Monday, 10 August 2015

Midway (1976)

Imagine you and someone else are each given a machete.  Then you are both locked in a pitch dark room and told you can't leave until one of you is dead.  Whatever nutcase is running this game then randomly lights up small sections of the room for brief periods of time.  If you happen to be looking in the right direction, you might learn something.  If you happen to be in the wrong place, you may be fatally exposed.

That's obviously not an exact analogy for the nature of naval engagements in the Second World War, but I think it gives some idea of the atmosphere.  Two forces with the capability to devastate each other, each dangerously vulnerable at the same time, desperately groping to find the other before their own location can be exposed.  A single moment of luck - good or bad - could decide the engagement.

This film does an admirable job of establishing the stress and strain of warfare under these circumstances: knowing that every order to launch your planes, or to change their armament, could be the key to victory -- or the cause of your death.  I've seen some accusations that the film is 'slow', and it certainly doesn't have much in the way of whizz bang action to it, but I think that's a very deliberate and sensible decision.  Frenetic action scenes would alleviate the tension the film is attempting to create.

The historical Battle of Midway came about due to the Japanese desire to cripple the US Navy's carrier force.  The location of the conflict was not of itself of any intrinsic importance to the Japanese war effort; it was simply somewhere they believed (correctly) that the US would feel compelled to defend.  The movie depicts the ensuing engagement pretty faithfully - or at least faithfully to how it was understood at the time of the film's production.  Some of these ideas have been challenged in the past decade or so.  Still, you're not going to see a U-571 or Bruckheimer-esque Pearl Harbor here.  Thumbs up for that.

For my tastes Charlton Heston looked a mite too smug in all his scenes, but other than that I found Midway a solid account of an important engagement in WW2.  If you have an interest in history - particularly those times where small things have large impacts - then you should check it out.

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