Tora! Tora! Tora! On DVD
While Pearl Harbor producer Jerry Bruckheimer was in film school and director Michael Bay was in training pants, 20th Century Fox mounted this epic depiction of the day that will live in infamy: December 7, 1941. What makes this telling unique is that the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor are simultaneously presented from both the American and Japanese perspectives. Indeed, the two sides were shot as separate movies—with the Japanese story originally to have been directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa—then edited to create the final product.
Due to this linear storytelling and adherence to the facts, Tora! Tora! Tora! unfolds in almost documentary style. In doing so, it reveals the motives and reservations of the Land of the Rising Sun, the arrogance of the US military, and the string of American blunders and miscues that led to our ill-preparedness on that fateful day. The viewer is left with a greater understanding and appreciation of the tragedy—one that didn't have to occur.
The movie is not without drama though. While Tora! Tora! Tora!never attempts to tell a human story like many of its successors, there's drama inherent in the events themselves. The final third of the movie, containing the attack, is presented in a "you are there" style, and you can't help but feel overwhelmed by the scale of Japan's raid. Give credit to the visual effects team, which used a mere 30 American trainers posing as Japanese Zeros, Vals, and Kates to create the illusion of a much larger armada. Bruckheimer and Bay had their work cut out for them to top it, computer-generated images or no.
Fox has opportunistically reissued the DVD, adding slick new menus (still static, though) and a new subtitle, The Attack on Pearl Harbor. Also included are a handful of extras, notably a commentary track by director Fleischer and Stewart Galbraith, an expert on Japanese film. The track is informative, as the two spend much of their time talking about the challenges of combining "two" movies shot half a world apart into one. Also included is a 20-minute documentary about the attack, in which pundits explain why it occurred from both practical and historical perspectives.
As for the disc itself, Tora! Tora! Tora! retains the same THX-approved transfer from the 1999 release, and it is adequate, if not reference quality. The colors appear to be accurate, but the picture is soft overall, and even looks a bit washed-out at times. It's about what you'd expect from a 30-year-old film.
The audio is a little disappointing, too. Instead of going the extra mile and endowing this new release with a 5.1-channel soundtrack, maybe even a DTS track, Fox chose to carry over the same 4.1-channel sound. It sounds okay when Zeros are flying from front to rear, but the extra channel would have paid dividends in many of the flying scenes, which comprise a good chunk of the film. Oh well, let's be grateful for what we do get.
While Pearl Harbor's $145 million budget—the largest budget ever actually approved by a studio—yielded eye-popping special effects, you should turn to this earlier version of the event if you want the facts unencumbered by melodrama.