I would prefer to give MIDWAY (1976) 3.5 stars but don't know how to click a half-star. MIDWAY (1976) was a successful movie in its time and still is but shows its age. Inevitable comparisons will be made with the MIDWAY (2019). Yet in some ways both are not only different movies, they seem to complement each other, one movie depicting more that the other showed less of.
For example, MIDWAY '76's Admiral Nimitz is more a perfunctory supporting character compared to the more developed and evocative depiction in MIDWAY 2019.
In my opinion for a viewer interested in the historical and pivotal Battle of Midway, watch BOTH movies and you will come away with much more than if you just watched one instead of the other.
For my money, MIDWAY '76 could have been far better a movie had the director taken more attention to detail and less interested with irrelevant side stories.
a) The side story of Captain Matt's irresponsible, besotted and immature young son, an aviator ensign flying a F4F-3 Wildcat fighter plane, did not belong in the movie. More it was cringing to watch the young man's besotted, foolish, and disrespectful behavior. Hollywood always shows an obsessive need to insert a love story no matter what the movie plotline or storyline. There was a surprise twist that the young ensign had fallen head over heels in love with a pretty, young, second-generation Japanese American. Late in the movie the son gains wisdom and a clearer head but only at the cost of tragedy.
b) The theatrical version of MIDWAY shows some limited screen time of Captain Matt romancing an attractive blonde woman close to his age. Matt is a divorcee. The woman seems to be good for him. The director kept these scenes wisely limited. But for the television version which needed to be stretched out, additional time was filmed of the romance between Captain Matt and his girlfriend. If you watched the television version, the scenes of Matt's romance with the woman seem too long and out of place in the movie.
c) This is the worse offense. In my opinion I deem this sloppy director's work. MIDWAY makes extensive use of stock footage of WW2 US Naval combat aircraft; too much in my view so that it is distracting and dishonest. The time period is June 1942. During the air battle scenes, stock footage cuts in but it shows F6F-3 Hellcat fighters and SBC-3 Helldivers, both types having entered service in late 1943. This was dismaying to watch such lazy film-making. The director even borrowed scenes of inside the Japanese carriers from the Japanese 1960 movie, "Storm Over The Pacific", originally titled in Japan, "I Bombed Pearl Harbor". At least those borrowed scenes looked relevant and interesting.
Even Japanese WW2 films used model aircraft for air combat scenes rather than splice inaccurate scenes. Even though you can tell those are model scale prop planes, at least they're fun to watch and accurately detailed.
All of the above greatly detracted from what could have been in my opinion a worthy, five-star movie. But I need to be accurate and honest. I cannot overlook those discrepancies, poor story-telling, and historical inaccuracies due to lazy directing and cutting corners on production costs.
Still, I recommend MIDWAY be watched because it still is a good, entertaining movie to watch.
I can like MIDWAY's different depiction of the Japanese battle fleet's Kido Butai (carrier division assault task force) admiral-in-charge, the historically discredited Admiral Chikui Nagumo. MIDWAY 2019 portrays Nagumo I think, more historically accurate, a man blundering his way into a trap, his reasoning already compromised by pre-conceptions and under-estimations of the American enemy.
MIDWAY '76 presents a less accurate but more intriguing depiction of Admiral Nagumo. In this '76 movie, the Admiral Nagumo is a man from the very start beset by disturbing and disconcerting gut feeling and intuition that all is not what it seems and that the Americans are up to something and will not be so easy to confront this time. Unfortunately for this Nagumo, he is unable to verify his misgivings during the operation due to bad luck, as it turns out. The historically accurate Japanese long-range reconnaissance to French Frigate Shoals for refueling then on to reconnoiter Pearl Harbor has to be canceled when an American destroyer is detected prowling about the French Frigate Shoals. Then the worst bad luck comes when the last Japanese scout plane is delayed taking off for thirty minutes due to engine repairs. It is this same scout plane that detects the American surface fleet near Midway when all earlier scout planes detect nothing. But the loss of thirty minutes will prove fatal to Nagumo and his four carriers.
Few people knew that Yamamoto and Nagumo incurred bad luck even before the Midway (M.I.) operation got started. The Battle of the Coral Sea cost the Japanese one carrier and the temporary loss of a fleet carrier, Shokaku, which had to remain in Japan for repairs. As a result, the Kido Butai carrier task force approached Midway with only four fleet carriers instead of the planned six carriers. Subsequently the Japanese and Americans were at near parity, 4 Japanese carriers versus 3 American carriers and the aircraft from Midway Island, essentially an unsinkable island carrier. The extra two Japanese carriers could have retaliated against the American carriers, possibly costing Admiral Nimitz more than just the Yorktown. The remaining two American carriers could have been attacked and hit, causing severe damage if not outright sinking. The Japanese would have been free to continue the Midway operation, despite the severe loss of four, fleet carriers if there were the two remaining carriers plus the addition of the two, light carriers back with Admiral Yamamoto's main battle fleet.
The U.S. Navy was still inexperienced and largely untested in 1942. But it had brave men and even braver and competent, aggressive admirals who would learn from Coral Sea and Midway to build the U.S. Navy into the world's foremost and most formidable navy ever seen in history two years later in June 1944 at the decisive victory of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, known as, The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. That battle spelled the end of Japan's imperial naval carrier force. The following classic, immemorable Battle Of Leyte Gulf in December 1944 finally finished off the Japanese Imperial Navy once and for all. The Japanese Navy, reduced to a shadow of its former self, ended up dispatching the great battleship, Yamato, on a one-way suicided mission to Okinawa in the Ryukyu Island chain in April 1945. Yamato didn't even make it halfway to Okinawa before swarms of American carrier Hellcats, Avenger torpedo planes, and Helldiver dive bombers sent the proud battleship to the bottom of the South China Sea.
By 1945 the carrier and the submarine had replaced the battleship and heavy cruiser as the prime instruments of modern naval warfare. As one naval historian pointed out, by 1945 the battleship had been reduced to the status of a large, anti-aircraft platform.