A conversation with 'Midway' director
Here's a short list of items on Roland Emmerich's bookshelf: a bronze Chewbacca bust; props from Godzilla and Stargate; and copies of Frank Hebert's Dune, Lewis Alsamari's Out of Iraq, and Seth Grahame-Smith's The Big Book of Porn.
I was invited to his sophisticated (and exceptionally nerdy) office space to talk about the director's latest film, Midway, which chronicles the Pacific Theater during World War II beginning with the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor through the Battle of Midway — the pivotal turning point for Allied forces.
What followed was a conversation with a man who knows more about WW2 naval and aerial warfare than most and used his passion to create a film that honors the heroes in the Pacific.
Midway begins with the Japanese attacks against Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, continues to the Doolittle Raid against the Japanese mainland in April 1942, the Battle of Coral Sea the next month, and finally the decisive Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.
Emmerich became fascinated with the (insane) dive bombing tactics conducted by Allied pilots in the Pacific Theater and knew how important it was to convey the challenges the pilots faced. After studying WW2 footage, he knew he had to get those attacks right on film.
"It could not look like visual effects. That was the biggest challenge — but of course it couldn't be practical," Emmerich shared, the implication obvious: it isn't exactly easy to blow up a bunch of WW2 battleships or aircraft carriers. His standards were high: any shots that didn't work for him were cut.
A group photo of the American dive bomber pilots of VB-6 from Enterprise, three of whom fatally damaged Akagi. Best is sitting in the center of the front row. The other two who attacked Akagi with Best were Edwin J. Kroeger (standing, eighth from the left) and Frederick T. Weber (standing, sixth from the right).
In his Director's Commentary, Emmerich points out moments where he had to walk the fine line between accuracy and entertainment. Richard "Dick" Best was the dive bomber pilot who was able to sink the Akagi aircraft carrier against terrible odds and at great danger to himself.
"We had problems depicting the dive bombing. We tried to shoot it practically but we struggled because the pilot wasn't diving steep enough. I asked if he could go steeper and he said if he dove any steeper then he could die," which Emmerich acknowledged was a fair point. "And then you realize...oh my god, these [World War II pilots] were daredevils! Nobody flies like those guys anymore."
"We didn't want to just show the Japanese as the bad guys. The men fighting the war weren't responsible for the decision to start the war," Emmerich said. His uncle was a German pilot in the European Theater, so he knows all too well the wounds carried over on both sides of World War II. It was important that he depict the humanity and honor of the men who lost their lives in the conflict.
I couldn't tear myself away from his audio commentary that comes with the Blu-Ray package: his World War II knowledge, his artistic choices, and his respect for the military community were so clear.
Though known for his doomsday themes (think 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and even Independence Day), Emmerich considers himself an optimist. His films, though huge in scope and destruction, concentrate on people — the heroes who endure, the lone voices that cry out against ignorance, the people who fight to protect each other.
4K UHD / BLU-RAY/ DIGITAL SPECIAL FEATURES
- Audio Commentary by Roland Emmerich
- "Getting It Right: The Making ofMidway" Featurette
- "The Men of Midway" Featurette
- "Roland Emmerich: Manon a Mission" Featurette
- "Turning Point: The Legacy ofMidway" Featurette
- "Joe Rochefort: Breaking the Japanese Code" Featurette
- "We Met at Midway: Two Survivors Remember" Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
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