(film review written May, 2001)
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 becomes 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, as well as the kind of research and detail that Cameron put into that picture. Where "Titanic" felt as if it passed by in an hour instead of three, "Pearl Harbor" feels like every minute of its 183.
And, 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 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 I'd wished his character would have been given more screen time.
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 false that none of it remains that memorable. A real dissapointment.
For this DVD release, the film has been split across two DVDs. The main body of the film is included on the first disc, while the last third and the documentaries are included on DVD 2.
VIDEO: "Pearl Harbor" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I suppose that the biggest compliment I can pay to the presentation by Buena Vista is that usual Bay cinematographer John Schwartzman's cinematography looks as crisp and clear here as it did in the theater. Sharpness and detail are almost remarkable, as fine details are even visible in the backgrounds.
Really, the only thing keeping this from being an absolutely flawless visual presentation is the occasional bit of slight edge enhancement. Other than that, we're presented with a perfectly clean print free of even the slightest specks or marks and a picture free of even the slightest trace of pixelation. The sequences in the hospital during the battle sequence have effects that some who haven't seen the picture might mistake as flaws with the presentation, but these effects are intended.
Colors looked superb throughout the presentation, appearing richly rendered and warm, with no flaws such as smearing or other concerns. Black level remained solid and flesh-tones accurate and natural. An extremely strong effort from the studio.
SOUND: "Pearl Harbor" is presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. As with previous films from sound designer Christopher Boyles (including this Summer's "Jurassic Park III" and Bay's "The Rock"), this is a massive, enveloping sound presentation that is, at its most impressive moments, nothing short of stunning. The opening sequences do have some surround use here and there for music and ambient sounds, but, as one would expect, the attack itself is really when the entire room starts to shake.
Surrounds go into rather serious overdrive throughout this lengthy sequence, as gunfire, ambient sounds, explosions and other elements are impressively offered by the rear speakers. The entire listening space (especially on the DTS track) seemed impressively open and the sound design does a strong job putting the viewer into the middle of the experience through the film's audio.
The entire sound presentation is nicely balanced, as all of the elements are nicely presented and get their own space. The Hans Zimmer score sounds rich and warm and sound effects are presented in a convincing, almost too-realistic fashion that had me practically ducking a few times throughout the proceedings.
Audio quality was impressive throughout, as the film's audio was dynamic and exceptionally clear during the entirity. Some powerful low-bass was also heard and felt during some of the most intense sequences. Dialogue - unfortunately, in this case - remains clear and easily understood. The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation does a decent enough job of presenting the audio's subtle moments and intense sequences, but the DTS 5.1 presentation clearly improves upon nearly every aspect of the audio. Surrounds seemed clearer and more detailed; the audio coming from all sides of the listening space seemed to blend together more seamlessly. Last, but not least, the general audio on the DTS track came across richer, warmer and clearer and low-bass seemed somewhat more powerful.
And, for the first time, a Dolby Headphone track is included, which gives those who wear headphones an artificial "surround" feeling while they're watching the film. Personally, I don't see why anyone would want to do this unless it's late and the viewer doesn't want to wake the neighbors with the film's thunderous audio.
MENUS: The menus are at least elegant and subtle, using some minor clips from the movie quite well in both the animated main menu and sub-menus; chapter selection is also animated.
The Making of "Pearl Harbor": A slickly produced, but occasionally interesting and somewhat informative documentary, this 45-minute program offers interviews with Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, actress Kate Beckinsale, actor Ben Affleck and, most interestingly, many of the survivors of "Pearl Harbor", whose stories about that day are moving, emotional and haunting.
This documentary does eventually show some interesting behind-the-scenes footage, but there's a considerable amount of clips from the movie that seem to be there to pad out the running time. Some of the more interesting clips include one segement which shows the actors going through actual, very intense training camp the actors had to go through and Affleck's reaction. Of course, we are also shown detailed footage of how the main battle scenes were shot. It's a respectable and occasionally interesting documentary, but it's certainly not one of the better "making of"s that I've seen.
Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor:A very nicely done and informative 45-minute piece, this History Channel documentary does a better job at providing information and background about the event than the actual film does. Newsreel footage, interviews with survivors and others are quite well put together into a documentary that tells the viewer step-by-step what happened. Moving and well-produced, this is definitely worth a viewing.
Also: The film's theatrical and teaser trailers (5.1) and a Faith Hill music video.
Final Thoughts: While the battle sequences are exceptionally produced and provide impressive visual effects, the extremely weak and often quite sappy love story takes up a ludicrous amount of screen time and really makes the film (especially a very long opening 90 minutes) remarkably tedious to sit through. Blame the screenplay, which really should have focused considerably more on developing stronger characters that engage the audience and better dialogue. Buena Vista's basic edition (one out of three releases of the picture - two that are out now and a major, multi-disc SE that comes out late Spring 2002) offers the film with fine audio/video quality and a couple of strong supplements.
Those who are already fans of the film will be quite pleased, while those who haven't seen the picture and are interested, I'd recommend seeing it as a rental first.