November 12, 2023

The (Old) Midway Review

Netflix recently had Midway available, so I decided to give it a watch. Not the abomination from a few years ago, because I've already watched it once and don't hate myself enough to go through that again, but the 1976 version. It opens with a declaration that they're going to use as much combat footage as possible, which is I suppose the best way to handle this in that era. And, wonder of wonders, it skips Pearl Harbor, jumping straight to...the Doolittle Raid. Sort of out of the frying pan and into the fire there in terms of "things bean thinks are overdone", but points for originality and they don't feel the need to rub the whole thing in our faces, getting it over within the credits sequence. Oh, and the bombers aren't hitting Tokyo in formation for once.

Now, for the bad things. The effects aren't great, and the action sequences are made far worse by the fact that this was clearly not a production with a large budget, so a ton of footage was reused, either from previous films or color combat footage, which mostly appears to be from later in the war. This is occasionally amusing (the Kates on the way to Midway carry torpedoes, battleship masts appear at Midway and Hiryu launches her last strike at dawn) but mostly just serves to completely destroy any narrative to the action. It's lots of swooping planes (sometimes even the right type) intercut with closeups of the participants, but no sense of how the battle is going beyond the dialog. There's also wildly variable film quality, and lots of the real footage is very clearly wrong, ranging from 5"/38s appearing on the Japanese side to Yorktown sprouting Bofors as a defensive measure while under air attack. And while they don't slam you in the face the way Michael Bay does with the Spru-cans, there's a lot of 70s-era ships on screen in the new footage (all of which in fairness did serve in WWII) and Yorktown at one point grows a steel flight deck and deck-edge elevator.

The main plot is entirely predictable to anyone who is reasonably familiar with the history of Midway, but they do a reasonably good job of balancing events with the necessary drama. The Japanese staff meeting seems far too sane for the IJN, with actual questioning of basic assumptions going on, and Washington's reluctance to accept Midway as the target is overplayed. On the other hand, the script was clearly written by someone with an eye for the actual history, with things like Operation K coming up, and several details I checked turned out to be true. Of course, the movie came out long before Shattered Sword, and thus repeats a lot of the myths originating with Mitsuo Fuchida that Parshall and Tully so ably debunked. Still, it's better than the 2019 movie from a historical perspective. At least Fletcher is a character here.

There's also a side plot about a fictional staff Captain, played by Charlton Heston, and his son, who wants to marry a Japanese girl who was picked up by the FBI for subversion. The Captain tries to intervene, and discovers that her parents have forbidden her to marry outside her own race. Both men end up aboard Yorktown and clash, with the son thinking his father played a part in this. The son flies a fighter during the initial American attacks, and crashes his Wildcat on Yorktown after being wounded. (Of course, it somehow got painted with the number of the next Yorktown for the crash sequence.) They more or less reconcile before the son is evacuated from Yorktown after the first attack, and due to somehow ending up with more planes than pilots, the Captain is asked to take a Dauntless up as part of the strike on Hiryu, ultimately landing the fatal hit. Unfortunately, his plane is badly damaged and he crashes while landing on Enterprise, the sheer dramatic power of his death transforming his Dauntless into an F9F Panther on impact.

On the whole, this is not a very good movie. On one hand, it does a reasonably competent job retelling the story of Midway, and the writer and director didn't feel the need to add a ton of personal drama to "spice things up". On the other, the action is genuinely bad by modern standards, with no real continuity and most of the entertainment for me being provided by spotting where the footage probably originated from. But it's still the best movie I've seen recently about the early Pacific War. (And yes, I do need to go watch Tora, Tora, Tora.)


  1. November 14, 2023timshatz said...

    I recall the movie was made in "Senseround" or "Sesoround" when it first came out. As I recall, it consisted of turning up the base so much that it pretty much blew you out of your seat in any combat sequence.

  2. February 19, 2024Jeff said...

    It was Sensurround (like Sense and Surround kitbashed). Your description is fairly apt. There was another movie of the same period called Earthquake. You can imagine what this was like in the theater. Sensurround had huge speakers that were added to the interior space of movie theaters, so yeah, it was pretty much just a bunch of additional bass. Thank goodness it was a fad that came and went rather quickly.

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