Tora! Tora! Tora!

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Martin Balsam, So Yamamura
Extras: Theatrical Trailers

An article in a recent issue of "Entertainment Weekly" focused on cooperative cross-overs between major Hollywood studios. The piece discussed how this was becoming more common, but that most of the big players didn’t like sharing finances or credit.
Well, for a moment, imagine a film that unites not only two movie studios, but two nations. The 1970 film, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was a co-production between an American studio and Japanese filmmakers. These diverse parties converged to tell the ultimate story about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The film is considered a classic by many and is now making its way to DVD, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The film truly defines the term "co-production" as it tells the story of the events that lead to the bombing of Pearl Harbor from both sides. This is essentially two films that slowly intertwine to tell one story. The American forces are lead by Admiral Kimmel (Martin Balsam) and the Japanese are lead by Admiral Yamamoto (So Yamamura). We see the Japanese preparing for the attack — first discussing their reasons for the attack, then testing their bombers, and finally making their final plans. We also witness the activities of the American forces leading up to the bombing. Despite the fact that there have been warnings and tell-tale signs, the American’s refuse to believe that the Japanese would pull such a stunt or that Pearl Harbor itself is vulnerable. To this end, we see that Pearl Harbor is indeed vulnerable, and that a great deal of hardware (boats, planes, etc.) and manpower are all placed in a small area, that if destroyed, could deal quite a blow to the U.S. forces.

What makes this film work is that the audience knows that Pearl Harbor is going to be bombed successfully by the Japanese forces. (And if they didn’t know that, shame on them.) This creates a great deal of tension in the film. The film is long – almost three hours – and most of that time is spent showing the Japanese preparing for the bombing and the U.S. forces doing nothing about it. The build-up is slow and meticulous, but it makes the film very entertaining.

The work of American director Richard Fleischer (who made "Fantastic Voyage" and then ended up making crap like "Amityville 3-D") and Japanese directors Kinji Fukasaku & Toshio Masuda blend almost seamlessly in the telling of the story. If this were fiction and we weren’t sure if the mission was going to be a success or not, it would be a different movie. As it stands, you find yourself rolling your eyes at the short sightedness of the U.S. commanders and yelling things like "They’re coming! Move your planes!" at the screen. (It’s scary how similar that sensation is to yelling "He’s behind you! Get the knife! You know he’s not dead!" while watching "Halloween.")

The other great thing about the film is it’s dedication to authenticity. As I said, the film takes its time in telling the story and it doesn’t leave out many of the historical facts. The battle scenes in the film are also very well-staged, obviously taking much time and planning, especially considering the antique weapons which are being used. Also, the film doesn’t try to shade or hide anything. The film openly shows that the U.S. forces were not prepared for the attack. It also portrays the reasons that the Japanese planned the attack in the first place, dealing with issues like traditions in battle and their fears about the changes taking place around the world.

The film does an excellent job of balancing the story. While the Japanese are condemned for their attack, the bravery of the Kamikaze pilots and the cunning of the strategists are portrayed well. Also, while the Americans come off looking somewhat ill-prepared, we do get to see those who sensed something was going to happen and tried to do something about it. The Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presentation of "Tora! Tora! Tora!" on DVD is quite spectacular. The film has been digitally remastered and is <$THX,THX> approved.

All of this work definitely shows in the final product. The film is <$PS,letterboxed> at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, that is <$16x9,16x9 enhanced>. The film appears to accurately framed, as it was filmed in <$16x9,anamorphic> Panavision — there is certainly no warping of the frame to indicate faulting letterboxing. The picture is very clear and little to no faults in the source material are visible, nor is there any artifacting.

True, the film looks like a movie that was shot thirty years ago — it lacks the crispness of more modern films — but that is unavoidable. However, this doesn’t detract from the viewing experience. The film has been nicely color balanced. There is a lot of grey (boats, planes) and beige (uniforms) in the film, so the splashes of color (the insignia on the Japanese planes) stand out. The digitally remastered audio on "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 4.1 surround. The audio is very good, especially during the battle sequences. The sound of the propeller driven planes flying from side-to-side and then behind the viewer creates a unique sonic experience. However, I did notice that during some of the scenes that involved only dialogue, there was little action from the rear speakers.

The only extras included on the DVD of "Tora! Tora! Tora!" are theatrical trailers for "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and two other war related films. The trailer for "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is presented full-frame and must run for at least three minutes (there was no counter on the display). There is also a trailer for the George C. Scott classic "Patton," which is presented <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The final trailer is for "The Longest Day," the 1962 dramatization of the D-Day invasion, which many feel inspired "Saving Private Ryan". It is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

As someone who typically has no patience with war movies, I was pleasantly surprised by "Tora! Tora! Tora!" Despite the length of the film, it held my interest and although I was fairly certain that I knew how it ended – somewhatsimilar to watching "Titanic" – I was glued to the story in fascination. The DVD presentation of this film is top-notch and should impress long-time fans of the film. For newcomers like me, this is a good example of big-time, cross-continent filmmaking.