Color, 1976, 131 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by Jack Smight
Starring Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, Pat Morita, James Shigeta, Robert Ito, Edward Albert, Robert Webber
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Koch Media (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.3 5:1) (16:9)
Color, 1977, 129 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Starring Gregory Peck, Ed Flanders, Marj Dusay, Dan O'Herlihy, Nicolas Coster
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
After jumping into the disaster movie fray with Earthquake and the Airport films, Universal was one of the heaviest players in Hollywood in the mid-'70s. That status increased with the game-changing summer blockbuster Jaws in 1975, so the question remained what kind of event movies would come next. Audiences soon found out in 1976 as Universal tried to continue the vogue for spectacular World War II films that had reached its apex at the turn of the decade with Patton, Kelly's Heroes, and Tora! Tora! Tora! Still enthusiastically embracing its Sensurround sound format (which rattled audiences' teeth with subwoofer action) after unveiling it with Earthquake, Universal decided the next wall-shaking film would be Midway, a star-studded WWII combat film from super producer Walter Mirisch. Sensurround wouldn't make it past the decade's end, but along with the subsequent Rollercoaster, it gets a fun workout here during the big attack scenes while delivering the celebrity-heavy wattage audiences expected at the time from films with little boxes of stars' faces all over the posters. The film has also become legendary for its heavy amount of stock footage (particularly the majority of the climax), which essentially makes this the combat movie equivalent of The Prey.
A straightforward dramatization of the 1942 Battle of Midway, the film essentially operates as a countdown to potential disaster when Japanese forces plot a scheme to lure a major American fleet into a trap after a sudden bombing over Tokyo. More or less the protagonist here is Captain Matthew Garth (Heston), who juggles the personal crisis of his son, Tom (Albert), and his interned Japanese-American wife, while trying to crack the code to communications about the impending attack. Meanwhile Admiral Nimitz (Fonda) prepares his carriers for a counterattack, believing he knows when the strike will occur. Soon land and air alike are ablaze in what will become a pivotal moment in turning the tide of the war.
Though based on the same events as the CGI-laden 2017 Roland Emmerich film of the same name, this one tells a completely different story and relies on sheer practical spectacle (including that aforementioned footage, some borrowed from very recognizable sources like The Battle of Britain and Tora! Tora! Tora!). The pleasures here really lie in seeing such a stacked cast rubbing shoulders together, some in glorified cameos, along with a rousing John Williams score that's arguably the strongest aspect of the film. In typical fashion for Universal throughout the decade, the film was heavily repurposed for network television into a two-night event with loads of additional scenes added to fill out the running time. Though hardly as extreme as the overhauls given to other titles like Two-Minute Warning or Bloodline, it's definitely worth seeing both for comparison and a companion to other TV-augmented titles from the studio like Earthquake, the '70s Airport films, Eye of the Cat, and so on. The film also proved successful enough for The Mirisch Corporation to stick around with Universal a bit longer for films like Same Time, Next Year and Dracula.
Readily available on home video in its standard theatrical version since the 1980s, Midway first appeared on DVD in 1998 from Image Entertainment as part of its early (and legally contentious) wave of catalog Universal titles. Featuring an okay anamorphic transfer and the 1.0 mono theatrical mix, it was replaced soon after in 2001 by Universal itself with a release that upped the ante with a couple of solid featurettes, "The Making of Midway" (38m58s) featuring new interviews with Heston, Mirisch, Smight, and editor Frank J. Urioste, and "Sensurround: The Sounds of Midway" (4m19s) with Williams and the other prior participants. Williams also turns up for "The Score of Midway" (6m24s) looking strictly at the music itself. A Blu-ray in 2013 ported over the extras and featured a respectable HD upgrade that does what it can with the inconsistent nature of the patchwork material itself.
