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Pearl Harbor: Vista Series (Director's Cut)

List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted June 29, 2002 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

(film review written May, 2001 - Video/Audio & some supplemental comments written in Dec. 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 ever 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.

For the original release, the film was split across two discs and a couple of documentaries were on disc 2. This Vista Series release again splits the picture across two discs, but the version of this film is the "director's cut", which has only about a minute or so of additional footage. While the fact that this "director's cut" is only about a minute longer will likely dissapoint many who were hoping for a bigger restructuring of the picture, it's really rather fascinating and a bit odd that around 60 seconds of footage makes the difference between a PG-13 (the theatrical edition) and an R (this director's edition).


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. The video is the same for this release as the prior release.

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. The audio for this release is the same as the previous release.

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 menus on this release are very similar to the original release. Also worth noting is the packing for this release - while the remarkable fold-out packaging looks impressive and is quite beautifully designed, it doesn't exactly make for the ability to quickly get out the four discs, which are contained in a little set of sleeves; it's difficult to get the discs out without touching the discs or having to have to turn the whole thing upside down.


Commentary: The first commentary that I listed to offered chat from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and actors Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Alec Baldwin. Affleck and Hartnett have been recorded together, while Bruckheimer and Baldwin have been recorded separately. I'm always very pleased when Ben Affleck is a part of any commentary. Whatever anyone thinks of Affleck's talent as an actor (I think he's a pretty good actor who's getting better), I doubt anyone who's listened to any of his commentaries can deny that he's an intensely funny individual who seems happy to take apart the process of making such a huge movie - his chats about "Pearl Harbor" and "Armageddon" seem to be able to pay respect to the kind of scale and technological processes involved, but also point out the kind of ridiculousness that Bay's pictures sometimes achieve; some of the funniest moments on this track involve Affleck's discussion of how Bay works and his imitations of the director. He even jokes on Hartnett's fear during the production: "you were just scared because of the loud noises and shiny things." During another early sequence, Affleck states, "how much of a Calvin Klein commercial is this?".

Baldwin is pretty serious, but still rather interesting - he offers decent analysis of the characters and time period. I've heard people disliking Bruckheimer's commentary chat, but I've always found the producer's discussions of his pictures informative (although occasionally repetitive). Bruckheimer offers a very nice mixture of discussion of history and the obstacles in pulling together such an enormous production. While this was a very enjoyable commentary, I would have liked some participation from the women in the film - Beckinsale, etc.

Commentary: This is a commentary from director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger, who was Bay's former film school professor. Although I haven't always been a fan of Bay's films, I've always liked his commentary tracks very much - the high-energy director speaks very honestly about his films. On this commentary, Bay is a bit more subdued, as the track was recorded shortly after September 11th. The decision to include Bay's former film-school professor was an interesting one, but I didn't always feel that it was a particularly effective one. Basinger nicely plays interviewer during a fair amount of the commentary, but her comments directed towards the picture seemed almost always positive - she seems 100% pleased with her former student's film and, while she may be, it would have been nice to get a bit of criticism. While not as entertaining as Bay's previous commentary tracks, this is probably the director's strongest discussion, as it offers good analysis of what he was trying to achieve in both story and visuals.

Commentary: This is a commentary from cinematographer John Schwartzman, costume designer Michael Kaplan, production designer Nigel Phelps, supervising art director Michael Lang and composer Hans Zimmer. The other two commentaries occasionally offer some technical comments that are of interest, but this is really the commentary that provides an excellent overview of most of the design/look aspects of the production. I was a bit dissapointed that none of the visual effects artists partcipated in this commentary, but I suppose that their work is highlighted elsewhere in this set.

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. This was also a feature included on the original release.

Also On Disc 2: A preview for the "National Geographic: Beyond The Movie - Pearl Harbor" release is included, as is the Faith Hill music video that was on the original release.

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.

Boot Camp: Before the production process began, the actors went through a real-life boot camp where they experienced what it's like to go through training. There are two different sections - one focuses on what Affleck, Hartnett, Bremner and the other actors went through, while the other shows the officer's camp that Baldwin went through. Both featurettes run for a total of about 22 minutes and are pretty tense at times. Affleck looks at a few points during the footage as if he wants to say, "what the hell am I doing here?". I wish the actors would have provided commentary for this footage - I'd imagine that Affleck could have easily provided a solid 15-minutes worth of amusing stories.

