Pearl Harbor

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Epinions Product Rating: Very Good
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“Open the bomb bay doors and release Pearl Harbor!”

May 28, 2001 (Updated May 31, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:As promised in the previews, the battle scenes are very, very good.

Cons:Don't believe the previews. The rest of the movie's a bomb.

The Bottom Line: Here's how off-kilter this movie is: Dan Ackroyd plays a straight-faced naval intelligence officer who has a "spine-tinglingly bad feeling" about pre-attack Japanese messages he's decoded.

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

With apologies to Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but the fear of bad movies.”

And producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay should apologize to the former President, as well as all World War Two veterans, nurses, Rosie the Riveters, little boys with baseball bats—aw heck, the nation at large. But most importantly, Bruckheimer and Bay should apologize to those obedient Americans who, heeding the call of mass marketing, forked over hard-earned minimum wage payments to take their families to see Pearl Harbor at the multiplex this weekend.

This is your official air-raid warning, America: the summer movie bombs are starting to fall.

Pearl Harbor is not the worst movie Hollywood will drop on our unprotected heads this summer. No, it’s no Battlefield Earth…then again, it’s no Battleship Potemkin either. There are moments that aspire to an effectively rousing feel-goodishness, and an equal number of moments with cold-water-dousing corniness. Even so, after all the hype, previews and special effects dollars poured into this three-hour testosterone extravaganza, one would have hoped for something with a little more substance than the plateful of decades-old clichés the movie offers.

Opening with an orange sunrise (Land of the Rising Sun—get it?), Pearl Harbor takes its own sweet, laborious time building up to the dawn of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese [Warning: spoiler ahead!] spanked our sleepy butts. The surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored in the Hawaiian paradise certainly caught America with its shorts down (though the movie does make an attempt to show military intelligence officers warning about the Japanese messages they’ve been decoding). Starting at 7:55 a.m., wave upon wave of Japanese planes swept across Oahu, strafing military targets and civilian areas (a fact the movie leaves off the screen). Men got blowed up real good, ships sank and Roosevelt coined a very Presidential phrase. Yes, that was a date which will live in infamy, but we roused the military beast and fought back. The movie concludes with the daring long-distance raid Col. Jimmy James Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) launched on Tokyo a few months later, the heavy bombers literally flying on fumes the last couple of miles.

Woven into the fabric of history like a bright thread is a love triangle between flyboys Rafe (Ben Affleck), Danny (Josh Hartnett) and nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale). We see the two men as boyhood friends where they recite inane dialogue about loyalty; we see the meet-cute flirtation between Evelyn and Rafe months before the Pearl Harbor attack; we see the tragedy of combat separate, then reunite, the trio; and, in the home stretch, we see the ten-minute (though it feels like twenty) bombardment of full-out maudlin sentiment, propped up by a sloppy script and an unforgivable score by Hans “Summer Blockbuster” Zimmer. In the end, you’ll be stumbling out of the theater, shell-shocked from all the exploding clichés.

Unlike the real attack, there was nothing "surprise" about the arrival of Pearl Harbor. The first previews started appearing last Christmas, featuring the film’s cleverest effect, a bomb’s-eye view of the munition whistling down through the sky all the way to the Arizona’s deck. The shot is thrilling, scary and sad. Five months ago, it held great promise that Pearl Harbor would be the stuff that good movies are made of. Oh sure, there was that nagging little voice that grumbled, “But Bruckheimer and Bay, fer Chrissakes!” And still the flame of hope flickered; maybe, just maybe, this wouldn’t be another Armageddon, Con Air or The Rock. Maybe there would actually be an intelligent script packed like wadding around the explosives.

I mean, with previews like those, who couldn’t resist the Hollywood marketing machine? Well, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea, I’m here to tell you to resist, resist, RESIST! The time and cash you invest in Pearl Harbor would be better spent on other, more deserving movies. Save your money for a brainy day.

Brains are in short supply in this movie. Pearl Harbor boasts the kind of dialogue that would have been red-inked even back in the 1940s. Here are just a few of the many ripe-cheese examples assaulting our ears:

Rafe: Flying’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Everything in my life has led up to this point.


Evelyn: If I only had one more night to live, I’d want to spend it with you.


Evelyn: What’s going to become of us, Rafe?
Rafe: Well, the future’s not exactly in our hands, is it?
Evelyn: No, I guess you’re right.

Perhaps you think I’m unfairly picking on Pearl Harbor; perhaps you’re saying, “But it’s an action movie—bad dialogue is to be expected!” I agree, when you walk into a summer cineplex for a big-budget action flick, you can’t go in hoping for Shakespeare. And that would be just fine IF Pearl Harbor was a predominantly action film. But it’s not. It is a trite love story with a brief intermission of war.

The performances are nearly as bland as the script. Only Hartnett stands out with a smoky charisma that reminds me of a young Tommy Lee Jones. Hopefully, he’ll be able to avoid the DiCaprio Syndrome.

In his sporadic appearances as FDR, Jon Voigt is very convincing as the Commander-in-Chief who agonizes over getting involved in “Europe’s war.” Buried beneath his makeup, Voigt seems to have a firm grip on the emotional turmoil the movie purports to portray. Unfortunately, like most of the other characters we never get to really know, FDR is only used as a playing piece to advance the plot.

Pearl Harbor doesn’t have the patience to linger on trivial things like character development. It’s too busy splashing paint across a big canvas. And it does so in typical Bruckheimer-Bay fashion: with what could only be called Attention-Deficit Editing. The camera rarely lingers on a face or a scene long enough for us to get our bearings. Any edit that stretches beyond forty-five seconds (and I’m being charitable here) would be unendurable to the filmmakers. I can understand the quick cuts during action scenes, but not in simple exchanges of dialogue between two characters which, in director Bay’s hands, turns into a glossy series of hiccups.

It’s best to forget about the first and last hours of Pearl Harbor. It is, after all, Dec. 7 that we’ve come for. The big showcase scene of the dawn attack is mightily impressive and jaw-dropping. The filmmakers have lulled you into such a sense of security (or, torpor) that when the torpedoes start flying and explosions break apart the ships, you really do feel some of the shock the islanders must have felt. You also might feel a little guilty about being so turned on by the pretty-as-a-painting cinematography and computer effects. These are, after all, unsuspecting Americans being blown to CGI bits in one of our worst hours as a nation. Sadly, the 2,403 dead are there mainly to serve Bruckheimer and Bay’s whiz-bang production values. It is probably the creepiest stunt-and-pyrotechnic action you’ll see all summer.

Morbid or not, there’s no getting around the fact that the attack is what we’ve paid our money to see, and we’re not disappointed. The extended attack scene is so good, in fact, you start to wonder if perhaps the projectionist might have accidentally insert a reel from an entirely different movie. But no, there’s Ben and Josh and Kate rushing to and fro and, lest we forget, Mr. Zimmer’s score laying on the thick sugar glaze with the timpani and trumpets. Once the smoke clears, once the Japanese fly home, and once the physical wounds are bandaged, we’re right back to the grade-B romance, complete with drippy dialogue and Affleck’s hurt-pup, betrayed lover facial expressions (which seem to have become his specialty).

But hold on to your bladders, folks—there’s still another hour to go. And my oh my, how the clock crawls. Like obedient audiences, we grit our teeth, cross our legs and hang on all the way to the final closing flag-waving narration by Evelyn when she says that “the times tried our souls.”

Oh yes indeed, these three hours did try our souls.

Recommend this product? No

Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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