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Midway [WS] [DVD] [1976]

Release Date:10/30/2001
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Midway has aged somewhat better than anyone could have anticipated when it was released in 1976. Charlton Heston, the movie's nominal star, can say anything he wishes, but the movie seemed to take mostly wrong turns at the time of its release, injecting superficial fictional personal stories (centered on Heston's character) where none were needed, and only the superbly staged battle scenes (enhanced by "Sensurround") made it worth the two hours and change it demanded -- Heston, Henry Fonda, Hal Holbrook, Glenn Ford, Robert Webber, James Coburn, Toshiro Mifune, and others were mostly wasted, uttering predictable dialogue and stock characterizations. Indeed, some of the supporting players, including Kevin Dobson and Erik Estrada, fare better with their few lines than Heston and Fonda do as the stars. The movie still seems like a mess, but, as we've seen from pictures such as Pearl Harbor, not nearly as much of a mess as more recent and ambitious films have made of World War II history. The Universal DVD reissue of Midway supplants the old Goodtimes edition in every respect. Not only does it offer a better transfer of the movie, but a ton of supplementary materials. The producers have tried to give us all of the additional footage that has become familiar from television showings of the movie, but in this regard they've come up short; the scenes involving Charlton Heston and Susan Sullivan, portraying his love interest, are appended to the movie rather than integrated with it, and there is no sign of the footage depicting the battle of the Coral Sea, which figures into the first quarter of the film obliquely and was depicted in the television version of the film. "The Making of Midway," running 36 minutes, begins with the recollections of Charlton Heston about the actual period, and offers producer Walter Mirisch giving a history lesson -- it's the sort of thing that the History Channel does better, with less padding from the movie itself. Director Jack Smight recalled how his successful direction of Airport 1975 led to the assignment to do Midway, whose biggest challenge, apart from stage managing the reenactment of a battle involving thousands of men and dozens of ships, was matching the Navy's archival footage with newly shot material. Astonishingly, the assembly of stock footage, done by editor Frank Urioste, cost 60,000 dollars, extraordinarily high for second unit material, but impressive to the executives at Universal when they saw that they were getting air and sea battles that would have cost millions to film in a studio, assuming that this could be done. The movie started life as a documentary, and it was only midway through pre-production that it became a dramatic blockbuster and required star power, hence the involvement of Heston, Fonda, Mitchum, and others. The only dubious moment is when the makers explain their decision to kill off the Charlton Heston character, taking bows for their "honesty" in killing off a character in which the audience is "invested." The Heston character, however, is so sketchily and superficially depicted, that it's hard to believe that audience members cared one way or the other. "The Score of Midway" includes a good interview with composer John Williams, recalling his career from the first half of the 1970s. This was, in fairness, not one of his better scores, even from the era, inspired only in a handful of places, but Williams, Smight, and Mirisch give a good account of the fine points of the score. The documentary "They Were There" was a 1976 promotional film hosted by Charlton Heston in which he interviewed the real-life aircraft squadron commander Max Leslie and intelligence officer Joseph Rochefort, and the real-life George Gay, whose plane was shot down in the first attack on the Japanese carriers -- he recalls being stranded in the water, surrounded by Japanese carriers that were soon on fire. Unfortunately, the short doesn't last nearly long enough to satisfy one's interest in the actual battle, but it is handy to have, and it's nice that someone thought to shoot it at the time. The DVD opens automatically to the main menu, which, in turn, opens to a simple two-part menu presenting the bonus selections.


Original featurette

Documentary featuring new interviews with producer Walter Mirisch, director Jack Smight, editor Frank J. Urioste, and Charlton Heston

Featurette on composer John Williams

Featurette on Sensurround Sound

Production photographs and portraits with score by John Williams

Additional scenes exclusively shot for the network television version

Theatrical trailer

Production notes

Cast and filmmakers