Director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer attempted to recreate the epic moment in history with their film of the same name. It was an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. Trying to capture on film one of the most infamous moments in American history in 3 hours or less in no easy task. The final product succeeds admirably and only encounters a few minor flaws along the way.
Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) are childhood friends that made their way into the Army as pilots. Best friends, they have always done everything together, and Danny feels betrayed when Rafe takes an assignment away from him and lies to him about the reason. Rafe leaves behind Evelyn, who was a nurse in the Navy. Rafe heads to England to fight with the British, while Evelyn and Danny are transferred to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
When Rafe is reported as shot down in combat, Danny and Evelyn find comfort in each other and finally get on with their lives as December approaches and tension with the Japanese mounts. When Rafe suddenly reappears after being rescued from occupied France, he faces the relation that has developed between Danny and Evelyn. Betrayed and heartbroken, the former friends hardly have the time to argue as the Japanese launch their attack on Pearl Harbor the following morning.
The former friends put aside their differences and manage to be the only two pilots to make it into the air; despite the fact that there is little they could do by the time they make it up. With the attack over, you would think the movie would be nearing an end as well, but you would be wrong. Not content on showing the attack, Bay decides to extend the movie further by showing the first counter-attack on the Japanese that reawakened the faith America had in the military.
Herein lies the major fault in the film. It's too long. There's nothing long with an epic film. Films that can carry the length and bring the viewer along seldom seem long enough. What Bay attempted to do with this film is combine too many elements. He wanted to personalize the attack by following Rafe and Danny, and that would have been fine. It's always nice to have personal investment in a film. Where Bay went to far is by adding in the love triangle, the story of Dorie Miller, and the end story of James Doolittle and the Japanese air raid. In an attempt to lengthen the film and expand interest, the story becomes less powerful and personal. It's akin to a wartime soap opera and not Saving Private Ryan, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, or Tora!, Tora!, Tora!
Performance wise, there are hits and misses in the film as well. I like Ben Affleck, despite the fact that I often find his performances stilted and weak. Here he comes across as believable and passionate about his duty to the Army. Likewise, despite the fact that Cuba Gooding Jr.'s story is tacked on as an afterthought, he gives one of the more emotional performances of the film. His few minutes of screen time is engaging, personal and unfortunately added as an afterthought. Dan Ackroyd has a small, but nice roll as a naval intelligence officer that offers up his suggestions on an attack but was ignored because of lack of evidence.
Overall, it's an engaging film with several fine performances, unequaled battle sequences, and several interesting moments. In an attempt to increase the marketability of the film, the main focus of the story suffers. When watching several of the clips included as extras that show Pearl Harbor survivors relating their original thoughts, it's a shame some of that power couldn't have been captured instead. What's left in the end is a technically amazing, visually pleasing, well acted, but lengthy half-fictionalization of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It's entertaining, but dilutes the meaning of the attack with extra narrative.
Video: This Vista Edition 4-Disc DVD set has possibly one of the nicest transfers you're likely to find outside of a SuperBit DVD edition. The Anamorphic 2.35:1 one transfer shines on almost any television. Brightness and contrast levels are near perfect. With the multiple explosions, many that include water, in the film extra care must have been taken to avoid any pixelation. Despite the high level of activity and multiple elements, there's nary a hint of picture degradation. Likewise, the transfer is free from any film grain or imperfections that may have plagued the cinematic version of the film.
Audio: Like the video, the audio on this disc shines as well. THX optimized and available in Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS, there's a soundtrack for every format lover. The 5.1 soundtrack is one of the best I've heard this year. As in most war movies, there are many uses of the rears and subwoofer. Bullets, explosions, and planes all move around the listening area. The rears are actively used and not just for sound effects. The score has been nicely mixed to fill the rear speakers at times, something that isn't done as often as it should. The subwoofer also gets an active workout both from the effects and the score. Highs are crisp and dialog is clean and audible. Also included is a Dolby Headphone track that attempts to recreate the surround effect for those that listen on headphones. As a person that watches movies on my laptop, this is a welcome addition.
Extras: With 2 additional discs devoted to extras, plus the material included on the first two discs, there is enough material here to keep even the most diehard extra fan busy for a week. The material in the included book did not correspond with the material on the DVD, therefore I list the extras in order from disc 1 to disc 4.
Commentary: Director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger: Recorded shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center, Bay relates the obvious fact from those that have seen the movie that there are eerie similarities. The two discuss the relevance of the film regarding the events and several of the historic aspects of the film. As commentaries go, especially compared to others on this disc, it's rather bland. There are pauses and Bay seems to be going through the motions and Basinger wants to focus on an academic look at the film, but seems to hold back while talking to Bay.
Commentary: Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and actors Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett: As some DVD commentary fans will tell, Affleck is responsible for some of the funniest commentary moments around. With a frat-boy mentality, nothing is sacred while discussing the making of a film that he's been involved in. Obviously Affleck and Hartnett were recorded separately from Bruckheimer and Baldwin because they continuously impersonate and make fun of those two without a comment. Nothing is sacred, from the side of Affleck and Beckinsale's forehead to seriously commenting on how the movie was over-hyped and couldn't be expected to meet expectations.