In 2021, Indicator considerably expanded the presentation of the film with a deluxe Blu-ray edition featuring the same solid HD scan, the 1.0 mono and 2.1 Sensurround audio tracks with improved optional English subtitles, and the two preexisting featurettes. A big new bonus here is the entire TV version in two parts as originally aired (100m52s and 91m55s), which plays different right from the outset with a lot more Toshiro Mifune, more Heston domestic drama, the overdubbing of some minor curse words, commercial break points, etc. Great to have all around at last. The war movie commentary power duo of Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin are back in action here with another thorough and insightful analysis of the film with loads of historical info about the film and the real battle, as well as ID-ing all the recycled footage (including Thirty Second over Tokyo right over the main titles) and covering the theatrical release among other '70s WWII epics. Another audio option for the theatrical cut is 1983's "The Guardian Interview with Robert Wagner," which spends 71 minutes with the actor chatting with Joan Bakewell at London's National Film Theatre about his life and career. The Heston-hosted "They Were There!" (6m14s) is a promotional featurette for the film featuring some brief interviews with real men who served during the titular battle, and keeping with Indicator's welcome tradition of including Super 8 versions prepared for home use at the time, you get the original one here (17m55s) in all its original scruffy glory. 1942's The Battle of Midway (18m11s) is a great and very ambitious Technicolor short documentary by John Ford using real coverage of the conflict shot by Navy cameramen, with Fonda himself here popping up as one of the narrators. Though pulled from a somewhat scratched source, it looks great here with extremely vivid color. The prior featurettes are mostly ported over (dropping the score one presumably for music clearance issues), and finally the disc closes out with the theatrical trailer (why won't Universal spring for new masters of these instead of the ancient '80s SD eyesores we've been stuck with since the laserdisc days?), four TV spots, and a hefty 6m22s batch of radio spots, and a gallery of 83 photos and promotional items. As usual, the limited 3,000-unit edition comes with an insert booklet, here featuring 36 pages with a new essay by Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall, vintage articles on the film and battle itself, and sample critical responses.
A year later, Universal returned to World War II with another epic, MacArthur, which changes tactics here by focusing on one big star instead of lots of celebrities. What we get here is virtually a one-man showcase for Gregory Peck in MacArthur, a return to the big screen for TV-friendly director Joseph Sargent after his classic 1974 crime film, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. This biopic charts the most famous period in the life of the legendary General Douglas MacArthur under two Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt (Halloween III: Season of the Witch's O'Herlihy) and Harry S. Truman (Salem's Lot's Flanders), framed through memories experienced later in life as he delivers a commencement speech to West Point military cadets. From there we jump to the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, where MacArthur gradually led the U.S. to military victory in the Pacific and played a decisive role in the end of the war. From there we go to the Korean War where his contentious relationship with Truman led to a major shift in his fortunes.
The idea of Peck playing MacArthur had been floating around at least since 1973, with the actor's appearance obviously drawing comparisons in the minds of those for whom the real figure was still fresh. The actor's star quality makes all the difference here as he anchors a film that would otherwise have smacked of a made-for-TV miniseries, and though the film was given a somewhat lukewarm reception upon its release, the subsequent spectacle of Laurence Olivier tackling the role in 1981's notorious Inchon certainly showed how far south things could have gone. Presumably chosen for his indelible work on Patton, composer Jerry Goldsmith came aboard here to provide the sparse but effective military-style score (and weirdly enough would provide a far more acclaimed and reissued score for Inchon, too).
Far less dependent on preexisting footage than Midway but shot on a smaller scale on the studio lot, MacArthur has followed a similar trajectory on home video including a Universal DVD in 2004 and a Blu-ray in 2017. In 2021, Indicator gave it a greatly expanded Blu-ray edition with tons of extras that give a lot more context to both the real events and the film's production. The HD presentation prepared by the studio at the time looked pretty solid given the film's intentionally earthy and sometimes diffused appearance, so that's what you get here as well. The original LPCM English mono audio is the default here (with optional improved English SDH subtitles), but you also get a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that works nicely with Goldsmith's score spread out to the other channels effectively enough. Mitchell and Rubin return for another thorough, well-researched commentary tackling the long period of mounting the film with considerable effort put into the screenplay through multiple hands, as well as the challenges of telling the story for younger generations who might not have the personal connection of those around at the time. Also present here is MacArthur: The Rebel General (128m57s), an alternate cut released on U.K. home video that swaps out some footage with the most notable addition being to the negotiations with Japan to end World War II. "General Disposition" (4m13s) is a brief 2004 video interview with Sargent about his time working with Peck, and the trailer is here from its usual SD source. The real MacArthur is featured in no less than six vintage newsreels: 1942's A Tribute to MacArthur (2m41s) and MacArthur in Australia (50s), 1944's MacArthur Returns to Philippines (4m39s), 1951's MacArthur Steps Down (2m3s) and MacArthur Addresses Congress (5m25s), and 1955's MacArthur Honored on 75th Birthday (38s). Also included are four radio spots, a generous stills and promo art gallery, and an insert booklet with a new essay by Robert Matzen, press articles on the film and real-life events, and sample critical reactions.
Reviewed on November 7, 2021