60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition
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History comes alive in the unforgettable epic motion picture PEARL HARBOR, the spectacular blockbuster brought to the screen by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. Astounding visual and audio effects put you at the center of the event that changed the world -- that early Sunday morning in paradise when warplanes screamed across the peaceful skies of Pearl Harbor and jolted America into World War II. This real-life tale of catastrophic defeat, heroic victory, and personal courage focuses on the war's devastating impact on two daring young pilots, Ben Affleck (ARMAGEDDON) and Josh Hartnet (THE VIRGIN SUICIDES), and a beautiful, dedicated nurse, Kate Beckinsale (SERENDIPITY). PEARL HARBOR is extraordinary moviemaking -- a breathtaking reenactment of the "date which will live in infamy" and a heartfelt tribute to the men and women who lived it.
To call Pearl Harbor a throwback to old-time war movies is something of an understatement. Director Michael Bay's epic take on the bombing that brought the United States into World War II hijacks every war movie situation and cliché (some affectionate, some stale) you've ever seen and gives them a shiny, glossy spin until the whole movie practically gleams. Planes glisten, water sparkles, trees beckon--and Bay's re-creation of the bombing itself, a 30-minute sequence that's tightly choreographed and amazingly photographed, sets the action movie bar up quite a few notches. And in updating the classic war film, Bay and screenwriter Randall Wallace (Braveheart) use that old plot standby, the love triangle--this time, it's between two pilots (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) and a nurse (Kate Beckinsale) who find themselves stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, during what they thought would be a nice, sunny tour of duty. Then, of course, history intervened.
For the first 90 minutes of the movie, Affleck and Beckinsale find a nice, appealing chemistry that plays on his strengths as a movie star and hers as a serious actress--he gives her glamour, she gives him smarts. Their truncated romance--the beginning of which is told in flashback so we can get right to the point where he has to leave her to go to England--works, thanks to their charm. They're no Kate and Leo from Titanic (a strategy the film strives hard toward), but they're pretty darn adorable in their own right. Hartnett, as the not entirely unwelcome third wheel, squints bravely but makes only a slight dent in the film. Everyone else in Pearl Harbor--from Cuba Gooding Jr.'s brave navy seaman to Jon Voight's able impersonation of FDR--is pretty much a glorified walk-on, taking a backseat to the pyrotechnics and action sequences that keep the three-hour film in fairly constant motion. But when that action does take hold, Pearl Harbor is quite a thrilling ride. --Mark Englehart
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btw, both of my grandfathers were pilots in wars... dad's dad was "too tall" but they let him in anyway since he was already flying planes as a crop duster, etc for other farmers.. I think that's the story. anyway. :)
The story is fairly straightforward. Two boys who grew up together as best friends fascinated by the daring-do of the World War I air aces, join the Army Air Corps on the eve of World War II. The older man, Rafe (Ben Affleck), is cocky, self-assured, and eager to be a hero. The younger man, Danny (Josh Hartnett), is sensitive, somewhat shy, and was presumably traumatized by his father's emotional breakdown after fighting in the trenches of France during the Great War. When Rafe joins the Eagle Squadron, a British unit for American volunteer pilots, and is subsequently presumed killed in action, Danny first comforts, and then falls in love with, Rafe's girlfriend, a Navy nurse named Evelyn - played by the lovely Kate Beckinsale. On the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack, Rafe returns - it transpires that he had been rescued by a French fishing boat and was hiding out in occupied France - causing a love triangle that is interrupted by the Japanese attack. In the end, Rafe and Danny reconcile just before both participate in the April, 1942 Dollittle raid on Tokyo, with Evelyn waiting back at Pearl to find out if her men will make it home from the mission.
The critics have said that the portrayal of the attack is the strongest part of the film and that the love story is dispensable. Actually, the reverse is true. For a student of history, the "historical" aspects of the film are either inaccurate, incomplete, or simply false. Speaking as a Washington, DC area resident, it is unclear why the local audience did not break out in giggles when the Navy Department building that appears on screen is actually the House side of the U.S. Capitol. (One wag called it the Navy Department's House of Representatives annex.) The battle scenes, though indisputably gripping, are almost too glitzy, with Japanese and American warplanes performing tactics best suited to Star Wars X-wing fighters, and at least one shot with 1990's vintage aircraft carriers being included in a "fleet at sea" scene. This is mostly good visual stuff, but for anyone with a little historical knowledge, it is distracting. (One big exception - the sequence showing the capsizing of USS Oklahoma is very well done.)
