14.11.19

WHY THE BRITISH INVENTED THE ANGLED FLIGHT DECK.

Given the attention I've paid to books about the 1942 Battle of Midway over the years, it's likely I'll have something to say about the recent movie based on that event.

First, though, a primer on the events of the battle.  It runs about 42 minutes, but it will clarify all the events of the 1976 movie, or the one that just hit theaters.


Yes, the U.S. Navy got better at combined carrier operations during the war: perhaps the first successful coordinated strike from a carrier wing was Yorktown's arriving over Soryu almost exactly as fragments of Enterprise's strike arrived over Kaga and Akagi.  What the animation will reveal is that the uncoordinated attacks coming from Midway and Hornet's and Enterprise's torpedo planes precluded the Japanese from flying anything other than combat air patrols.  That's why the British came up with the angled flight deck.  An aircraft carrier carries planes to keep other planes from attacking it, their Combat Air Patrol, and the angled deck provides space to service those planes (which, in the Japanese navy, sometimes lacked range and lots of ammunition) whilst a strike to service some other target can be set up forward.  Even if the Japanese had been able to get a strike together, by that time the planes that were going to sink the carriers were well in the air.

What about the movie itself?  Variety's Owen Gleiberman says, OK.
The film’s drama is B-movie basic, but the destructive colliding metal-on-metal inferno of what war is makes “Midway” a picture worth seeing.

As storytelling, however, it’s just okay (though it’s more streamlined than the cluttered, cliché-strewn 1976 version of “Midway”). It begins with the run-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor (and the attack itself), cutting back and forth between the Japanese military commanders and the Americans, including the one U.S. official who senses, from the late ’30s on, that the Japanese are plotting something — Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), a Naval attaché who becomes a U.S. intelligence officer, leading a team that assembles bits and pieces of intercepted Japanese radio messages. The film’s ardently objective portrayal of the Japanese may remind you, at times, of “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” the 1970 Hollywood version of the Pearl Harbor story that was made, in co-operation with the Japanese, almost as an act of diplomacy. “Midway” captures the essential hubris of Pearl Harbor: how Japan, in the dream of empire, sowed the seeds of its own destruction.
I'm not a fan of computer graphics taken to excess, the ships are bunched too closely, and in the final dive on Hiryu, it's either x-wing fighters from Tattooine or the combined combat air patrols of Hiryu, Soryu, Kaga, Akagi, Shokaku, Zuikaku, and Hosho filling the screen with blaster fire.  IGN's Kristy Puchko elaborates. "Green screen is used too much throughout Midway, from creating backdrops of Washington, D.C., and Pearl Harbor, to filling out the seas and skies with ships and planes. The flagrant flatness of this imagery scratches at our suspension of disbelief, even though we know these are real places and real events."

Moreover, the movie perpetuates the myth that Yamamoto Isoroku made that "sleeping giant" remark, a bit of diplomacy first introduced by Tora! Tora! Tora!; it leaves out Admiral Halsey's very real remark about the Japanese language only being spoken in hell, in a film financed by the Chinese no less, is likely going to create errors in future history books.  Indie Wire's David Ehrlich concurs.
It’s a shame, because this movie sometimes evinces a genuine respect for men on both sides of the fight, and for the courage required to die for a country whose faraway leaders will never make that sacrifice; “Midway” is nothing if not an aggressively basic reminder that America is only as strong as the people who are willing to protect it with their lives. Alas, those people deserve a far better tribute than what Emmerich has scraped together for them here.
Den of Geek's Don Kaye calls the picture "[director] Roland Emmerich's Latest Kamikaze Run;" and I stumbled across (but did not bookmark) another review that griped about premature introduction of kamikaze attacks in the War.  That's a complaint more properly directed at the 1976 movie, where much of the Coral Sea action that's in the full-length picture and generally edited out of television these days is actually Navy footage from later in the war, including kamikazes.  The two near-crashes on ships (a Japanese land bomber onto Enterprise off the Marshall Islands in February 1942, a torpedo-equipped Midway-based Army B-26 onto Akagi) shown in the current movie actually happened.

The reviews tend to concur on the actors who play the principals not capturing their roles well.  Henry Fonda or Woody Harrelson as Chester Nimitz?  Ill-fitting hairpiece or not, Mr Fonda was of the G.I. generation, complete to overindulged Baby Boomer daughter.  Robert Mitchum or Dennis Quaid as William Halsey?  Another G.I. actor, with plenty of other war picture credits, is going to carry the part off better, no matter how talented the current cast is.  Perhaps, though, that's part of the legacy of Total Victory, there are no contemporary thespians with any understanding of truly hard times.

One footnote to the story that's probably of interest only to econ geeks: Richard Best was chief of security at California's RAND Corporation after the War, where he might have been the first person in authority to twig to John Nash's schizophrenia.

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