Reviewed by Andrew Lubin
Today is the 71st anniversary of Japan’s infamous attack at Pearl Harbor, and Military Channel (10pm E/P) is commemorating it with a most extraordinary special Pearl Harbor Declassified.
While there have been many Pearl Harbor documentaries produced over the years, this one is different in both tone and imagery. Written and produced by Creative Differences Erik Nelson for Military Channel, Pearl Harbor Declassified approaches the fight on a forensic-history basis in which he’s used state-of-the-art image-stabilized technology to enhance the original black & white footage into HD – with stunning results.
This is Nelson’s 6th Pearl Harbor-related film, a topic he approaches scientifically. As the producer of the popular Unsolved History series, Nelson uses both art and technology to illustrate what actually occurred, making Declassified a most interesting documentary.
While the attack lasted close to two hours, Nelson demonstrates how most of the damage was done in the first fifteen minutes. Coupling his computer-generated imagery with rare Japanese aerial footage of their attack, Nelson shows how the Japanese attacked in waves, with torpedo bombers launching the dreadfully effective “Long Lance” torpedoes, while minutes later high-altitude bombers were dropping battleship-killing 1,750 lb modified 16” naval shells from 10,000’. His sand table-style graphics bring the viewers into the fight as they follow the initial waves of Japanese planes over Wheeler and Hickam Fields in order to first destroy the expected American fighter defense, and then attacking Battleship Row.
Pearl Harbor Declassified’s graphics shows the effects of the multiple torpedo hits on the outbound-moored battleships, with the USS Oklahoma slammed by nine-to-eleven before she capsized. Especially poignant are the final minutes on board the doomed ships; with Nelson enhancing the old Japanese imagery the viewer sees the still-lit movie screen used the night before on the USS Vestal, as well as the canvas awnings erected on the USS Arizona for the Sunday morning church services never held.
Most painful is the footage shot during the attack by Army Doctor Eric Haakenson. As fate and history would have it, Haakenson was filming the USS Arizona from the close-by anchored USS Solace as a single 1,750 lb armor-piercing bomb penetrated deck and exploded in her forward magazine. Disintegrating in a huge fireball, the newly digitized and HD-upgraded footage shows the force of the blast that blew her 30’out of the water. Just prior Haakenson filmed the Japanese air armada as it flew overhead, potentially taping the bombing run that destroyed the proud ship. the program reveals the force of the explosion caused a 10’ tidal wave to slam into Ford Island, creating even more damage as the aviation gas storage tanks caught fire and began to burn.
By focusing on the initial 15 minutes of the attack, Pearl Harbor Declassified explains the ferocity and effectiveness of the attack in a detail never before revealed. While the fight continued with the arrival of a second wave of Japanese planes, it was within the first minutes the majority of the ships were sunk and sailors and Marines killed. Powerful stuff, and well worth watching.
This piece was originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette and we’re using here with permission.