"Pearl Harbor Explodes Across the Screen"
By Teddy Durgin
A few years ago, I attended a speech delivered by Tom Brokaw when
he was on tour for "The Greatest Generation," a book he wrote
that chronicled the men and women of the World War II era. The
speech was horrifically boring. Brokaw, the Ted Striker of
network news anchors, droned on and on about meeting war veteran
after war veteran and how each touched him in a different way.
When he had finished, roughly 60 percent of the auditorium was
open-mouth snoring. I stayed awake, though, more out of respect
for the subject matter than anything else.
I don't think anyone will have trouble maintaining consciousness
while sitting through "Pearl Harbor." Even with a running time
of 183 minutes, this spectacular new film (opening May 25) from
Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer is a stunner. It's as vivid a
recreation of that 1941 attack on the U.S. Naval fleet as we will
likely ever see. Very few films can be called "motion picture
events," but this one deserves it. "Pearl Harbor" is a long,
sprawling, Hollywood epic that respects the old war movies from
the '40s and '50s, while juicing up the genre's familiar
conventions with 21st century special effects, booming surround
sound, and breathtaking digital cinematography.
Can you make the criticism that Bay, the director of "Armageddon"
and "The Rock," is still more interested in explosions and
pyrotechnics than characters and story? I suppose. Yeah. Sure.
Go right ahead. But when you make a movie about an event as
cataclysmic as the attack on Pearl Harbor, don't you really have
to make sure you get the visuals right? Don't you really have to
pay an inordinate amount of attention to the physical details of
the engagement? The planes, the bombs, the weaponry. Bay,
Bruckheimer, and the wizards at Industrial Light and Magic have
brought all of their technical talents to bear on this
production. They have gotten it right, just right.
It's your job to sit there in awe.
Of course, the biggest criticism most will have is that the human
element isn't there. That once again, Bay and Bruckheimer have
given us characters who are cardboard and dialogue that is
cheesy. It makes you wonder why so many people long for the
"Golden Age" of Hollywood. Have you seen some of the WWII-era
movies on Turner Classic Movies or American Movie Classics?
Characters and dialogue don't get any more stock than in those
movies. Maybe it's the lost innocence those flicks deliver that
people still crave. When innocence is lost, it can't be
regained. At the very least, Pearl Harbor taught us that.
I am fine with the characters in "Pearl Harbor." I didn't feel
them in my heart as I did Jack and Rose in "Titanic," but they
held my interest. "Titanic" was unabashedly romantic. "Pearl
Harbor," while no less respectful of the actual event its story
is based around, is more attune to the sensibilities of the
action crowd. The central story is a love triangle between two
best friends (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) and a beautiful
nurse (Kate Beckinsale). Affleck and Hartnett play fighter
pilots who grew up together in Tennessee. All three end up
stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The picture is really helped by a well-chosen cast of supporting
players, ranging from Jon Voigt as President Franklin Roosevelt
to Cuba Gooding as real-life hero Dorie Miller to Alec Baldwin as
Colonel James Doolittle. It's possible Bay and crew could have
made a "13 Days"-style movie on "Pearl Harbor" that showed more
of the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering of the U.S. and
Japan at the time. That also would have made for a great film.
Truthfully, it likely would have made for a better film. But
that would be critiquing the movie they didn't make rather than
the one they made.
The one they made is an awesome achievement.
I repeat. "Pearl Harbor" has a running time of three hours and
three minutes. Be prepared for that going in. It's a tush
tester. It's also an eye and ear tester. This is a movie that
will wring you out and leave you exhausted like few other films
can. The first 80 minutes set up the characters. The next 40
minutes feature the attack on Pearl Harbor (told almost in real
time, by the way). The last 60 minutes explore the aftermath of
the tragedy and show America's retaliation on Tokyo in the spring
of 1942. Take your pick where you feel the movie should be
edited (I'd personally rather see 15 minutes trimmed off the
front end than the back), but leave those 40 minutes in the
middle alone. That is the meat of the film. That is Pearl
Brokaw did manage to say one thing during his speech that has
stuck with me. "The men and women who served in World War II
represent a generation that literally saved this planet." If a
movie like "Pearl Harbor" helps to reinforce this truth, it is
our obligation to support it.
Oh, and one more thing. MICHAEL BAY DONE BLOWN THINGS UP REAL
GOOD IN THIS ONE!!!
Sorry, couldn't resist.
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