Production Diaries: This section provides ten featurettes that allow the viewer to go on-set to watch the preparation for the sequences in the picture. The behind-the-scenes material thankfully isn't intercut with interview footage; this is pure behind-the-scenes footage that, helpfully, even includes some captions on the lower half of the screen about any necessary information or who's currently on-screen. In addition, optional commentary from director Michael Bay and others is available on most of these pieces. These are beautifully filmed featurettes that are able to get right into the scene remarkably well.

Super 8 Footage: Additional 8mm footage was shot for use in the film but ended up not being included. That footage, quite well-shot by one of the director's assistants, is available here in a montage that lasts a couple of minutes.

Trailer/Teaser: The teaser and theatrical trailers are available on disc 3.

One Hour Over Tokyo: This is a History Channel program about "Pearl Harbor" that is new to this release ("Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor" was included on the prior edition).The documentary mainly focuses on the Dolittle raid, but also gives a solid perspective on Pearl Harbor in general. The additional historical background that both of the large documentaries included offer is certainly appreciated and will likely interest those who want to know a lot more than the movie provides. Although the menu lists this program as being 50-minutes, it's actually closer to about 46.

Oral History: This five-minute program is a re-creation of the statements of Lt. Ruth Erickson, a nurse who was on-hand and took care of many of injured in "Pearl Harbor". While the audio plays, actual pictures and other documents play on-screen. This is a fascinating, if short, program.

Interactive Attack Sequence: This feature on disc four is one of the more impressive in the entire set. It is a multi-angle, multi-audio edition of the main Pearl Harbor attack sequence. Four different angles - "the movie", "on the set", "storyboard and animatics" and "composite of angles 1/2/3" are available as well as several different audio tracks. The audio tracks are: "film soundtrack" (5.1), "on the set" (2.0), "music only" (2.0) and sound effects only (5.1). In addition, three audio commentaries for this 22-minute sequence are available: one with visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig, one with storyboard artist Robert Consing and the third with survivors of Pearl Harbor.

Deconstructing Destruction: The fourth disc already used multi-angle capabilities with the "Interactive Attack Sequence" featurette; now, "Deconstructing Destruction" puts the branching feature to work. Here, director Michael Bay and visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig sit down to discuss the film's major effects sequences. But, there's also an indicator occasionally on-screen - click upon that and additional footage of Brevig or visual effects artists Ben Snow and Ed Hirsh appears to go more in-depth about that particular scene. The conversation between Bay and Brevig is casual (Bay displays a medal from ILM for directing so much of the film's effects work towards them; Brevig states that he got a medal too, but it was for working with Bay.) and very informative - they start off with a funny little intro and then go into the specific scenes they want to talk about. When the two are talking, they are on-screen in one window. When they are talking about a scene, there is often a small window on top that has the camera focused on the two talking and there is another window below with the camera behind the two, pointed towards the screen as they are talking. Occasionally, the material is the only element on-screen, with audio of the two talking.

Animatic Attack: The animatic (animated storyboard) of the attack is included (5min/43sec).

Gallery: The large gallery is broken up into several sections: publicity (banners, bus shelter posters, Japanese release ads, lobby cards and US posters); production design; historical; storyboards; ILM and Stan Winston FX make-up.

Additional Material: Disc four also includes an interactive timeline, DVD-ROM material and DVD Credits (DVD producer David Prior handled this release and, like all of his past efforts, has done an incredible job pulling this material together with the assistance of his crew.)

Various Notes: There is also an additional booklet as well as poster art cards included within the case. Also, a rebate coupon for $10 for those who bought the original version of "Pearl Harbor" and upgraded to this new "Vista Series" release can be found within a pocket in the fold-out. Additional material in the set includes a hidden "gag reel" on disc two, which offers several very funny moments, but a fair amount of rather blank space. "Why Letterbox?" is also a fine featurette included on disc one that explains in detail why films should be presented in their original aspect ratio. Unfortunately, the strange part is that this is essentially a hidden feature in the set up menu (highlight right next to "audio commentaries"), when it should certainly be something that can be easily seen. Additionally, THX optimizer a/v tests are included on both disc one and two.

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.

As for the new Vista Series DVD edition of "Pearl Harbor", there really hasn't been anything like it before (and there won't be, until maybe when the 4-DVD "Lord of the Rings" set comes out in November). Although I still dislike the film, I will freely admit that going through this enormous Special Edition was a terrific experience; through the commentaries, documentaries and other features, I got a strong idea of every aspect of this production. While I was hoping for more difference to this "director's cut" of the film than a minute, the audio/video quality of the film is as remarkable as it was on the first edition. Fans of the film should absolutely pick this new edition up immediately - the amount of supplements are enormous. Those who disliked the film who might still be interested in the supplements should still check this new edition out, if even just as a rental.
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