Tora! Tora! Tora! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only a few concerns marred the presentation, as the movie usually looked very good.
Sharpness was the only moderate weakness throughout the movie. Wide shots appeared slightly soft, partially due to some edge enhancement. However, most of the flick was accurate and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and any print flaws that appeared were exceptionally minor. During a few shots, I saw some spots that seemed to be due to a camera problem; these only showed up during the same angles in one scene at sea. I also witnessed light grain during some of the process shots and also when the Japanese fighters take off at daybreak. Otherwise, the print offered virtually no defects. I detected a tiny hair or two, but the film seemed to be free of speckles, grit or other concerns.
Tora used a fairly subdued palette, and the colors could appear somewhat bland at times. However, I thought they seemed fairly accurate and clear, and at times, red and blues looked nicely rich and bright. Black levels were deep and dense, and shadow detail usually appeared appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Some interiors looked a bit muddy, but these were very small concerns. I found little about which to complain in regard to this transfer.
Also quite solid was the film’s Dolby Digital 4.1 soundtrack. The soundfield provided a good sense of depth and breadth throughout the movie. The forward speakers demonstrated good localization across the channels, as a mix of effects and music popped up usefully from the sides. The film also displayed quite a lot of directional dialogue as well; most of these lines still seemed to stay fairly close to the center, but it was good to hear some attempts to broaden the auditory spectrum. Sounds moved cleanly across the front channels and they blended together quite well.
Surrounds kicked in with a lot of information during appropriate scenes. The battle sequences became very lively and they contributed a convincing atmosphere. The quieter scenes showed less activity, but the rears were well used throughout the movie, especially when one considers the age of the film.
Audio quality seemed to be typical for the era, but it was still relatively positive. Dialogue sounded a bit thin and tinny, but the lines showed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility, so I had no problems with the speech. Effects were also fairly flat and lifeless. Those qualities reflected the technology of the time, and Tora presented tones that seemed similar to other films from the period. In any case, I thought the effects appeared acceptably clean and accurate. They could have boasted a bit more low-end, but they offered enough depth to work adequately.
Jerry Goldsmith’s score offered the best sound quality. It seemed nicely clear and robust. While the bass didn’t have to kick into overdrive, I still found the music to provide a warm and rich experience. In the end, the soundtrack of Tora! Tora! Tora! won’t compete with newer releases, but I felt it worked well for its age.
How did the picture and audio of this 2006 “Cinema Classics Collection” release compare to the 2001 special edition? Both were completely identical. In fact, DVD One of the 2006 version is exactly the same disc as that earlier release.
That means all of the 2001 set’s extras repeat on DVD One. We start with a running audio commentary from director Richard Fleischer and Stewart Galbraith, an expert on Japanese films. The two were recorded simultaneously for this somewhat screen-specific track. Although he occasionally provides some background information about the actors, Akira Kurosawa’s aborted involvement in the film, and some other production issues, Galbraith mainly interviews Fleischer during this piece.
The result was a satisfying discussion. Fleischer proved to be a good storyteller, and Galbraith asked some useful questions. I enjoyed the segment in which Fleischer told his personal reactions to the real attack on Pearl Harbor, and his reminiscences of his famous animator father Max were quite compelling. Another fun aspect arose when Fleischer discussed the way that he and other participants would bet on what parts of the score would accompany which scenes. Fleischer became entertaining when he stuck to personal anecdotes. Along with a lot of good data about the production and those involved, this became a valuable and informative commentary.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we find a documentary called Day of Infamy. This 19-minute and 55-second program combined archival footage with new interview clips from historians to provide an overview of the history behind the film. We get notes from Naval Historical Center curator Jack Green, Naval Historical Center historians Randy Papadopoulos and Robert J. Cressman, and US Naval Institute History Division director Paul Stillwell.
As I mentioned during the body of my review, this piece does a better job of communicating the impact of the attack since it more fully discusses the damage and the death involved. It looks at the history behind the US presence at Pearl Harbor, the roots of the war with Japan, and the lead-up and details of the attack. I thought it was a very solid little show that provides a nice examination of history. It proves shockingly informative given its brevity.
We also find the THX Optimode program. This is supposed to be used to set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimode is unique for each DVD on which it's included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials. The Optimode should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I've been very happy with my already-established calibration and I'm afraid to muck with it, so I've never tried the Optimode. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you're just more adventurous than I, the Optimode could be a helpful addition.
