- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Director Roland Emmerich’s ambitious World War II biographical drama bombed at the box office but explodes on ultra-high definition for home theater viewers to witness arguably the most important naval battle in American history in Midway (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 138 minutes, $42.99).

The movie covers roughly the six months leading up to the massive sea engagement, including the Pearl Harbor attack, and then chronicles the massive confrontation as an undermanned U.S. Navy met and defeated an overwhelming force of Japanese ships and planes around the Midway Islands on June 4, 1942.

Imbuing the spirit of such big-budgeted, celebrity-fueled war dramas as “Tora! Tora! Tora!” “The Longest Day” and even the 1976 version of the “Midway” battle, the epic stars Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester W. Nimitz (commander-in-chief of the Pacific fleet), Dennis Quaid as Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, Patrick Wilson as intelligence officer Lt. Cmdr. Edwin T. Layton, Aaron Eckhart as Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, Etsushi Toyokawa as Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto and Ed Skrein as pivotal pilot Lt. Richard “Dick” Best.

Thankfully, it avoids any romantic subplots as seen in Michael Bay’s insipid “Pearl Harbor” from 2001 and instead focuses on the heroism of the moment, special effects-overloaded action during the stunning aerial dogfights and the fiery demise of aircraft carriers.

The subplot that was most appreciated explored the U.S. intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor and how codebreakers such as Lt. Cmdr. Layton and Chief Cryptanalyst Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown) obsessively and successfully cracked the Japanese communication code that ultimately led to the country’s loss at Midway.

Overall, “Midway” does not break any new ground in war dramas, neither visually nor narratively, but it still offers a potent history lesson tied to one of the world’s deadliest conflicts.

4K in action: Despite being shot on resolution-popping 8K digital cameras, viewers only get a 4K upscale from the 2K digital master format.

Normally, that’s often more than enough to deliver an impressive visual experience with high dynamic range tweaks, except I saw an unnecessary amount of grain throughout and whites that were so bright that it washed out some of the imagery such as sailor suits on a sunny day.

These, what I assume were, stylized creative choices were not needed, and I would have appreciated watching battle scenes in the sharpest and most lifelike picture quality as possible without all of the enhanced visual noise.

Still, a harrowing scene of men hanging on ropes between exploding ships above a sea of burning oil is so immersive, I could practically feel the heat.

Or, epic moments of Japanese aircraft carriers meeting their explosive and fiery demise from a squadron of American dive bombers has flames that practically shoot from the television screen.

Complementing the intense action is an aurally encompassing Dolby Atmos soundtrack that captures every whizzing bullet and whoosh of a midair dogfight, every bomb’s room-shaking conclusion when dropped onto the deck of an aircraft carrier and every pounding wave of an often-angry ocean.

Best extras: Lionsgate intelligently offers all of the bonus content on the 4K disc, starting with an optional solo commentary track with Mr. Emmerich.

Although I appreciate his effort that offers plenty of production information and background on locations and effects, he sounds unsure of the Navy historical particulars and also oddly narrates the obvious onscreen action.

I suggest jumping to the ending credits before starting the commentary and then restart to put his awkwardness in perspective.

Specifically, Mr. Emmerich readily admits that he does not like doing commentary tracks and always feels like an idiot in the process.

Still, he seemed very sincere throughout, thanking everyone for watching and listening and even mentioning that he beefed up the visuals in the end credits to keep audiences interested.

However, the commentary track would have greatly benefited from any educational perspective delivered from either screenwriter Wes Tooke or maybe a Midway history expert.

Next, six featurettes begin with 15 minutes of promotional fodder as cast and crew discuss paying respect to the events and characters stressing the importance of maintaining authenticity.

They also praise Mr. Emmerich and touch on constructing part of an aircraft carrier in a sound stage that included full-size replicas of aircraft that no longer exist.

Also, viewers get a 13-minute featurette heaping praise on the cast followed by a quick look at Mr. Emmerich 20-year odyssey to bring the project to life as he figured out the financing for creating one of the most expensive independent movies ever created

After the deluge of back-patting, viewers will welcome a too-brief, yet informative, 15-minute educational lesson with about a half dozen authors and historians explaining why Midway was the turning point in the War in the Pacific.

They cover the importance of the American military strategies as well as its code-breaking and the Japanese military’s mentality and even a terrifying lesson in dive-bombing.

Historians also offer another 6 minutes of the importance of obsessed, eccentric cryptologist Joe Rochefort and his skill sets on breaking the Japanese code that ultimately helped win the battle Midway.

However, the most important extra presents a 10-minute interview with a pair of combat veterans who were part of the Battle of Midway — Charles Monroe and Ervin Wendt.

They are a sobering reminder that actual men fought and died in World War II, and they were not part of computer-generated effects. These were real American heroes who help free a world of unimaginable evil.

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