Tora! Tora! Tora! / The Longest Day Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda / Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki

In the years leading up to 9/11, American filmmakers decided to revisit two bookends in America's WWII history: the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Normandy. Saving Private Ryan both stumbled and soared, while Pearl Harbor simply sank to new depths. One of Pearl Harbor's (numerous) central failures was its attempts to personalise the disaster by throwing in a limp romance and portraying the Japanese bombers as guilt-ridden, not to mention its feel-good revenge ending. Tora! Tora! Tora! plays more like a painfully earnest docudrama, based on meticulous research and script approval from two branches of the American armed forces, as well as the Japanese government. Thankfully, that doesn't prevent it from being a fascinating look at the Japanese military strategy and the warning signs that the Americans ignored — Washington had full knowledge of the attack 90 minutes before it happened. There's also plenty of context explaining why exactly Japan wanted to attack the isolationist U.S. All of this is a lead-up to the final half-hour of destruction pornography, which is remarkable considering the limited special effects available at the time — it also trumps the CGI wankfest of the 2001 film. At over three hours, The Longest Day often feels like the longest movie, though it is similarly successful at capturing the chaos and magnitude of the Normandy invasion. The beach scenes are definitely sanitised for sensitive stomachs — the filmmakers admit Spielberg was able to capture this much more accurately and effectively. But unlike Private Ryan, The Longest Day doesn't go searching for a conventional narrative. This film is entirely anecdotal and what little character development there is, especially in the first hour, is far too clunky. Tora! and Longest Day are almost refreshingly amoral, in that the enemy isn't a faceless bad guy and there's no sentimental flag waving to be found. If there's a point to be made about the horror of war, it takes a back seat to a meat-and-potatoes approach to what happened and why. Both films, produced by Hollywood magnate Daryl F. Zanuck, were massive undertakings, employing multiple directors — Kurosawa was originally hired to direct the Japanese segments of Tora! — and a cast of dozens. Each film is packaged with two documentaries each, one exclusively on the event itself and another feature-length one that covers the "making of” the film with lots of additional historical perspective. Each also has two commentaries — one by a director, one by a historian — along with other short featurettes. (Fox)