APOCALYPSE ’45 – movie review

Abramorama/ Discovery
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Erik Nelson
Screenwriter: Erik Nelson
Cast: Members of the Great Generation Who Fought in World War 2
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/10/20
Opens: August 14, 2020


Two quotes in this film stand out from the members of the Great Generation who fought in World War 2. Quote one: My favorite, “I wish politicians cared more about their country than their party.” Is this veteran hinting that he might vote Democratic this year? Quote two: One that’s laughable if it were not sad: “The Japanese should thank us for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki!” Why? Because we saved the lives of thirty million to forty million Japanese people that would result if we attacked their homeland.

Quotes, though, are not the principal selling point of this remarkable documentary. The visuals are, particularly since some of the narration sounds garbled. In fact “Apocalypse ‘45” presents considerable file film never before shown. Now that technology allows us to go beyond even the big plus in 1945, the year that color film technology allowed for higher production values, one hundred forty reels selected from over thousands screened by the producer are digitally restored using natural color, now transferred into 4K. While that restoration went on, the filmmaking crew found veterans now in their nineties including one who is one hundred and one to add their modern voices to the seventy-five-year-old events.

“Apocalypse ‘45” concentrates on the final six months of World War 2, a conflict which dragged on past the May 1945 surrender of Germany into September 2 of that year because the Japanese, unlike the Germans, seemed ready to fight until the last man, woman and child were killed. As one narrator indicates, during the battle for Saipan, Japanese soldiers threw themselves over a rocky cliff rather than be taken captive. (Trump might be impressed by that since, after all, he likes people who are not captured.) It was that fanaticism that led to America’s being the first and only country to use atomic bombs, the devastating weapon now in the possession of nine countries—bombs that would supposedly make the ’45 ones seem like firecrackers. (I live in New York, ground zero in the eyes of our adversaries. Should I worry? You bet I should.)

Recall that some fine narrative films have been made in the U.S. about the Pacific theater of World War 2, my favorite being “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” starring Van Johnson, my first war movie, terribly exciting in its illustrating of American planes firing upon and being fired upon by Japanese zeroes. Not even the visuals of Japanese planes of Japanese Kamikaze pilots (Kamikaze, actually Tokobetsu Kogekitai, or special attack unit) deliberately committing suicide by diving straight into U.S. battleships could compare with that. But just the knowledge that these attacks actually took place seventy-five years ago elevates the material considerably.

Perhaps the most thrilling shot is the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima, the scene of a bloody battle that took place because the U.S. strategy was to get close to the mainland by first conquering the islands. You doubtless know of the iconic photo and statue commemorating the most dramatic moment of the war and of Clint Eastwood’s movie “Flags of our Father,” wherein five Marines and one Navy corpsman raised old glory. See the statue, the largest bronze memorial figure in the world, when you next visit our nation’s capital.

We see lots of shots of Japanese planes lit up by tracer bullets and hit from guns on U.S. ships. Visuals aside, we hear some heartfelt narration by veterans of the war, one of whom was horrified by the war altogether because “I am a Christian and I believe in the 10 Commandments. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ allows no exceptions. Sorry, that’s incorrect. That commandment actually translates as “Thou shalt not murder,” or lo tirtzach. Self defense is not murder. So far as dying is concerned, one former soldier narrates that dying was not the principal fear of Americans. It was going home minus an arm or other body part.

Oh, yes, other inaccuracy in the narration. World War II in the Pacific did not end September 2, 1945. It ended Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when the first Japanese bomb was dropped on Pearl Harbor.

105 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – n/a
Technical – A
Overall – B+