The love story, on the other hand, has all of the feel of a 1943 vintage romance and war movie. Somewhat hokey and a little overwought, but nevertheless compelling. The viewer gets a feel not so much for the times themseleves, but for the cinema at a time when Americans went to the movies both for entertainment and for reaffirmation. The movie evokes the world as it was in 1941 as viewed through the prism of moviegoers during the war and its immediate aftermath. It is a mixture of innocence, foreboding, nostalgia and cliche.
To be certain, sometimes the story falls flat. Although Affleck, Beckinsale and Harnett all put in good performances, they do not have enough time - even in a three hour movie - to convey all the information that the viewer needs to be fully engaged with the characters. (The novel that came out with the movie fills in many gaps.) Also, the scene where Evelyn sees Rafe alive for the first time is oddly muted. Evelyn is shocked at first, but moves straight to confusion over her feelings for both Rafe and Danny. The expected intervening step - joy at seeing Rafe alive - never transpires, making the whole scene seem an anti-climax.
Also, the movie never makes explicit that although Evelyn loves Danny, Rafe is her true love. Instead, she is made to seem that she is not making a choice, thereby draining some of the dramatic oxygen. Nor does it clearly explain on what basis Rafe and Danny seem to reconcile, instead there is a scene in which both characters seem to go from wary antagonism to renewed affection in a split second. (Again, the book clarifies much.)
One other peculiar aspect of the movie is its rather grim tone - surprising in a summer movie. Although Wallace and Bay work tirelessly to bring out themes of pride and patriotism, they never fully succeed. It is just too hard to look at wrecked battleships and shattered corpses to feel all that good. Even the end sequences, which are emotionally the most powerful - and arguably the best dramatice scenes - in the movie, do not create feelings of patriotism so much as a sense of wistfulness. The audience feels happy for the characters, but it is mixed with a sense of loss. This will probably be effective with older audiences, but may lack the emotional lift that the under 30 crowd seems to require of its movies.
Notwithstanding these weaknesses, the "period" feel of the movie works. The viewer gets a glimpse of movies circa 1943. Oddly, "Tora! Tora! Tora!," which is an outstanding and historically more accurate movie, fails to deliver in this category - the characters in that movie could as easily be in 2001 as 1941. (As to those critics who complain that "Pearl Harbor" is not about Pearl Harbor, you probably name your cats, Kitty, and your dogs, Spot.)
As to the performances, almost all the cast perform well, if not always up to their finest earlier work. Affleck is convincing as the cocky pilot, and his sequences with Beckinsale demonstrate the same kind of restrained, and for that seemingly more authentic, emotion as he showed as the cocky ad agent in "Bounce." (Though, overall, he is better in "Bounce.") Beckinsale is gorgeous in 1940's vintage attire and hairstyle and brings off even the most cliched lines - and she gets her fair share - with a naturalness that makes them acceptable to 21st century audiences. Hartnett has the toughest job as the introspective Danny in a cast of very prominent characters, but pulls it off to remarkable effect.
As to Cuba Gooding Jr., Dan Akroyd, Jon Voight, Alec Baldwin and the rest of the cast, all do creditable work. The one exception is the Japanese actor, Mako, whose Admiral Yamamoto is played without the subtlety that Soh Yamamura brought to the role in "Tora!, Tora!, Tora!." An occassional physical gesture, such as shaking his head with regret when he delivers the obligatory -for Pearl Harbor movies - "sleeping giant" line, might have made his character seem more real. Instead, each line is delivered as if Yamamoto was reading a cue card. (NOTE to the subtitle writer: It's "The rise OR fall of our empire..." not, "The rise AND fall of our empire...")
Taken together, "Pearl Harbor" is not the strongest movie, but its feelings are real and it definitely taps into the anxiety, harshness,beauty, courage, and heroism that Americans equate with the movies of that period. That probably accounts for "Pearl Harbor's" bad reviews. The critics, and unfortunately probably most younger audiences, want an action story or a love story, and cannot relate very much to, or empathize with, evocations of a world long since past and that seems, in retrospect, pitiably naive. That is sad, but less for the talented and underapprecited cast and crew of "Pearl Harbor," than for the viewers who will see it.