A great, epic-feeling film which carefully traces the build up to one of the most famous events in the history of war: the surprise attack by the Japanese on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Forget PEARL HARBOR, TORA! TORA! TORA! is the real deal, a definitive retelling which makes all other versions of the story completely obsolete.Be warned: this is a real slow-burner of a film, with lots of politics and bureaucracy and stuffy guys in suits chatting together in rooms. It's worth persevering with, though, because the pay-off, when it happens in the final hour, is well worth the wait. You can see why this film was so expensive to make, because much of the attack is done for real, with real planes throughout and real stuff blowing up. Even the use of miniatures is unobtrusive when it does happen.To be fair, the cast don't have a great deal to work with: it's one of those ensemble productions where there are a few too many characters and none of them have time to make much of an impact. So if you're a fan of Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten et al, don't go into this expecting to see much of their work. In fact, the Japanese actors feel like they're the ones giving more naturalistic performances throughout as they get a chance to be more emotive.I especially like the way that the film slowly reveals a catalogue of errors on the part of the Americans, as the viewer gradually becomes aware that the attack wouldn't have been quite so unexpected had earlier signs and warnings been heeded. Altogether it's a great movie, one that rewards close attention with a fantastic pay-off.
In pure movie terms, this film is pretty light. As a historical drama it is almost perfect. Based on Gordon Prange's book of the same name, the film draws on Prange's 30 years of official USN research to draw some interesting and thought-provoking questions about the mistakes made by both sides in the lead up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.For the history buffs it even raises some questions which are not part of most people's understanding of how and why it happened the way it did. For the general public it puts all the basic points of the attack into one neat, interesting package. Some characters have been combined and events changed slightly to aid production but nothing of any real significance is altered.The Japanese sequences were originally intended to be directed by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa but when the producers realised that those parts alone made up four hours of screen time, the trouble started and Kurosawa was replaced. The acting is solid but unremarkable, as one would expect from a film of this type.The battle sequences are, for the most part, beautifully done. The producers spent cubic dollars converting old trainers to look like Japanese fighter and attack aircraft and succeeded brilliantly. Only the real oficianados can tell them apart. The flying is fantastic and it looks brilliant against the Hawaiian scenery.About the only thing missing, and probably a salient reason for its lack of real commercial penetration, was the lack of a love angle.By contrast, it is amazing to me that "Pearl Harbor", made some 30 years later, was so bad in comparison. Had the producers actually watched this film before making such a turkey, they might have actually learned something. "Tora, Tora, Tora!" is a film which could be shown to any history class with few concerns as to its authenticity. "Pearl Harbor" should never be shown again.Considering the amount of information which had to be conveyed in such a small amount of screen time, "Tora, Tora, Tora!" is remarkably successful.
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