Reviewed December 3rd, 2001 by Dan Jones
”Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the empire of Japan.”
Pearl Harbor...where do I begin? Pearl Harbor was hyped as the big summer blockbuster for 2001, the year’s “Saving Private Ryan” if you will. A huge cast, a huge budget, over-the-top special effects, and a plot that revolved around one of the most historic days in United States history, you had to assume Pearl Harbor was going to be big; but the big question for me was whether or not Michael Bay and company could pull it off. Sadly, they could not; and they made it seem like they were not even trying. Let’s look closer.
The movie Pearl Harbor revolves mainly around two life-long friends (Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker, played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett respectively), two eventual air-force pilots that are sucked into World War II, and a nurse (Evelyn Stewart, played by Kate Beckinsale) that gets to them both. One would think that the majority of Pearl Harbor would deal more with the historic United States tragedy...but, this is clearly Hollywood, and because of which, the film is “Hollywoodified” to perhaps the greatest extent this viewer has ever seen (in a movie based on history). This results in a story that deals too much with a nothing but typical love story and too little with the significance of the event. Oddly enough, I am suddenly reminded of the movie Thirteen Days with Kevin Kostner, which dealt with the Cuban Missile crisis. Here was a movie that completely bombed in the theaters, but a movie that I felt did a very, very good job of dealing with the subject matter at hand. A movie that did not seek to entertain the audience in the way Titanic did, rather a movie that tried to tell the true story of what happened, and how close the U.S. was to the brink of war. Pearl Harbor almost seemed like complete fiction, only grabbing real facts about the event here and there to bring the story along with it, kicking and screaming for all of the 183 minutes.
Is all this to say that Pearl Harbor is a bad movie? Well, Pearl Harbor is not a bad movie in every sense of the word. The special effects looked fantastic, the big attack scene looked tremendous, the acting was passable, and the last hour was mostly good. Nevertheless, in this reviewer’s opinion it should have been so much more. This should not have been a movie about two men’s friendship and there love for one woman. This should not have been a movie that made these two men seem like the soul individuals whom could destroy any Japanese fighters in the attack on Pearl Harbor. It just seemed so fictional that I felt bad for anyone watching the movie that had went through the time first hand; or even worse, was a part of it. Of all the movies ever made that had something to do with war, this one seemed the most unreal, yet it’s title is Pearl Harbor... leading one to believe that this entire movie would focus on the event; not on a love story that may or may not have happened. However, as a movie, yea it is decent; but it truly does no respect to the event other then using the attack on Pearl Harbor to draw unwilling participants into the theater and into a love story they probably would not have seen if they knew what they were really in for, and for that, I fault it, tremendously. Pearl Harbor commits one of the seven deadly sins: Vanity.
Going back to the more non-opinionated aspects of the movie, as I said, Pearl Harbor had a huge cast. A cast that was not initially paid for the film until it went to the theaters, only assuming there would be a huge turnout, only to find a less then enthusiastic viewing audience, resulting in very minimal profits (perhaps not even truly turning a profit in theaters after marketing and what not, who knows?). Rest assured that everyone involved probably made his or her dollars; I am sure Ben Affleck did not go hungry. Besides the aforementioned Affleck, McCawley, and Beckinsale, Pearl Harbor brought in the talents of William Lee Scott, Ewen Bremner, Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight (as a somewhat unconvincing President Franklin D. Roosevelt), and Cuba Gooding Jr. making for a relatively solid cast on paper, yet the script makes for rather sub par acting. To add to the huge cast, the movie has huge special effects as one would have to believe looking at the budget; and for the most part it looks very good, and the attack scenes very realistic (coming from someone who has no frame of reference of the time or how the event looked).
