Acorn Media // 2010 // 176 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // January 17th, 2013
It was a mission that changed the war -- but you probably guessed that already.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the nation expected an invasion at any minute, while the military sought to demonstrate that it was a sleeping tiger, not a paper one. In the midst of that chaos, The Army Air Corps conceived a plan that hovered in the grey area between bold and insane: A squadron of B-25B medium bombers would take off from an aircraft carrier and strike at the heart of the Japanese mainland. It's an amazing story, one that was almost immediately brought to the big screen with Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. The Military Channel's Missions That Changed the War: The Doolittle Raid provides a fairly comprehensive, if somewhat unfocused, look at this mission, brought to us courtesy of Acorn.
The documentary is broken down into four episodes of roughly 44 minutes.
* "A Call to War" -- the initial conception of the plan.
* "Special Aviation Project Number One" -- training and preparation.
* "The Target of this Task Force is Tokyo" -- the run-up to the mission itself.
* "The Legacy" -- the immediate aftermath of the mission and its enduring legacy.
Relying primarily on archival footage and narration from Gary Sinise (Apollo 13), the movie has a somewhat languid pace, with a lot of recapping after commercial breaks. People looking for strategic or tactical assessments may be disappointed, as the documentary is more about celebrating the eighty men who flew the daring mission. This focus is most clearly seen in the final episode, in which the impact of the raid on the war is effectively glossed over; the analysis is simply one of the survivors commenting that the Japanese reacted to the raid by sending a bunch of carriers to capture Midway, setting the stage for the biggest American naval victory of the war. First of all, given that the name of the series is Missions that Changed the War, you might want to focus a bit more than ten seconds on how the mission actually changed the war. Secondly, that ten seconds isn't quite accurate -- the plans for capturing Midway were already in motion; the attack simply gave the Japanese a greater sense of urgency. More importantly, though, the attack destroyed the illusion that the Japanese homeland could not be attacked, and as a result, forces were withdrawn to patrol and protect the island -- forces that could have easily been the difference at Midway.
While the documentary doesn't really live up to its name, it does to an excellent job focusing on the immediate aftermath of the mission, as the planes were forced to make emergency landings from China to Russia, several being captured by the Japanese. Most poignant is the footage of the reunions, held every year to commemorate the mission as well as their comrades who are no longer with us.
The video is a mixed bag. A lot of archival footage is used, and little of it appears to have been significantly restored. The only "talking head" footage is of the surviving participants, and for some reason, the color on the men seems grossly oversaturated. The audio is fine, but nothing spectacular. The only extra is an extended interview with Edward Saylor, who was the engineer/gunner on plane # 15.
As of 2012, there are five remaining survivors of the raid:
Plane #1, Richard Cole, Doolittle's pilot
Plane #7, David Thatcher, engineer
Plane #9, Tom Griffin, navigator
Plane #15, Edward Saylor, engineer gunner
Plane #16, Robert Hite, co-pilot
Gentlemen, you have our deepest thanks for your courage and commitment. The
documentary is guilty of not doing right by the mission, but it does do right by
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 176 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Doolittle Raider