Pacific Warfare Back On The Big Screen

Nova Clark

Holywood Remake Meets Predecessor “Midway”

The great thing about World War II films is that the stories never age.

In 1976, Jack Smight’s epic “Midway” depicted the 1942 battle in which the U.S. Navy resisted Japan’s efforts to invade the Pacific Ocean’s Midway Island — leading to a fiery battle at sea and in the air.

The film featured a brassy score by John Williams (“Jaws,” “Indiana Jones”), with scenes that cut between U.S. and Japanese points of view as the movie honed in on the strategies employed by each navy to get their ships to the island.

Like many other movies that depict historical events, “Midway” (1976) featured the obligatory love story on the side to provide the audience with a form of emotional attachment. In this case, it revolved around the fictional Captain Matt Garth (Charlton Heston) and his son, Tom (Edward Albert) dealing with Tom’s plans to marry a Japanese woman (Christina Kokubo).

On Nov. 8, a new “Midway” graced the silver screen. Bearing the same name, it holds a number of similarities and fresh differences.

The first aspect that was apparent upon viewing “Midway” (2019) was its focus on the camaraderie between the soldiers. It had its fair share of engaging war-based strategy scenes too, but its main focus highlighted the men who were in the midst of war.

Unlike its predecessor, the film focuses solely on real-life characters and dedicates much more time to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Ed Skrien portrayed the fearless Lt. Richard Best with effort put into his thick New Jersey accent, and did justice to an early emotional scene where troops are toasting to a departed friend in a local bar. 

Alongside Skrien, Woody Harrelson executes the role of Adm. Chester Nimitz with a calm and collected demeanor. Fleet Adm. William Halsey made appearances in both films too, with each iteration referencing the shingles he had picked up during the mission which led to his eventual (and reluctant) hospital stay for the duration of the battle.

Joe Jonas’ role as Bruno Gaido was carried with skill, and was reminiscent of Harry Styles’ appearance in the World War II drama “Dunkirk.” In each film, both actors shed their “boy band” reputations to prove their abilities for high-octane cinema.

When I first watched “Midway” (1976), the pacing, look and feel of the film struck me as comparable to war films that were released in the late ‘60s. Curiously, certain aspects of 2019’s “Midway” (such as its somewhat-dated visual effects and bluish color palette) felt more akin to blockbusters from the early 2010s.

Partway through the film, Richard and his wife Anne (Mandy Moore) go to a nightclub. The 1940s are authentically captured as, from the stage, a singer and a full band serenade the crowd with a classy rendition of the jazzy “All Or Nothing At All” while Anne questions some of Richard’s fellow officers as to why he doesn’t hold a higher rank. They explain the difficulties of following a man who doesn’t appear to mind risking his life; a concept that hasn’t occurred to her before.

Another highlight is Geoffrey Blake’s portrayal of movie director John Ford as he and his cameramen visit the scene to film his real-life documentary, “The Battle of Midway.” Although he gets injured in the process, he orders his cameraman to keep recording.

“Midway” (2019) does a detailed job conveying the high stakes that came with the flying and landing of planes on massive aircraft carriers and no longer has to rely on wartime stock footage like its predecessor did. In both films, fiery explosions and crashes claim the lives of several airmen in gruesome ways. In 1976’s “Midway,” this carnage was shocking but not overwhelming — a balance which its 2019 counterpart effectively mirrors.

For an updated take on the infamous battle’s action and fallout, be sure to catch “Midway” in a theater near you.