Pearl Harbor

511 ratings (472 Epinions reviews)
Epinions Product Rating: Very Good
5 stars
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Pearl Harbor Bombs

May 22, 2001 (Updated May 22, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The attack on Pearl Harbor is recreated with stunning realism and accuracy.

Cons:Wrapped around it is a lousy love story and even worse dialogue

The Bottom Line: The "Pearl Harbor" part of the movie is fantastic - it's the rest of it that should be cast off into the ocean.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

Do you remember the movie Titanic? You know, the movie with the amazing special effects? Remember the sappy love story and horrendous dialogue you had to suffer through to get to those amazing special effects? Pearl Harbor has exactly the same premise. You know how the stories go (the boat sinks, the Japanese attack), so to try to make things interesting (and pull in the female audience), the storytellers add in some romance. Well, I didn't particularly care for this approach in Titanic, and I simply hated it here. I've already taken a hatchet to The Mummy Returns and Shrek this summer, so now it's time to lay the two-star smackdown on this $135 million and three plus hours worth of overblown excess.

Pearl Harbor tells the story of two men, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Harnett), and the woman (Kate Beckinsale) caught between them. Rafe and Danny are childhood friends, both flying for the U.S. Army in 1941. Eventually, after an hour and a half that drags like a rusted-out muffler on a ’77 Delta 88, the three end up in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Day That Shall Live in Infamy.

For the next forty-five minutes of the movie, it works. The Japanese surprise attack is riveting and scrupulous in its detail, from the modified torpedoes the Japanese used to get through the shallow Pearl Harbor to the one-in-a-million bomb that pierced the magazine of the U.S.S. Arizona, sending it and its crew of 1,000 to a watery grave. The feeling of helplessness and frustration of the soldiers and sailors on the ground is transferred to the audience, as is the terror of men trapped in rapidly-filling steel coffins that are their sinking ships. “Battleship row” is re-created with stunning accuracy, and it is as if the pictures of the attack, with listing battleships and plumes of thick, black smoke, are literally brought to life. I wouldn’t be surprised if survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor who watch this scene suffer the same type of flashblacks that were reported by survivors of the D-Day invasion who viewed Saving Private Ryan. I'm listing this as one to see on the big screen only because I believe scenes such as the Japanese attack lose their impact when viewed on a television screen. Otherwise, this would be video selection all the way.

Outside of this forty-five minute scene (less than a quarter of the total running time), the movie never clicks. The only other parts that held my interest were the intermittent cuts to the Japanese military planning the attack. Perhaps I just loved seeing Mako, of the Conan movies, as Admiral Yamamoto, but these too-brief interludes sustained me while I was forced to slog through the muck of the love story. The blame here is not on the acting. Although Alec Baldwin has done better than his turn here as Jimmy Doolittle, Jon Voight is a convincing FDR, and Dan Akroyd is surprisingly understated as a Naval Intelligence Captain. As for the love triangle, Ben Affleck, Josh Harnett, and Kate Beckinsale are all good (or at least good-looking), likable actors, but the material they have to work with is clearly second-rate.

The writer, Randall Wallace, was clearly going for the same epic movie that he scripted for Braveheart. Considering what a great movie Braveheart was, one has to wonder whether Wallace had a lobotomy in between movies. According to Wallace, however, the blame should be placed on the director, Michael Bay of Armageddon and The Rock. Wallace claims he walked off the movie because Bay was changing the dialogue and characters in a way that Wallace couldn’t accept. Whatever the process was, the end result is a script that is so glaringly pathetic that Scorcese, Kubrick and Spielberg combined couldn't have saved it. The dialogue is simply painful at times. Cliched romantic lines that could only be properly delivered by Clark Gable are alternated with cliched patriotic lines that could have only been properly delivered by the Duke himself, John Wayne. Despite the excessive length, great stories, such as Dorie Miller (Cuba Gooding), the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross, are given short shrift. Wallace and Bay seemingly wanted to make a great war movie in the mold of Saving Private Ryan and combine it in epic fashion with a love story in the mold of Titanic. They fell far short of the mark.

If this movie truly deserved to be called Pearl Harbor, I would have given it four, maybe even five stars. But the one-star (at best) love story, bad dialogue, and otherwise boring plot drag what could have been greatness down to mediocrity. I would love to have a “director’s cut” of this movie with just the military and battle scenes, plus maybe those of FDR. That would come in at an enjoyable hour or so of cinematic greatness, and the remaining two hours of dreck could be left on the cutting room floor.


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