Commentary: John Schwartzman, Michael Kaplan, Nigel Phelps, Michael Lang, and Hans Zimmer: The production team, minus anyone from visual effects, provides the more technically interesting of the three commentaries. Cinematographer Schwartzman, costume designer Kaplan, production designer Phelps, art director Land and composer Zimmer provide a detached look at the production and reveal lots of little details that go into making and finishing a film.
Faith Hill Music Video "There You'll Be:" Nothing spectacular here, unless you're a fan. It's the standard Hollywood tie-in music video that accompanies any film nowadays.
National Geographic beyond the movie: A tie-in series from National Geographic previewed in this minute long clip. Featuring actual footage and behind-the-scenes access, it looks interesting. It's a shame this program wasn't included on the set.
Journey to the Screen - the Making of Pearl Harbor: This is a great, almost hour-long broad look at the many elements that made up the film. Featuring interviews with actual survivors, it's more emotionally involving than the film itself. Brief clips are also shown of other extended features on the set; like the basic training, the world's largest gimbal, and the interviews with the director, producer and cast.
Production Diary: This 10-piece section of clips provides a closer look
at multiple sequences in the film. Comprised of handheld footage, it's an inside
look at the filming of the airstrip attack and other sequences. It's raw footage
that shows the un-film like quality that is present before the multiple levels
of production. The baja gimbal is a series of time-lapse shots that shows the
immense amount of work that goes into producing some elements that are specifically
for just a few shots. Battleship row is worth watching for a look at Bay freaking
out when boat 67 oversteps it boundaries just a little.
Boot Camp: Soldier's Boot Camp: The 15-minute documentary shows the
actual training that Affleck, Hartnett and others in the cast went through in
preparation for the film. This is a hilarious look at what these guys suffered
in the name of realism. The look on Affleck's face at times is worth watching
the section alone.
Super8 Montage: This is a 4-minute segment if unused footage filmed with a Super8 camera for use as stock and newsreel footage in the film.
Trailers: Also included on this disc (disc 3) are the teaser and theatrical trailers.
One Hour Over Tokyo: This near 50-minute documentary from the History channel provides a closer look at Doolittle's raid and what it meant to the war. It's quite in-depth, as opposed to the brushing over it gets in the film and also offers a look at Pearl Harbor in general. This and the next feature will definitely be of interest to those who want a more historical and complete look at Pearl Harbor.
Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor: This is the most moving and meaningful pieces on this set. It's another production of the History Channel. Comprised of news footage and interviews it takes the viewers on journey into what exactly happened on December 7, 1941. If you watch no other feature on this set, make sure it is this one.
Oral History - the recollections of a Pearl Harbor nurse: This short re-enactment accompanied by photos is a nurse's view of the events that took place that day.
Interactive Attack Sequence: Moving on to disc 4, the focus shifts to visual effects. This is a 30-minute short comprised of 6 audio tracks and 4 angles to one sequence of footage. This is a great look at all the elements that go into making a short, but successful sequence in the film. Every element of design is looked at; film, set, effects, visuals, storyboards, and animatics are all present in this section and of equal importance.
Deconstructing Destruction: More visual effects work is featured in this 50-minute piece of branching documentary. Director Michael Bay and 2nd Unit director Eric Brevig discuss what went into making some of the major effects shots. An icon will occasionally appear on the screen to take you to more detailed footage of their conversation topic. It's interesting stuff, but occasional visually boring.
Animatic Attack Sequence: This 5-minute short shows the importance of animatics when planning and seeking approval of various parties. Without these pieces it would have been nearly impossible to secure the cooperation of the studio and U.S. military. It also shows how much planning is done before a single second of image is committed to film.
Interactive Timeline and others: Disc four also has an interactive timeline, DVD Rom features and DVD credits. Also contained on the disc is a gallery of stills that are broken into several sections. Everything from production designs to effects and make-up tests are show.
Additional Material: Also included are postcard replicas of some of the promotional artwork. A $10 rebate is available for those that purchased the original edition of Pearl Harbor and booklet provides a nice list of all the features included on the set.
Also included on the set are two hidden features. Why Letterbox? is a two-minute feature that shows how much image is lost and should be presented before all films on DVD. This is inexplicably buried in the audio commentary menu on disc one (just press up). Also a hidden gag reel is included on disc 2. Just press right when the Faith Hill video is selected. It has a few funny moments, but it's not as funny as the stuff included on the Armageddon Criterion set that's directed toward Michael Bay.
Overall: I'm tired. This has to be the most extensive set released comprising of only one film. Despite the fact that Pearl Harbor is a flawed film, it's still worth watching and this set makes that even more so. Detractors who didn't like the way the situation was portrayed with like the many documentaries included and there is definitely something for everyone on this set. It's easily a Collector's Series set, if only for the massive amount of material provided for the price.