15 December 2000 | bmcclain
I like it even more 18 years later
I first saw this film when I was right out of high school, and I wasn't surprised to see the lobby-card poster hanging in a Navy recruiter's office a few months later when I dropped by. And that's entirely appropriate; the film is, among other things, a love letter to the modern Navy. I mean that as high praise: Where lots of military movies (and plenty of recruiting commercials) overdo the martial aspects of their characters with a gung-ho Sergeant Rock style, the byplay in this movie provided glimpses of the the Navy (and the Marine Corps too, God bless 'em), honestly and simply, as people taking pride in a demanding, sacrificial profession.
To this day I wonder which, if any, sailors and Marines I saw were actual service people. If any were, Don Taylor and his second-unit directorial crew got excellent small performances from them. Here's an example: In a brief scene that probably barely survived the final cut, there's interaction among some sailors: "Christ, Chief, all we wanna know is what's going on," asserts one mildly exasperated rating. "If you need to know, you'll be told," replies the Chief Master-at-Arms curtly. The people who spoke this dialogue definitely weren't Screen Actors Guild types; they looked and sounded pretty much like sailors I've known. And that's a little detail that's done right so seldom that I hardly notice anymore that I'm deliberately overlooking it.
The aerial sequences set a standard that wouldn't be touched until /Top Gun/ hit the screen. To be sure, both movies relied to some extent on stock footage of naval-aviation ops, but as with /Top Gun/, this film's flying was spectacular -- and, in the last of the years before CGI took hold, REAL. (Compare this film's or /Top Gun/'s exteriors of aircraft with, say, /Air Force One/, and you'll see what I mean.
The "name-actor" ensemble of Kirk Douglas et al. performed, perhaps not brilliantly, but serviceably in a film that certainly was more plot-driven than character-focused. The story -- revealed by plenty of other comments here -- though implausible, is still capable of holding one's interest. But after you catch this flick on the tube for the second or third time, pay attention to the enlisted pukes doing their jobs -- to me, they're the real stars.
If it's on the shelf, rent it. If it's on TV again, watch it. At the least, it's an entertaining story. At its best, it's a good study in style and pacing.