him by the end of the series.
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