Firefox theatrical poster
|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Produced by||Clint Eastwood|
|Written by||Alex Lasker
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Editing by||Ron Spang
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||18 June 1982|
|Running time||136 min|
Russian filming locations were not possible due to the Cold War, and the producers selected Vienna and other locations in Austria to simulate many of the Eurasian story locations. The film was shot on a $21 million budget.
The film details a joint Anglo-American plot to steal a highly advanced Soviet fighter aircraft (MiG-31, NATO code name "Firefox") which is capable of Mach 6, is invisible to radar, and carries weapons controlled by thought. Eastwood stars as Maj. Mitchell Gant, a Vietnam veteran who infiltrates the Soviet Union, aided by his ability to speak Russian (due to his Russian mother) and a network of Jewish dissidents and sympathizers, three of whom are key scientists working on the fighter itself. His goal is to steal the Firefox and fly it back to friendly territory for analysis.
However, the KGB has gotten wind of the extraction operation and is already hot on Gant's tail. It is only through the sympathizers that Gant remains one step ahead of the KGB and reaches the air base of Bilyarsk, where the Firefox prototype is under heavy guard. The dissident scientists working on the Firefox help Gant infiltrate the base. Dr. Baranovich, one of the scientists, informs Gant that there is a second prototype in the hangar that must be destroyed. The diversion will allow Gant to enter the hangar and escape with the first Firefox. Gant knocks out Colonel Voskov, a Soviet pilot assigned to take the first Firefox prototype on its maiden flight during a visit from the Soviet First Secretary. The scientists attempt the destruction of the second prototype to give Gant time to suit up and start the first fighter. Guards kill the scientists after the explosion. Gant escapes the hangar and takes off just as the First Secretary arrives.
Gant barely reaches the Arctic ice pack for refueling while escaping the Soviet air defense network. He rendezvous with a US submarine whose crew refuels and rearms the aircraft. However, Gant's last-minute refusal to kill Voskov has consequences; the Soviet pilot flies the second prototype, which was barely damaged in the fire, with orders to wait for him at the North Cape area. The First Secretary presides over the tracking of Gant by General Vladimirov, at times to the consternation of the general. At one point, Vladimirov snaps at the First Secretary and orders Voskov to find the American. Gant completes the rendezvous and is on the way home when Voskov engages him in a dogfight. After a long battle, Gant fires his rearward missiles and succeeds in killing Voskov. Satisfied that there are no other Soviet forces chasing him, Gant begins his flight to safety.
The film was based on the creation of a "mythical" super fighter: the MiG-31 Firefox. The original Firefox from the novel was (cosmetically) nearly identical to the MiG-25, of which it was an advanced version. The real MiG-31 Foxhound is also almost identical in appearance to the MiG-25 and generally regarded to be an enhanced version of the original. The more intimidating version seen in the movie was created specifically for the film. In the sequel novel, Firefox Down, the Firefox's appearance is described as matching the one in the film.
Special effects supervisor John Dykstra pioneered a new technique for shooting the complex flying sequences. Reverse bluescreen involved coating the model with phosphorus paint and photographing it first with strong lighting against a black background and then with ultraviolet light to create the necessary male and female mattes to separate the foreground model and the background footage. This enabled the shiny black model to be photographed flying against a clear blue sky and gleaming white snow (compare with traditional bluescreen technique on The Empire Strikes Back).
Although the movie was released in 1982, the angled nose area has some surprising similarities to the U.S. F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter revealed in 1988. Possibly even more significant is that in Firefox Down the Firefox is submerged in a lake for much of the novel, but when it is brought back to the surface it shows up on radar; a common criticism of the F-117 is that when it gets wet, it has an increased radar signature. The Firefox also carries its weapons internally, similar to the F-102 Delta Dagger, F-106 Delta Dart, F-22 Raptor, and F-35 Lightning II. Another interesting detail is the full pressure suit worn by Firefox pilots, a feature required at speeds exceeding Mach 3. It was little known at the time that such pressure suits were actually used by SR-71 Blackbird pilots: in case of ejection, the instant heat rise pulse on the body when exposed to a Mach 3.2 air flow during ejection would be about 450 degrees F (230 °C). In addition, at Mach 3.2 the external heat rise due to the compression of air on the vehicle would even heat up the inside of the windshield to 250 degrees F (120 °C) and cooling of the crew members was vital.
The first mentioned trait of the Firefox is its speed capabilities: Mach 5 ("and possibly Mach 6"). The Firefox's most remarkable system is a weapons console controlled by the pilot's thoughts. Sensors in the pilot's helmet detect his neural impulses and relay the commands to the fighter. Thus the pilot can launch his AA-6 Acrid missiles without pressing a button the second an enemy appears. The pilot will also have to convey thoughts in Russian.
The Firefox is also a stealth fighter, although this term is not used in the movie. Undetectable by radar, the Firefox can be targeted only by the heat of its enormous engines. To counter this, the Firefox carries a number of rear-firing explosives to neutralize pursuing missiles. The Firefox's armament is rounded out by a pair of 23mm cannons.