Midway 4K Ultra HD
Here's our review of Roland Emmerich's historical drama Midway, out now on 4K UHD!
The pivotal World War II battle at Midway - and the events leading up to it - are dramatized in this film from Roland Emmerich (Independence Day). Stars Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Dennis Quaid, and Woody Harrelson. Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Upon seeing trailers and promotion for Midway prior to its opening, I was afraid we were getting another film in the vein of Pearl Harbor, which was criticized for its fictionalized, soap-opera approach to pivotal events in American history. Thankfully, director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter Wes Tooke gave Midway the proper treatment.
Midway is a faithful recounting of the events surrounding the Battle of Midway, including the Pearl Harbor attack (which opens the film) and Jimmy Doolittle’s bombing run on Tokyo. It isn’t a perfect film, and the film’s smaller budget does hold back what could have been the definitive retelling of the battle. For anyone even remotely interested in World War II, however, this is an entertaining look at a battle that is often overlooked in the grand scope of the war.
Emmerich mentions in the audio commentary that he had tried to make a film about Midway since the 1990s, but the studio he worked for at the time (Sony) had Japanese owners, who were not keen on spending over $100 million on a film about a battle their country lost.
Perhaps the passage of time helped Emmerich sharpen the focus of his vision for the film, because he tells the story through the actions of the real-life heroes, from bomber pilot Dick Best (Ed Skrein) to Naval Intelligence Officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) to Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson). Dennis Quaid appears as Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey and Aaron Eckhart portrays Jimmy Doolittle, rounding out a cast that bring gravitas to their roles.
Wilson brings his usual earnestness to the role of Layton, who feels personally responsible for failing to warn the American military. Quaid, however, is outstanding as Bull Halsey, with a performance that chews up the scenery in all the right ways. Tooke’s screenplay sometimes delivers stiff dialogue, but the performances elevate the material. There’s some old Hollywood melodrama here, which in this context, isn’t a bad thing.
You have to give credit to Midway for keeping its focus on the facts, while trying to give a complete picture of the events. You’ll have to listen closely to pick up some of the details, as there isn’t a lot of explanation in the exposition and Emmerich keeps the plot moving quickly. The bonus features, which include some background into the history, are a nice supplemental to the film.
In the director’s commentary, Emmerich discusses how technology enabled him to do the film he had worked for years to make. The heavy use of CGI allowed him to capture the epic scope of the story on a much lower budget than usual.
While the CGI is often quite good, its limitations were also apparent, and sometimes undermined the film. While the visuals are impressive, they are too clean and perfect. Instead of immersing the viewer in the atmosphere of World War II, too often, it is obvious that most of the film is on a set. The aircraft deck scenes in particular have the glaring “green screen” effect. It’s distracting at the wrong times.
World War II films like Patton and The Longest Day have a sense of realism because the location shooting was so convincing. Even some scenes of the dreadful Pearl Harbor, which were filmed on an actual docked carrier, FELT real. Midway’s reliance on CGI is its own undoing. When every scene has perfect lighting, and the action remains in perfect focus, we’ve all seen enough History Channel documentaries to know the visuals don’t always ring true.
Emmerich attempts to give the film an authentic look by adding artificial grain to the image (we’ll discuss that later), which gives the entire film a vintage, almost romanticized feel. The strength of the film, however, lies in the performances and the sheer gravity of the true events.
Hollywood has always struggled to tell a comprehensive story of the war in the Pacific. Emmerich does an impressive job at providing an almost textbook account of the events from Pearl Harbor to Midway, without falling into the trap of rehashing standard Hollywood tropes. Some of the dialogue may be stilted or too self-aware, but Midway is still a riveting watch, and by the final credits, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the real-life heroes portrayed in the film. It’s easily Emmerich’s best work.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Midway’s 4K transfer is difficult to grade objectively, because it has a deliberate sheen of artificial grain to give it a vintage look. Skin tones seem a bit reddish and greens are strong, evoking a look of a 50s technicolor film at times. The Dolby Vision and HDR is used to its fullest potential to give the color contrast an postcard-like feel. The red titles used throughout the film practically leap off the screen.
Despite the obvious stylized manipulation of the video, detail is quite good, and the battle scenes are often impressive. As I mentioned before, there’s way too much reliance on CGI, but when it is done right, it looks fantastic in 4K.
The soundtrack is a chair-rattling Dolby Atmos mix, and you feel every plane take off, and every bomb hit its target. There is excellent channel separation, with dialogue firmly placed in the center, and proper immersive sound effects providing a nice surround effect.
Thankfully, dialogue isn’t drowned out in the soundtrack, and the score by Thomas Wander and Harald Kloser rings deep and true. Overall, an excellent presentation.
Midway includes a nice lineup of bonus features. Many are a bit promotional in tone, but they provide an excellent look behind-the-scenes. Several of the extras delve into the history surrounding the events in the film, which is fantastic. As a World War II buff, I enjoyed the information and the context it places on the film.
All of the special features are presented in HD, not 4K.
Bonus features on the disc include:
Audio Commentary. Director Roland Emmerich provides a somewhat lackluster commentary. He certainly is active, talking constantly from start to finish. However, rather than discuss how he made the film, Emmerich often narrates the story we are seeing. He provides some interesting nuggets here and there, but I would have preferred more insight into his approach.
“Getting It Right: The Making of Midway” Featurette. Screenwriter Wes Tooke, director Roland Emmerich, and members of the cast discuss how they made a historically-accurate movie about the battle of Midway. Running Time: 14:16
“The Men of Midway” Featurette. Emmerich and the film’s crew discusses casting the real-life characters in the film. The actors delve into their performances, knowing they have to stay true to the legacies of their real-life counterparts. Running Time: 12:24
“Roland Emmerich: Man On A Mission” Featurette. The cast and crew talk about Emmerich’s determination in making his dream project. They talk about his directing style and his dedication to getting the film right. Running Time: 4:57
“Turning Point: The Legacy of Midway” Featurette. Authors and historians discuss the significance of the battle of Midway, and how it turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. It provides some fantastic background for the film, highlighting how much of what was depicted actually happened. It’s my personal favorite bonus feature on the disc. Running Time: 15:00
“Joe Rochefort: Breaking The Japanese Code” Featurette. Rochefort, who is portrayed by Brennan Brown in the film, is profiled in this fascinating featurette. His ingenious way of tricking the Japanese into revealing that Midway was their target of attack was pivotal to America winning the battle. Running Time: 6:14
“We Met At Midway: Two Survivors Remember” Featurette. Two veterans of the battle of Midway recall their experiences. Running Time: 9:29
Theatrical Trailer. The film’s original trailer is included. Running Time 2:33
Digital Code. A code for a digital copy of the film, redeemable at services including VUDU, FandangoNow, and iTunes, is included.
- Release Date: February 18, 2020
- Rating: PG-13
- Running Time: 138 minutes
- Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Descriptive Audio 2.0, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
- Subtitles: English, English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish
- Special Features: “Getting It Right: The Making of Midway” featurette; “The Men of Midway” featurette; “Roland Emmerich: Man on a Mission” featurette; “Turning Point: The Legacy of Midway” featurette; “Joe Rochefort: Breaking the Japanese Code” featurette; “We Met at Midway: Two Survivors Remember” featurette; Theatrical Trailer; Digital Code.
- Audio Commentary: With Director Roland Emmerich
- Label: Lionsgate
- MSRP: $42.99