When I first watched Universal Studios’ “Midway” in a Miami theater in 1976, I absolutely was blown away by this film. Almost literally, too, since “Midway” was released with that 1970s gimmick Sensurround. Sensurround was a sound system that emphasized low frequency sounds to recreate explosions and other violent effects so that audiences felt they were in the midst of a battle or an earthquake.
And why shouldn’t I have been blown away? For a 13-year-old World War II buff, “Midway” seemed to be the ideal movie to watch.
It had a great cast: Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Cliff Robertson, Robert Mitchum, and Hal Holbrook, just to name a few of the “big names,” although a few other familiar actors, such as Tom Selleck and “Pat” Morita (“The Karate Kid”), also appear in this movie.
It also was the story of a dramatic event in history. It gave 1976 audiences a chance to see a dramatization of one of history’s greatest naval battles.
Fast forward 37 years, and what was once a thrilling war movie to a 13-year-old war movie fanatic now is a 50-year-old reviewer’s idea of a movie turkey.
The battle of Midway, considered by most historians to be the turning point of the Pacific War, is one of those subjects that scream “Great movie material!”
Almost six months after Pearl Harbor, a small U.S. fleet of three aircraft carriers, a handful of cruisers and destroyers, a few submarines, and a motley crew of land based aircraft, faced off against most of the Japanese Combined Fleet. Outnumbered in almost every category, the U.S. Pacific Fleet nevertheless won at Midway, ending Japan’s expansion in Asia and the Pacific and forcing her to go into the defensive.
“Midway” should have been a good movie, since the story of Midway has so many Hollywood-ready elements: Japan’s shocked reaction to the Doolitle Raid, the breaking of the JN-25 code by U.S. Navy crypto-analysts, the Japanese buildup and planning, the desperate attempts to repair the damaged USS Yorktown in time for the battle, and the dramatic showdown that led to the sinking of all four of Japan’s big carriers on June 4th, 1942.
And while Smight’s movie does include all of these elements, “Midway” is still mediocre.
Viewers can pin this failure on the screenplay by Donald S. Sanford and how the film was shot. Sandford’s script is mostly to blame: it tries to be both documentary (like “The Longest Day” and “A Bridge Too Far”) and melodrama (with fictional characters played by Charlton Heston and Edward Albert as a father-and-son duo of Navy officers,)
Worse, “Midway” only depicts the sinking of the four Japanese carriers; while it does show the attacks that damage the USS Yorktown, it never shows the submarine attack that sinks her and the destroyer USS Hammann.
Another flaw is that unlike “The Longest Day” and “The Battle of Britain,” which had their Germans speaking German with English subtitles, Midway has its Japanese characters speaking in English.
Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa’s favorite actor, plays Admiral Yamamoto stiffly, and his lines are dubbed in English.
Even worse, when the Japanese plan is depicted on big naval-style charts, the labels on the pieces are in both English and Japanese.
In order to cut costs, the producers also cribbed scenes from other, better war movies. The film starts with footage borrowed from 1944’s “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo” and Richard Fleischer’s “Tora! Tora! Tora!” was the main source for scenes depicting the Japanese attack on Midway Island.
In addition, the filmmakers make extensive use of actual color combat footage. Had this footage been shot at the real Battle of Midway, it would not be a problem. But unfortunately most of the war footage comes from later in the war, and planes not in service in 1942 appear hither and yon throughout the movie.
Blu-ray Specs and Info
Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English (DTS-HD 2.0), French (DTS-HD 2.0)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: All Region
Number of discs: 1
Year of Blu-ray Release: 2013