20th Century Fox's genuinely spectacular account of the attack on Pearl Harbor told from both the American and Japanese viewpoints was in real terms an even bigger financial disaster for the studio than Cleopatra: even by latter-period roadshow standards, reminding American audiences of the incredible catalogue of blunders and incompetence that led to the Day of Infamy at a time when they were in the midst of another war in Asia (and one that was not going well) seems like business decision making at its most kamikaze. The film has probably made more money out of being carved up for stock footage than it ever did in the cinema, featuring prominently in Midway, Pearl and both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance among others.
Like Cleopatra, it was a troubled production: Akira Kurosawa worked on the Japanese side of the film for months but delivered only one brief scene in the finished film before being replaced by two more special effects friendly directors (Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku) while on the American side Richard Fleischer relied on Ray Kellog and Robert Enrietto to shoot much of the spectacular finale.
From the last days when films were consciously visually designed for the Scope screen, it is mounted on a scale that would be inconceivable today - what Pearl Harbor did with CGi it did with real ships and aircraft - with a tight, focused script that dispenses with fictional sub-plots (no Ben Affleck winning the Battle of Britain single-handed here) in favour of absolute historical accuracy. Seen entirely from the military and political mindset, it has the edge on most cinematic exercises in battlefield history through the conviction of its direction, particularly the visually impressive Japanese sequences, and of its playing. With the exception of Soh Yamamura and E.G. Marshall, most of the top-liners are barely in the film, but the large ensemble cast copes surprisingly well with the task of having to embody attitudes and impart information rather than working on clearly defined characters, adding the colour as they find it in the gaps. Perhaps most surprising is the incredible degree of tension the film manages to achieve in the run-up to the attack despite the inevitability of the outcome. When it finally comes, the special effects are among the best ever seen on the screen. Jerry Goldsmith's score is also a major plus, relentlessly building menace and tension as the film races toward the inevitable.
While the previous DVD issue was pretty threadbare, this Cinema Reserve edition has a number of features covering both the making of the film and the real attack itself, although a 20-minute featurette from the first US DVD release but dropped from the original PAL release, Day of Infamy, has still not been included (it can be found on the US two-disc version, however).