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Tora! Tora! Tora! - A Balanced Look at Pearl Harbor

Following up on my Cornelius Ryan film adaptation kick, I watch another "docudrama" war movie, 1970's Tora! Tora! Tora!.

I remember watching this on broadcast TV at some point, but I didn't remember how really good it was.  It's interesting to go on imdb.com and read about all the "goofs" that were largely using the wrong pieces of equipment.  This was common in the pre-CGI age, where one had to made do with substitutes for rare or non-existent weapons, aircraft, ships and vehicles.

Tora! Tora! Tora! does this a lot, because there's no other way to make the movie.  The Japanese Navy was wiped out, and not a single flying example of Japanese combat aircraft survived the war.  Obviously, substitutes had to be contrived.

Similarly the US Navy didn't simply preserve the fleet under glass (to say nothing of ships sunk during the course of the war), so more modern vessels had to be used.  Even the locations are oddly called "goofs" because - get this - some had visible monuments erected after the war.

All of which to say is that other than the props and sets - which are as good as they could be - the film is really well done.  It's a very rare thing - a big movie without a cast of big stars.  If the Cornelius Ryan movies had all-star casts, Tora! Tora! Tora! had an almost no-star cast, with the bulk of it made up of character actors playing specific roles.  No Robert Redford leading a river assault or John Wayne commanding paratroopers from a garden cart.

For those who don't know, this movie is really two films in one - it shows both sides of the Pearl Harbor attack from both points of view, and does this using two completely separate film crews.  The American portion is made with American actors and the Japanese scenes are filmed in Japanese by Japanese.  It's very effective, and Japanese portions reflect the power struggle within Japan, something not usually brought into the discussion.

The Pacific War doesn't get much attention these days because everyone want to fantasize about fighting Nazis, but it was a major theater of war, and well worth studying.  Given all the garbage movies that came out (including the unwatchable Pearl Harbor), it's worth going back and watching an overlooked classic.




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The more recent film "Midway" uses CGI to create accurate aircraft and naval vessels. It was partially funded with Chinese money so the Chinese also make an appearance in the Doolittle raid which adds to making the film a little too long. It is a great advance, accuracy wise, however over the "Midway" filmed in the 70s. In one scene, a wildcat is set on fire and the pilot pulls out a fairly large fire extinguisher from under his seat to put out the fire.

A.H. Lloyd

I thought they used the wrong kind of aircraft in one instance, which is a pretty big goof.

The older movies may have the wrong weapons, but they are better films. New movies are all pretty pictures but have no heart in them.

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