All of this package’s new content appears on DVD Two. It opens with History Through the Lens: Tora! Tora! Tora! – A Giant Awakes. This 90-minute and 11-second documentary provides the usual mix of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Fleischer, Stillwell, Cressman, producer/former studio executive Richard Zanuck, producer Elmo Williams, author/professor Donald Goldstein, former Director for Defense Information Norman Hatch, Professor of History Akira Iriye, director Toshio Masuda, veterans Gordon Jones, James Bounds, Woodrow Derby, Charles Serr, Yoshio Shiga, Sadamu Komachi, and Jack McCarron.
As with other entries in the “Lens” series, this one mixes movie “making of” material with historical information about the event depicted. For the former, we learn about the success of The Longest Day and the desire to follow it up with another WWII-themed effort. From there it goes through script development, finding directors and cast, various production delays, working with the Department of Defense and dealing with issues on the Japanese side. We also get notes about models and visual effects, locations and sets, issues with Akira Kurasawa, and many details of the production.
As for the history, the show digs into US-Japanese relations before the war and the motives for the Japanese attack. We get a feel for the scene in Hawaii before the assault and learn about US-Japanese negotiations. The show views the various cultures depicted, US codebreakers, mistakes in the lead-up to battle, and elements of the actual attack.
I enjoyed the episodes of “History” that came with recent Patton and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid DVDs, and “Awakes” continues that positive trend. The program blends elements of the movie’s creation with details about its historical inspirations into a very neat package. It flits from one topic to the other easily and never feels muddled or awkward. This makes it informative and enjoyable.
Another documentary follows. Simply called Tora! Tora! Tora!, this one lasts 22 minutes and five seconds as it features remarks from Williams, Zanuck, Fleischer, actor Richard Anderson, film historian Jon Burlingame, camera operator Ron Vargas, and cinematographer Charles F. Wheeler. The piece looks at basics of the film’s making. It covers the story’s path to the screen, various production challenges, cast and crew, shooting the flick and its reception.
On its own, this is a decent little documentary. It goes over the nuts and bolts of the production with reasonable depth. However, between the commentary and “History Through the Lens”, this show becomes redundant. It includes very little information that doesn’t appear elsewhere. This remains a good show, but if you’ve checked out the other pieces, you don’t need to watch it.
10 newsreels appear under the banner Movietone News. We find “The 1st Pictures of the Attack” (two minutes, 22 seconds), “Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, ‘Now It Can Be Shown’” (8:17), “A Year of War Since Pearl Harbor” (6:54), “War With Japan” (6:45), “US Declares War on Japan” (5:24), “1st Pictures of the Attack on Japan Islands” (2:25), “Jap Cities Were Bombed By US Army Planes” (1:11), “President Honors ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle for Raid On Japan” (2:59), “War Reports of the United Nations” (2:02), and “Doolittle’s Raiders, Who Bombed Tokyo, Mark Anniversary” (1:14).
That’s a lot of historical material on display, and it’s generally interesting. Of course, some pieces are more compelling than others, but they still give us a good “you are there” perspective on the events and the era. We even get non-PC cracks like “We won’t be satisfied until we slap the Japs right off the map!” To watch these, you’ll suffer through some serious presentation flaws, but it’s worth the effort. By the way, it’s amusing to see the real Jimmy Doolittle; Alec Baldwin played him in 2001’s Pearl Harbor, but for physical resemblance, Bob Hoskins would have been a much better match.
Two collections of stillframes follow. We find a Behind the Scenes Gallery (22 photos) and a Production Gallery (71). I prefer the former, as it includes nice details. The latter mostly just gives us bland shots from the movie.
Under the banner of Trailers, we get the original theatrical ad for Tora! along with promos for The Longest Day and Patton. The Tora! trailer is the same one that appears on DVD One; I have no clue why it repeats here.
A booklet completes the package. This includes some good production notes written by Tom Weaver. Since the rest of the set includes so much information, these don’t become essential, but they offer a nice recap of various production issues.
In some ways, Tora! Tora! Tora! is one of the better historical films I’ve seen. It takes far fewer liberties than most, and it gives us a concise overview of a complicated time. However, the movie fails to ignite any spark or passion, and it seems to be excessively objective. In an attempt to give us a balanced look at both the Japanese and American sides of the equation, it loses much of its drama. As for the DVD, it provided quite strong picture and sound plus a mix of nice extras headlined by a solid commentary and a very good documentary that mixes history and movie “making of” pieces.
Since I don’t think a lot of Tora! it’s not something I’d recommend to new viewers. Current fans will want to get this one, though those who own the 2001 special edition might need to think twice. The 2006 “Cinema Classics Collection” version presents literally identical picture and audio, so the new disc only adds extras. These are good, but only really big fans will feel the need to shell out extra money for them.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of TORA! TORA! TORA!