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Spectacular “Midway” salutes WWII heroes

Updated: Oct 12, 2022


(1) A shot down U.S. Navy pilot watches as a Japanese aircraft carrier gets hit by U.S dive bombers during the Battle of Midway. (2) Lieutenant Commander Richard 'Dick' Best (Ed Skrein) won the Navy Cross for his action during the Battle of Midway. He is one of only two pilots in history to hit multiple enemy carriers in a single day.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019, PG-13 for sequences of war violence and related images, profanity and smoking; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K) Best extra: “Getting it Right” featurette

IT ALL started during lunch between big-boom action director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “The Patriot”) and screenwriter Wes Tooke, when he asked Emmerich, “What’s the one story you always wanted to tell?” His response was fast and direct – Battle of Midway. Tooke’s jaw hit the floor, as he recalls their meeting during the “Getting it Right” featurette. Since childhood, the screenwriter has been obsessed with military history – specifically World War II and the Pacific Theater. He grew up in a military family and his grandfather, Capt. Charles M. Tooke, served in the U.S. Navy, while the younger Tooke always considered himself a “military brat.” Most of his buddies collected baseball cards; during seventh grade, Tooke made a diorama of the Battle of Midway. Tooke and Emmerich went to extreme measures to make sure their version of “Midway” was historically accurate, presented in chronological order, and that virtually every character onscreen was based on a real person.

“‘Midway’ is an amazing story, and it’s never been told right,” — Dennis Quaid, actor, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey

(1) U.S. Navy attaché Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) has a conversation with Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) at a Tokyo officers club in 1937. (2) Lieutenant Best prepares to land on the 809-foot flight deck of the USS Enterprise, positioned 170 miles west of Pearl Harbor. (3) Lt. Clarence Dickinson (Luke Kleintank) and Lt. Commander Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) glide Lt. Best and his dive-bomber onto the Enterprise. (4) The lower deck on the Enterprise houses the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers and the Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers.


The more Emmerich and Tooke talked, the more they realized, “They didn’t need to invent anything,” the director says. Tooke considers the pivotal battle on June 4, 1942, less than seven months after the attack of Pearl Harbor, “The greatest comeback story in military history.” Most of the Pacific fleet had been destroyed leaving the U.S. Navy with only had three aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Hornet, Yorktown) and 230-plus aircraft, some destroyers, and two-dozen submarines. The Japanese military swept across the Pacific. “For six months no one could lay a glove on them,” Samuel Cox, Director of the Naval History & Heritage Command says. The Japanese felt their pilots were superior to the Americans and that two of their airplanes could handle five U.S. planes says Craig L Symonds, author of “The Battle of Midway.” Even so, the American effort was unstoppable led by “extraordinary and courageous naval pilots,” Tooke says. This 2019 retelling is full of heroism and grit, using 500-plus computer-generated effect shots that seem too crisp at times showing bombs, explosions, aircraft carriers and swooping dive bombers led by Naval aviator Dick Best (Ed Skrein) who somehow survives the bombardment of Japanese anti-aircraft weaponry. “Midway” is no means in the same league as Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” or Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” still its leaps and bounds better than the 1976 “Midway,” a cinematic clunker that starred Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, and Toshiro Mifune. Tooke’s script goes to great lengths to present a more balanced retelling from Japanese and American perspectives. It opens in Tokyo during the late 1930s, with a subtitled scene at an officers’ club. U.S. Naval Intelligence officer Edwin Layton, played by Patrick Wilson, and Japanese officer Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa). It’s an honest conversation, then Layton hears Yamamoto say, “Don’t push us into a corner,” by cutting off our oil supplies. Layton responds, “Nobody wants war.”

· The Attack on Pearl Harbor ·

(1) Just before 8 a.m. Imperial Japanese aircraft including fighters, torpedo bombers, and dive bombers attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. All eight battleships were damaged, and four sunk. (2) Lt. Roy Pearce (Alexander Ludwig) tells his men to hit the deck. (3) Lt. Pearce helps sailors cross over the fiery waters from the Battleship Arizona to the USS Vestial.


A quick cut and it’s a bright and sunny Sunday morning on December 7th – “A day that will live in Infamy.” Emmerich and his crew used massive blue screens as a backdrop to capture actors’ performances, which were inserted into a digital Pearl Harbor re-creating the attack and the sinking of the battleship USS Arizona. With each explosion, the bass oomph shakes the room. Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, a key component to the U.S. victory during Midway, just happened to be 170 miles west of Hawaii when the attack started around 8 a.m. Hot dog pilot Best, originally from New Jersey, is introduced as he and his gunner and navigator practice a worst-case scenario landing onto the flight deck. Best turns the engine and electronics off, then lowers the landing gear as the plane dips below the flight deck and, seconds later, reappears. Message from the base finally arrives and Best and his fellow dive-bombers are assigned to smoke screen duty, while the torpedo bombers are fitted out to hit the Japanese fleet. “Let me put a 500-pound bomb right down their smokestack,” Best says. The mission is a bust when U.S. intelligence accidentally sends the squadron in the wrong direction.

“Good men on both sides lost their lives, so it’s important that we’re as historically accurate as we can be.” — British actor Ed Skrein

The story provides a short sequence with Army Lt. Col. James Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) and the raid on Tokyo, April 1942, with a squadron of B-25 bombers. The 1976 “Midway” opens with the raid. Doolittle and his crews barely got off the flight deck of the USS Hornet, forced to launch sooner than expected 650 miles from Japan. Two months later the Japanese plan a secret target, the Midway Islands coded as “AF.” Washington brass felt the code was for the South Pacific, but Layton and his code-breakers led by cryptanalyst Joe Rochefort (Brennan Brown) were convinced it was Midway. Eventually, Admiral Chester Nimitz, played by look-alike Woody Harrelson, agrees with Layton and they set up an ambush to catch the Japanese fleet. If the U.S. Navy isn’t successful, the West Coast from Seattle down to Los Angeles and then the Naval base in San Diego, will become an open door for the Japanese military.

