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Tora! Tora! Tora!: Special Edition

Tora! Tora! Tora! was apparently made under the assumption that the public has an endless fascination with planes taking off from aircraft carriers. Japanese Zeros, heading off for Pearl Harbor, slowly parade by, 14 in all over the course of three minnutes. But these are not sexy Top Gun-style shots of fighting units, all hard fuselage and steam glistening in the hot sun. These shots are in keeping with the noble effort of the movie: solemn, dull, plodding. An odd movie by any standard, 1970's Tora! Tora! Tora! was forged when an American film studio joined with a Japanese studio to co-create it. Akira Kurosawa was attached, but soon fired. The American portions were directed by Richard Fleischer. An old studio hand, Fleischer's footage here is indistinguishable from television work. More emphasis was placed on re-creating the attack than on concocting a clear screenplay, and the film methodically plods its way through the events leading up to the surprise attack on the morning of December 7th, 1941. The Japanese section of the fails to explain just what it was the Japanese were hoping to achieve by the attack. Meanwhile, the American portions are a slow chronicle of mistakes. There are no real characters, just a succession of historic figures who make their famous appearance. Martin Balsam, one of the screen's great actors, is Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet; Jason Robards is Lt. General Walter C. Short, Commander-in-Chief, Army Hawaii; and E. G. Marshall is the decoder who figured out that the Japanese were going to attack, but whose message arrived too late (all three are very good). But as a narrative, the film is all out of kilter. What should be brief scenes drag on for literally minutes, and when we need detail, we get bubkes. Very much a downbeat epic, even the Japanese, who "won" the encounter, don't seem to show much joy. Originally released on DVD in 1999, the updated Tora! Tora! Tora!: Special Edition comes with new extras, including a documentary and an audio commentary track. The solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) has only a few signs of wear, while audio is available in Dolby Digital 4.1, along with Dolby 2.0 Surround. There are two significant supplements. "Day of Infamy" is a 20-minute documentary of talking heads explaining the significance of Pearl Harbor and discounting any "conspiracy theories" related to Roosevelt's behavior or policies prior to the attack. The audio commentary consists of a film-long interview of director Richard Fleischer by Japanese film historian Stewart Galbraith, and Fleischer tells many of the same anecdotes and details he recounted in his memoir, Just Tell Me When to Cry. The commentary isn't particularly scene specific. Also here is the theatrical trailer, as well as THX certification. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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