Will someone please tell me what it is about dangerously stupid military recruits that not only fascinates moviegoers, but allows us to suspend our disbelief enough to believe they basically get in trouble upward? Think of Maverick from Top Gun: If a real life fighter pilot had ever pulled any of the insane stunts as Tom Cruise's iconic character, they would have been given a court martial basically on the spot, and it would have been a simple formality before his inevitable dishonorable discharge. Yet these are the guys who are always saving the day and getting the girls not through rigorously practicing proper combat protocol, but with breakneck improvisation possibly involving maneuvers their $100 million fighter planes might not be able to pull.
In one of the opening scenes in Pearl Harbor, main characters - fighter pilots, you knew that - Rafe and Danny perform the most egregious example I've ever seen: They play a game of chicken with each other! Seriously, they take their planes and fly racing at full speed right headlong at each other, only to barrel to the side at the last possible second. Welcome to Pearl Harbor, director Michael Bay's attempt to recreate Titanic by pacing a disaster movie to a love story.
Read that last sentence again.
Did it sink in? Yes, at one time Michael Bay, blow-up expert extreme, decided he wanted to try his hand at directing a Nicholas Sparks novel. Okay, Pearl Harbor was never actually a Nicholas Sparks novel, but Sparks makes his paychecks by writing romance books which usually have some sort of connections to World War II. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's made this comparison. And I know for a fact I'm not the only one who spotted the parallels to James Cameron's ultimate love disaster flick. The only think Pearl Harbor does much different is introduce make the villainous rich fiancé the good guy.
So here's the setup: Best friends Rafe and Danny are both badass rogue fighter pilots in the United States Army Air Corps. (The Air Force didn't become a service branch of its own until later.) After their little chicken stunt, Rafe gets called up to the office to get royally chewed out by his commander and, in the grand tradition of movie fighter pilots everywhere, fails upward! For Rafe, failing upward means a transfer to Eagle Squadron, a unit of the British Royal Air Force made for American pilots who decided to pitch in. Rafe has a nice girl to leave behind named Evelyn, and that gets to be a problem when Rafe's plane gets shot down in a dogfight with a squadron of Luftwaffe bombers. I'm not sure what normal British military protocol is for death in service, but Rafe is presumed dead, and Danny sees it fit to present the news to Evelyn himself. Now, how the hell did everyone manage to miss Rafe getting back? I guess it doesn't matter very much, because during the period Rafe was thought to be dead, Danny jumped Evelyn's bones, and…. You can guess where this is going, can't you? Okay, even though Evelyn and Danny had only a few scenes together so far, Danny decides he's falling in love, and that leads to a night together, which leads to a mass eruption of anger from Rafe when he returns on the night of December 6, 1941. At this point, you're hoping all three of these characters are killed the following morning, but no such luck.
Michael Bay is one of those people who got his career break from Steven Spielberg, and Spielberg knows a thing or two about movies. There are times in Pearl Harbor where it's clear what Spielberg saw in him, and times when Michael Bay comes across as a completely different director; times, in other words, where Bay directs with competence and vision. The bombing sequence is exciting and spectacular and doesn't have any of Bay's trademark flash cuts. It invites us down into the action and gives us the viewpoints of the soldiers who watched with a sense of horror, knowing they couldn't do very much to stop what was going on. The bomb viewpoints are particularly compelling. The mistakes in this scene are more the fault of the screenwriters than the director, and holy shit are there mistakes: In Pearl Harbor, the Japanese drop bombs on civilian targets, even though no Japanese pilots fired on civilian targets during the real raid. On the way to Pearl Harbor, the Japanese pilots fly by every symbol of American innocence. When the bombing begins, a chase sequence is created where the main characters, who weren't anywhere near Pearl Harbor, race back in a car amidst the fighter planes shooting at them. All of them are well-shot, but they're all shamelessly cliched as well.
Probably the biggest screenwriting mistake is something Titanic got right: The fictional characters regularly met and interacted with real people who were on the Titanic. It allowed a sense of realism and connection with the characters. The men we see on board the ships in Pearl Harbor are faceless. We don't know them, we don't much care who they are, and if we do, that may be because of the melodramatic symbols of innocence which were forced in there. In other words, we get brainwashed into caring.
After the bombing, things get a little bit more compelling, and the real people who are portrayed in the movie become a lot more prominent. This doesn't make the movie much better. It ends with the infamous Doolittle Air Raids, and, oh yeah, with Evelyn pregnant with Danny's child. At this point I wanted to pay tribute to Michael Bay myself in a way which would probably make him proud: By shooting out my TV screen! The great shame is that while this terrible love triangle is being badly acted, the far more entertaining story is being told from the viewpoints of the leaders in Washington and Tokyo. For everything wrong with Pearl Harbor, there was at least a teensy bit of effort made to tell the story from both sides, so the Japanese didn't come across as monsters. This of course fails because the Japanese seem to base their whole motivation on their oil supply lines being cut, and we're supposed to believe they think attacking the United States will suddenly bring them back. Good luck with that. It was a terrible research failure, but I appreciate the intention, even if Clint Eastwood's classic Sands of Iwo Jima took the Japanese viewpoint and succeeded everywhere Pearl Harbor failed with it.
A lot of critics hate Michael Bay, and Bay defends himself by saying his movies aren't meant to cater to sophisticated movie fanatics. That's just fine by me; I love a good mindless action or disaster flick, and while Michael Bay can hardly be called an artist, I find most of his movies are a good time. Not Pearl Harbor, though. Fortunately, Bay seems to know what a galactic screwup Pearl Harbor was, and so he hasn't tried to direct anything like it again, and fallen happy right back into his comfort zone.
I caught this movie on cable over the weekend and was blown away by how good it is! The acting was first class and the special effects were phenomenal. The story revolves around Ben Affleck and Josh Harnett who are best friends and both fall in love with Kate Beckensdale. Many people (myself included) thought that this would be a rip-off of the Leo DeCaprio/Kate Winslet story of Titanic. It is nothing of the sort. Though Affleck and Harnett are love rivals, they remain … more
This is one of my favorite movies I consider this a must have. It has brilliant picture and sound. I am not sure why there are so many complaints about this movie because it looks great to me. It seems like a fair depiction of Pearl Harbor from what I have learned. I did own the DVD and upgraded to Blu-Ray and there is a huge difference.
Pros: Great Effects Cons: Cliche filled, not alot of Historical facts, borrows from many other War Films. The Bottom Line: A missed chance, could have been so much better, Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. With the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor coming this December, it stands to reason that Hollywood would give us a epic war film that would arrive in a mass of … more