· Remembering ·

(1) Ann Best (Mandy Moore) meets her husband Dick Best at the base gate after the USS Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor. They are concerned if Lt. Pearce survived the attack on the USS Arizona. Best, Pearce and Dickinson had been classmates at the Naval Academy. (2&3) The burial for Lt. Pearce and a salute for the young officer. (4) Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) finds out that President Roosevelt wants him to take over the Pacific Fleet until the U.S. Navy sails into Tokyo Bay. The Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945.


EXTRAS Six featurettes are included on the 4K, Blu-ray and digital platforms with cast and crew interviews highlighting the production, the Men of Midway, the code breakers, the turning point legacy, and two survivors. Emmerich and his crew got permission from the U.S. Navy and filmed on the Pearl Harbor naval base, plus they built a near to scale replicate flight deck of the Enterprise on a soundstage in Montréal, Quebec. Most of the interiors were also built in Canada including the pilot’s ready room, the bridge, officers’ quarters, and the mess hall. “I felt at home in the Ready Room. It was my favorite with maps on the walls and silhouettes of Japanese aircraft,” says actor Luke Evans, who plays air wing commander Wade McClusky. They also got original schematics for a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber and the Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber, built as replicates with a wingspan of 52 feet. The planes were mounted onto giant gimbals to create flight experience for the actors. For Doolittle’s Raid, they actually got a real B-25 and placed it onto their flight deck.

The legacy featurette includes interviews from a number of military historians who detail the battle. Throughout most of the morning, the Japanese navy dominated knocking every U.S. torpedo bomber out of the sky. “Then at 10:22 a.m. it changed,” says Laura Orr of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Two squadrons of dive-bombers took aim on the Japanese carriers. Another featurette recounts the friendship between survivors Charles Monroe, Aviation Radioman First Class, and Ervin F. Wendt, Aviation Ordnanceman Senior Chief Petty Officer, who are met during the battle and are both still alive. Monroe recalls how the squadron had a Memorial service for the 15 crews lost that day. “There was an angel on my tail, because I had bullet holes all around me,” he says. “When the Zero’s came out of the sky, I prayed to God, get me out of this and I’ll go to church.” Every June the two men still meet in San Diego for the annual Midway reunion. Emmerich provides a straightforward commentary mostly describing what’s happening on screen. A historical track from one of the experts would’ve been a worthy addition.

· The U.S. Navy on the offense ·

(1) The pilot's Ready Room on the USS Enterprise. (2) February 1, 1942: The air wings from the USS Enterprise hits a Japanese airbase on the Marshall Islands. (3) Aviation Machinist's Mate, Third Class Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas) knocks out a damaged Japanese bomber aiming straight toward the Enterprise. (4) Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (Dennis Quaid) congratulates Third Class Gaido and says, "That's the bravest damn thing I think I've ever seen."


VIDEO Emmerich and cinematographer Robby Baumgartner used amazing high-resolution 8K digital cameras. Yet again, with over a 500-plus VFX shots, it was mastered in 2K to save time and money. The 4K has a slight uptick in overall sharpness to the HD version, which reveals a nice wash of post-production film grain to provide an old-school analog look. In the HD version the grain is not as visible. But with the 4K HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning, the highlight controls have been dialed too brightly creating the sunniest spots within each frame including explosive fireballs to be overexposed. It’s hard to imagine Baumgartner or Emmerich would approve. On my 4K-projector setup, I had to readjust my contrast setting from 60 to 50 to get the levels in the right range. This type of toning error has happened before and much worse in the 4K version of “The Meg” (2018) and Universal’s “King Kong.” The Blu-ray highlights are perfect and didn’t require any adjustment. The 4K shadows are still dark and detailed without any issues. The 4K color palette is natural and balanced especially during daylight scenes, while the opening in Tokyo and a later dancehall scene in Hawaii are bathed in warm, nostalgic tones. Overall it’s a pleasing cinematic experience once you adjust the contrast. AUDIO

From the booming bass response to the active height speakers with zooming aircraft, bullets, and explosions – this is one heck of a Dolby Atmos experience. From the front speakers to the surrounds and all around the room viewers are immersed in the action and soundstage. There is excellent musical placement especially during the slow, big band sound of “All Or Nothing At All” from Colombian singer Annie Trousseau, which Frank Sinatra made famous in 1943. For Emmerich and company, “Midway” is an honorable salute to the men who gave it all – Mission accomplished. — Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Doolittle · Homefront · Codebreakers

(1) Army Lt. Col James Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) is surrounded by Chinese nationalists after he and his crew ditched their B-25 after bombing Tokyo, April 1942, (2) Ann and Dick Best have a quiet moment before the Battle of Midway. (3) Admiral Nimitz visits the codebreaker's headquarters and meets cryptanalyst Joe Rochefort (Brennan Brown).


· Battle of Midway ·

(1&2) Lt. Commander Best and his squadron take aim on the four Japanese carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu) during the Battle of Midway. (3) Japanese anti-aircraft guns fire at the U.S. Navy aircraft, which 145 were lost during the battle. (3) Lt. Best hits the first of two carriers on June 4th.


· The Battle is Over ·

(1) Lt. Commander Dick Best and Lt. Clarence Dickinson embraces after their day-long of bombing. (2) A young Japanese officer wants to join his commander and go down with the carrier after it was badly damaged by the U.S. Navy. (3) Layton and Nimitz congratulate each other after the Battle of Midway.





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