Now we all know that the DVD format is a place where movies can come to have a second chance. A mystical place where movies can still be shown, for the most part, with the same power and might that is portrayed on the big screen; a format that just loves big movies such as this, and for that reason, in time, I’m sure Pearl Harbor will make its money back ten fold. For DVD, Pearl Harbor is being released in a standard Collector’s Edition, a DVD gift set version, and next year, May 14, 2002 to be exact, in a three-disc Director’s Cut. As for the director’s cut; it seems Michael Bay did not like the way the final cut of the film turned out (who would have guessed that?), and is going back to the drawing board, gathering even MORE footage to the already three hour film; and one can only assume he will remove some parts from the theatrical version. Perhaps it will make for a better movie; as one can only assume, judging from the cut that lay before our eyes today. We will just have to wait and see.
Well, finally, let’s take a look at The 60th Anniversary Collectors Edition, THX certified release of Pearl Harbor on DVD. Lots of words, eh?
Pearl Harbor is presented in approximately 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and I must say, the movie looks tremendously good. Colors are nice and vibrant, darks and blacks are rich and deep, and there is rarely a grain or scratch on the transfer. There is some minimal over use of edge enhancement, but overall it is not too noticeable. This is truly a great transfer that can only be attributed to the film’s huge budget. Looking at the length of the movie, and the extras included on the disc, to achieve this great quality the film obviously had to be spread over two discs, ala Godfather 2. This is not a big deal, and without it, the quality of the video would undoubtedly drop, leading to digital compression problems; Buena Vista definitely made the right choice in breaking up the film; it would have been two discs anyways.
Audio wise, Pearl Harbor treats us to 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, along with a new Dolby Headphones track. Both 5.1 tracks are strong, yet the clear winner in my opinion is the DTS track. Both tracks are very active and surrounding, yet the DTS track seemed to give a more detailed, clearer sounding experience. I was really expecting these tracks to be state of the art for the time; yet, I walk away feeling that there could have been more. There are better mixes out there in movies with much lower budgets. Nevertheless, overall, these are very solid 5.1 tracks, and still deserve the 95 ranking I bestowed on them. Also included is a French 5.1 Dolby Digital track, English captions, and Spanish subtitles.
As for this new technology, Dolby Headphones, I am somewhat baffled. I do not know why anyone would buy a DVD, especially one of a war-ish type movie, and then want to listen to it with headphones, let alone headphones that cannot possibly render anything near true 5.1 surround sound. After listening to this track on a semi-decent set of headphones, I was left quite unimpressed; it is just not worth it; I doubt 2% of the people that buy the film will even use it; and in time, we will probably see the idea die off. It seems like one of those solutions to a problem no one had.
Extras wise, this Collectors Edition does a fairly decent job, giving us two fairly large documentaries, one on the film, and one on the event. The first being “To the Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor.” This documentary, running a bit over 45 minutes, gives us some behind the scenes looks into the making of the movie. This documentary gives us some great footage of some of the scenes in the movie, a look at the special effects, and a bunch of cast and production interviews. Worth a watch. Our next documentary, “Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor,” gives us the more important side of the event itself, the facts. This documentary again runs about 45 minutes and unlike the first documentary, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen, is shown in full screen. This documentary tries to achieve what the movie did not even attempt: to actually tell us about Pearl Harbor through people that lived through it. Finally, we get the theatrical teaser and trailer presented in 5.1 surround and anamorphic widescreen, and the Faith Hill music video for “There You'll Be.” Overall, these are some nice extras, but probably nowhere near the amount that will be included in the director’s cut edition next year...
So, what do I think of Pearl Harbor? I obviously, do not think too much of it. Yea, it is a decent movie if you do not take into account that it was based around true United States history, but it does no justice to the event that it should have been all about. This is not going to be one of those movies we show our future generations in high school (hopefully). The movie runs over three hours, dragging the viewer into a storyline with no end in sight, and a plot with no reason for its existence. If someone makes a movie in the future about the World Trade Center tragedy revolving around some obscenely out-of-place plot, you would be offended; better yet, imagine the World Trade Center tragedy depicted in a movie using this exact main love story plot... it would be asinine. Pearl Harbor might be worth a watch; but keep in mind that this is not a historical movie (if you want that, go pick up Thirteen Days, you will not be disappointed). This is not a movie that deals with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, rather this is the same love story you have seen onscreen a thousand times before...the choice is up to you; but I personally, cannot recommend a purchase; perhaps a rent.
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