Pearl Harbor:
a movie review

"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 Harbor.

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.


Sorry, couldn't resist.

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