Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
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Somewhere deep down in the pit of my stomach swarming around in my acid are the bad-tasting movies previously directed by Michael Bay that I have been forced to swallow. He’s one of those directors who throughout the course of his short career have been extremely lucky simply because he continues to deliver the same meal every time to hungry audience members who simply want to be served a brainless action film filled to the brim with special effects, explosions, loud music, and a story that requires the same amount of thought that goes into the question “do you use a spoon or a fork to eat soup?”
And then came Pearl Harbor. Not quite a five star meal, but at least he’s now using a slotted spoon instead of a fork.
Everything that makes up a typical Michael Bay movie is in Pearl Harbor except that the movie didn’t seem to be rushing itself for the simple sake to showcase it’s special effects or explosion sequences. Even though the trailer for the movie showcases the attack on Pearl Harbor even from a bombs perspective - the movie doesn’t get anywhere near this sequence for a good hour or so. In fact, the movie is absent of excessive jump cuts, loud music, gunfire - anything that is normally associated to Bay for a good 1/3 of the movie. Instead the characters are slowly introduced and allowed time to breath. Some conflict arises and is given time to be explored and understood before the screen becomes a jumbled mess of explosions, fires, flaring bodies, and music loud enough to make your ears hurt.
As for the action – in no way can I find too many faults with it’s presentation. Granted Bay utilizes several jump cuts and rapid camera movements, but then again it’s war. I’ve never had a bomb drop on me, but I can imagine that my mind would be racing, flashing here and there, and operating quite similar to what Bay’s direction and editing convey.
Plus the action is relentless for almost a good hour. It has to be one of the longest action sequences in modern day cinema – and none of it feels like it hanging around for the sole sake that Bay has the money to do so. It fits within the context of the film and for the first time it feels more like Bay was trying to capture history instead of creating his own.
The ending also had its faults. The problem with a movie like Pearl Harbor is how do you end a movie about an attack on Pearl Harbor? Wouldn’t the movie simply end when the attack ended? To answer my own question – that resolution wouldn’t make for a very enjoyable movie since there needs to a story even when something is based on history. Bay could have had the movie end with the dropping of an atomic bomb, but that would of flashed forward several years – and would of left for the most part all of his previously defined characters out in the cold.
What was decided was to make the film end with a retaliation of Americans bombing back at Japan. Personally, I don’t remember this piece being in America history – which is either my own fault or the fault of my education from skipping over this piece. The problem with this ending is that it takes almost a good hour to get to. In retrospect I know I applauded Bay for taking his time, but here he takes too much time to get to an evitable conclusion about three of his main characters. That’s basically what the ending is meant to serve up. Someway to conclude the movie and conclude the story of his three leading characters. Although the ending was a little teary, I also felt that it could have been better by shortening its length considerably – at least a good 30 minutes or so.
Besides this being a Bay project, Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, and a handful of character actors – make up the starring cast with of course Afflect, Hartnett, and Beckinsale getting the most screen time.
Ben Affleck is his normal self when ever he’s in an action movie. Cocky yet courageous with a romantic side to make all the teenage girls in the audience swoon over his smile. He’s not beefy or buff and is therefore restricted to having love affairs that either take place in the dark or are never shown since this is a PG-13 movie. Affleck stars as Captain Rafe McCawley who as a kid always dreamed of taking to the skies and being a hero. Not to spoil the movie, but he gets this opportunity on three different occasions throughout the course of the movie.
Josh Hartnett is an up-and-coming star who after Pearl Harbor will probably find himself more of a sex idol. He has the male model face and a rather good degree of acting talents. Hartnett stars as Captain Danny Walker who’s father Cole Walker (William Fichtner – one of the NASA astronauts in Bay’s Armageddon) flew in previous wars and wishes in the beginning of the film in an emotion scene that no one will ever have to experience what he experienced in previous wars. Danny – with his best friend Rafe of course don’t listen to dear ‘ol Dad and embark into war for fame and glory. The only problem Harnett has at this time is that he is not as big of a star as Affleck which becomes important in the last reel of the film.
Kate Beckinsale plays Lieutenant Nurse Evelyn Johnson who serves as the love interest for both Danny and Rafe. Unlike Liv Tyler in Bay’s Armageddon – her character is not restricted to just smile and cry when needed. She’s also given plenty of opportunities to be a hero in her own right in the hospital ward.
To un-historical individuals – such as myself – it would seem upon first glance that Cuba Gooding Jr. (Petty Officer Dorie Miller) is wasted away in this movie for he only is given a few minutes of screen time to shine in his role. As the trailer depicts already, we see Dorie Miller run to the top of a ship under siege and grab the controls of a massive gun all the while screaming at the low flying Japanese planes. When I saw the movie I thought his character wasn’t given much of a chance and was in the movie just to interject a little “blackness” into the film. But thanks to Tigerlily137 for setting me straight. I had no idea that Dorie was actually an historical icon as being the first black Naval officer to win the distinguished Navy Cross.
Alec Baldwin (Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle), Jon Voight (President Franklin D. Roosevelt), and Tom Sizemore (Sergeant Earl Sistern) all have bit parts that add clarity to their roles simply because they are semi-famous actors in Hollywood. More attention is given to what they say and do – because we have seen their faces before – unlike an unknown actor playing the part. Does anyone remember who the president was in Armageddon? Probably not.
One last actor I should discuss is Mako who plays Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who is the planner of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Some controversy arose about giving the Japanese a heart in the movie – but I think it was a wise choice. Mako brings to the screen both the honor of serving his country and the dishonor of having to bring his people to war.
Overall Pearl Harbor was a good film. Not the usual “over-the-top” fare delivered by Michael Bay. This time around he took the time to introduce his story before he delivers loud explosions and special effects. He gives his characters time and room to breath (although he should of given more time to Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character) without limiting them to just a romantic or heroism aspect. However the movie does go on too long – with the last hour feeling like it’s there as an extra long conclusion. Plus Bay does utilize several of his infamous styles like the “extra long Presidential speech”, “the control room scene”, and plenty of “slow moving cameras sweeping through weeds during a sunset”.
A couple of nips here and there – continuing to choose better scripts – refraining from just having action for the sole sake that you can afford to do it --- and Michael Bay may just become a better director – directing better films.
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for Groups