During some of his commentary tracks and other places, director Michael Bay has expressed his desire to get his films going immediately. One wishes that he would have remembered this for "Pearl Harbor", certainly the biggest Summer film of the season. The film tries to not only portray history, but add in a love triangle to attempt to reach the widest possible audience. Unwisely, Bay spends somewhere around 90 minutes attempting to build up the love story between Evelyn(Kate Beckinsale) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) and Rafe(Ben Affleck), two pilots who have fallen for her.
I must say, with no hesitation, that after 90 minutes, I thought two things were going to happen - either A: I was falling asleep out of sheer boredom or B: I was simply leaving. Bay is obviously a talented director of action pictures, although his films have become less and less entertaining. His attempt to become something other than that with the film's opening 75-90 minute stretch is a mis-step that makes the movie suffer tremendously. Previous attempts by Bay at romance resulted in the animal cracker scene in "Armageddon", a sequence so silly and brief that it hardly had any effect. It doesn't help that Bay can't keep the camera still for more than five seconds - something I'd accept in "Armageddon", but a technique that becomes irritating during simple conversations between characters. Bay also needs to restrain himself from using the camera to turn even the simplest moments into some sort of grand visual composition.
To watch Bay and screenwriter Randall Wallace attempt to make us care about the romance in "Pearl Harbor" is at first unintentionally funny, but slowly, tedious and then irritating. Even Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale, two very good actors who keep getting better each time out, really can't help but ring false during these moments, adding such ultra-sincerity to such cliche-ridden dialogue that a chuckle or two (or three) escaped during many of their scenes. It's a suprise that Affleck, who has shown himself to be not only an intelligent writer but a witty and funny speaker, didn't at least make some attempt to add any sense of originality or freshness to the stale dialogue in these scenes. I wasn't a major fan of the love story in "Titanic", but watching this film, I was able to appreciate them much, much more.
Add, just when I thought I couldn't take anymore of "Pearl Harbor", the attack begins. Michael Bay is a fine director of action and, he does fine here. Explosions are bigger and bigger throughout this 40 minute sequence, and the planes swirling through the air is visually impressive. I will say though that the one actor who really engaged me emotionally during this chaos is Cuba Gooding, Jr. In a small role as a cook on the ship who becomes involved in the fight, Gooding, Jr. does more dramatically and emotionally during his little screentime than most of the other actors involved in the entire production. It's true praise that he took a small part of the three hour whole and, in my mind, made it one of few stand-out moments.
And, of course, it's not over yet as the film continues on towards the raid on Tokyo by Col. Jimmy Doolittle(Alec Baldwin) and his crew of pilots. There's a point in-between where discussion of the romance enters in again and creates similar problems - the romance between these characters has so little chemistry or interest that the movie could have lost it completely. The filmmakers were reportedly often faced with choices on how to keep the 135 million dollar budget in check - cutting at least 45 minutes out of the opening 90 would have not only saved money but made this at least somewhat more watchable. There's no reason whatsoever that "Pearl Harbor" not only runs for 3 hours, but crosses that line by a few minutes.
On top of it all, I'm almost stunned at anyone thought Randal Wallace's screenplay was worth filming. Not only does it not offer anything beyond one-dimensional characters, the great majority of the dialogue is painfully cliched. Whether or not Wallace was completely to blame (or producer Jerry Bruckheimer's usual round-table of writers took a try at the script) I"ll never know, but Wallace is the writer who recieved credit here.
Personally, I'm looking forward to the DVD, although not really because of the movie. Another commentary from Bay - who, whatever you think of his movies or talent as a filmmaker, provides some of the more hyperactively entertaining and intense DVD discussions I've heard. And Affleck, who has become easily the most hilarious and entertaining commentary participant I've heard, will hopefully be involved, as well.
As for the movie itself though, "Pearl Harbor" simply didn't work for me. It's not without a few moments, but the buildup early on is almost unbearable to sit through and although the movie itself finally brings out the visuals, it's so emotionally lacking that none of it remains that memorable. A real dissapointment.