This is as fine a collection of material devoted to a single historical subject as A&E Home Video or anyone else (apart from the producers of those Ken Burns specials) has yet issued on DVD. The two-disc set, in a slipcase, is deceptively imposing in its content given its seemingly limited running time. One hundred and fifty minutes seems a paltry amount of time in which to cover the most heavily analyzed single battle of the 20th century, but this package does it justice.
Disc one is the real center of the set, containing the 100-minute documentary "Tora, Tora, Tora: The Real Story of Pearl Harbor." There may be some disagreement over the material in the introductory section, as when a scholar-observer remarks that America was fairly stable and content, and "things were going well" in the 1920s and 1930s, seemingly ignoring the Great Depression. What the man may mean is that America's primary focus was on the internal economic difficulties of the country, not strife in Europe or Asia, although even that isn't true; the documentary ignores the fact that there was a surprising degree of sympathy in the United States on behalf of the Chinese, who were under attack by Japan from 1931 onward. But to have observed that fact would have made a lie of the central premise of a couple of the other observers heard from here, who argue that the war with Japan was fueled by anti-Asian racism in America. Once one gets past these questionable hypotheses, however, the account of actual events leading to the run-up to Pearl Harbor is fascinating, and one gets a minute-by-minute description of the battle as well as the personnel involved on both sides, and the aftermath and what became of them.
Disc two is taken up primarily by "Admiral Chester Nimitz: Thunder in the Pacific," a 45-minute installment that originally ran on A&E's Biography. This is one of the neatest and most carefully balanced programs in the series in dealing with World War II's military leaders. It gives a warm, lyrical, almost poetic account of this most soft-spoken of theater commanders, offering a sense of the man as well as his achievements. The disc is supplemented by a 45-minute program entitled "America's Five-Star Heroes: The Pacific Commanders," which repeats a lot of the Biography installment on Nimitz in brief and, alas, doesn't say enough about his immediate superiors, Admiral Ernest J. King and Admiral William Leahy. Admiral William F. Halsey fares somewhat better, in a sketch that overlooks his blunders during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, while General Douglas MacArthur gets a glowing biographical treatment that overlooks completely his insubordination against President Herbert Hoover in his brutal suppression -- against orders -- of the "Bonus Army" of World War I veterans in Washington, DC. It also ignores the fact that he was out of the army and simply a very well-paid private citizen (so far as the United States was concerned) when he organized the army of the Philippines. One criticism of this special, and of many History Channel productions, is that in the course of describing battles across the vast expanses of the Pacific, there ought to be a map image shown on the screen, for the benefit of those who might not be able to picture the spatial relationship between, say, Midway Island, Hawaii, and the Aleutians or New Guinea, Saipan, Guam, and Japan. It is interesting to note one important contrast between Nimitz and Halsey that comes out of these two programs -- their sharply differing attitudes toward the Japanese. Nimitz had actually idolized one Japanese admiral in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, insisting, as the Pacific campaign that he oversaw approached the island nation and World War II drew to a close, that the Japanese be treated with respect, as individuals and as a people. Halsey, by comparison, harbored thoughts and ideas that today seem grotesquely racist and is openly described as "hating" the Japanese. It was a mere detail during the pitch of battle and, ironically, Halsey, partly through bad luck and partly due to his bull-headedness, was never to see the kind of grand sea action against his enemies that he craved. It's glossed over in his biographical sketch here, but he was ill for the Battle of Midway, his Guadalcanal victory was a land-based assignment, and he lost his opportunity to engage the most viable part of the Japanese fleet -- and came surprisingly close to getting court martialed -- for action that bordered on negligence during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. But this notable difference between the theater commander and his top fleet commander isn't quite stated outright here.
The menus are straightforward and open up automatically on start-up, and the supplement on disc two is easy to access. One must also point out that these programs could easily have fit on one dual-layered disc, but that wouldn't have looked as impressive on a store shelf. ~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide