In the fall of 1976, my dad and I went to see “Midway,” starring Charlton Heston, at the Ritz Theater in Denison.
We saw it in November, even though the film had been released in June. That was back when films spent a lot more time in theaters and then disappeared, except for the occasional television broadcast.
I was 12 years old, but I had read a lot about the Battle of Midway and I remember looking forward to the film.
The 1970s saw a lot of war movies about the good guys losing, such as “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” in which the U.S. Navy is destroyed at Pearl Harbor or “A Bridge Too Far,” in which the World War II allied forces fail spectacularly in Operation Market Garden.
Both films were box office disappointments. They might have considered trying to tell a story someone wanted to watch.
Midway had all the ingredients to be the antidote to those films.
The battle was a true turning point in World War II in the Pacific. The United States was on defense most of the time prior to the battle – and on offense for just about everything after.
Everybody and his dog was in the 1976 film: Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, Dabney Coleman and even Erik Estrada.
The producers apparently blew all their money on the cast.
The film was terrible and barely told the story of the battle, though it was one of the more profitable movies of 1976.
Heston, as always, had a commanding presence on the screen, but the rest of the film didn’t do much to support him.
The battle scenes consisted mostly of reused shots from other films interspersed with lots of authentic gun-camera footage.
One United States aircraft carrier, of the wrong type, was used for the American carriers and for most of the shots of the Japanese carriers.
The battle scenes were so disjointed that it was hard to get very excited about anything on the screen.
A good chunk of the movie was also eaten up by an uninteresting love story, which I definitely didn’t want to watch when I was 12.
I watched it again this spring and was not at all surprised to find the film, and the love story, to be just as bland as I remembered.
My expectations were not terribly high for the new “Midway” film that was released over the Veterans Day weekend.
The film was written by Roland Emmerich, who has made some watchable blockbusters in his career – and has also made some of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I’ll leave you to Google his name to see if you agree.
I decided to go see Midway in Carroll on opening weekend.
I asked my dad if he wanted to go, but he declined after I told him the names of some of the other films Emmerich had directed. Dad had also seen some bad reviews of Midway.
I went, hoping for the best.
On Veterans Day weekend, the theater was perhaps two-thirds full.
I was one of the younger people in the audience.
And – the movie surprised me.
Emmerich managed to restrain his more excessive Hollywood impulses and turned in a film that tells a fairly tight story of pilots aboard the USS Enterprise and the Naval Intelligence officers who figure out where the U.S. fleet needs to go to surprise the vastly superior Imperial Japanese Navy.
Where the 1976 film squandered its budget on big names, the new film put its entire budget up on the screen.
This version of Midway takes the audience from Pearl Harbor, through the first offensive attacks of the war and to the Battle of Midway, which hinged on dive bombers making nearly-vertical attacks through a barrage of antiaircraft fire.
The final battles are everything I wanted from the 1976 film.
The filmmakers got most of the details right for that period of the war. You would never know that the only existing Yorktown class aircraft carriers today lie at the bottom of the ocean.
I had hoped the Doolittle Raid would be a bigger part of the film, but it only takes up a few minutes of the runtime. Vail native William Dieter was killed on that raid, which was launched from a Navy aircraft carrier.
Someone else will have to tell that story.
The new Midway film is playing at Crawford County Cinema 4 this week, so I took my dad on Saturday – and I think he was surprised by how much he enjoyed it.
I have no idea how long it has been since I saw a movie twice in the theater, but I enjoyed it almost as much the second time.
There are a few things to nitpick about the film, but most are things that they left out – not anything that makes it less enjoyable in the moment.
If you’re looking for a character drama, this isn’t it. If you want a mostly-true movie about a handful of guys who made the best of a chance to change the course of a war, you might enjoy “Midway.”