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Pearl Harbor:
60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition

review by Zach B.

 

 

 

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 183 minutes

Starring: Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Jon Voight, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Sizemore and Alec Baldwin

Written by: Randal Wallace

Directed by: Michael Bay

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.95

Features: Journey To The Screen: The Making Of "Pearl Harbor", Unsung Heroes Of Pearl Harbor, Faith Hill Music Video "There You'll Be", National Geographic Beyond The Movie: Pearl Harbor Preview, Theatrical Teaser, Theatrical Trailer. DVD-ROM: Pearl Harbor Definitive Biography

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Headphone, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Selection (44 Scenes), Two-Disc Set, THX Certified

Released: December 4th, 2001

 

 

"Pearl Harbor" is supposed to be some gung-ho historical epic, used as a major backdrop for a fictional character love triangle. It's supposed to bring history alive and make a detailed account of a fatal and sad day in American history, using a mixture of fictional characters and real life historical heroes as an excuse for that. People are interested in seeing major historical events come to life using the money, magic and power of Hollywood, but they also like stories that they get all sympathetic for, trying to connect with the plight of the characters and tug at the heart strings. It has to be some equal balance. You need a story and characters to go in a film, as it just can't be random bits of history slapped together. So, one compliments the other to try and make it work.

We can relate to history (though some more than others, namely, people who've experienced events more closely and direct than other people) and we all do like stories, right? But let's face it, when the public goes to see a film called "Pearl Harbor" they want to see just that: air attacks, explosions, people dying and the madness of war. Yes, Pearl Harbor itself is a backdrop for the film's story, but it's a very important as well: it drives the characters, what happens, the historical portions and in some sense, is one of the hearts in the story and makes the movie what it's all about. But I suppose a lot of what I described just rules for mass market, mainstream Hollywood entertainment, pleasing everyone in the correct way and doing that balance. Of course, while all of those elements are needed, there is a difference between doing it right and doing it wrong. On how it was all done, I'm sorta mixed.

"Pearl Harbor" tells the story of two lifelong friends, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett). The two grow up together and become pilots, who are the best of the best. Rafe is invited to fight in World War II for the British, and at the tests, Rafe meets a nurse named Evelyn Stewart (Kate Beckinsale). They fall in love, and Rafe is called to fight. His plane is shot done, and after he's not heard from, everyone presumes he's dead. Danny comforts Evelyn, and they have a fling going. But then Rafe comes back alive, the tragic events of Pearl Harbor hits, and as their lives will change, so will everyone else's.

A lot of you probably have seen "Pearl Harbor" and have come to your own conclusions. Personally, I really did enjoy it. It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't as bad as everyone made it out to be. While the film didn't set any box office records on fire (and to a disappointed Disney, hoping for a monster hit, it only inched its way to nearly 200 million dollars), it still set other records. For one thing, it's gone down in history as the biggest movie ever to be greenlit, with a whopping 135 million dollars or so. And yes, when many people think of other Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer romp, they think one thing and one thing only: mindless popcorn entertainment with big budget special effects, lavish production values and explosions. Major explosions.

There a lot of you out there who probably do despise the work of Michael Bay, but if there's one thing, you can't deny the guy's passion and love of filmmaking. I think the guy really knows how to make a film no matter what, and has some really great skills. The camerawork he employs on the film is very stylish and bold, giving off some fine sweeping shots that are pretty epic and give off a fine sense of the sets, costumes, actors, locations and detail. You get a sense of a lot. There are a lot of shots in this movie, and a lot of really good ones too, and you really have to give the man credit. I felt the three hours actually went by pretty fast, and while the script isn't exactly even, he makes the best of what's offered here. The film's editing is great too.

I thought the actors did a really good job in their roles. Ben Affleck's southern accent is very nice and he puts a strong command and strength behind Rafe, with a bold sense of eagerness. He shares great chemistry with Kate Beckinsale and with Josh Hartnett. Beckinsale's American accent and innocence as a woman who is put between tough choices works, while Hartnett is also strong and noble-hearted as Danny, also with a nice accent. The supporting players are fine too. Jon Voight is quite versatile and even a little inspiring as FDR, while Cuba Gooding, Jr. is fine in his brief role as Dorie Miller. Tom Sizemore and Alec Baldwin (who plays Col. Doolittle) also bring punch and a fine sense to their roles as well. It's a pretty fine, if uneven ensemble.

Given the giant budget, the special effects are the best out there. The wizards behind Industrial Light and Magic re-create the tragic events of December 7th with multiple layers and slick computer animation. The stunts and explosions that are shot and then put together with the special effects are pretty amazing too, making the film a bit amazing to watch, but still rather realistic which is no easy task. The locations and sets are very 1940s and feel realistic too, all with a fine, if somewhat standard heroic Hans Zimmer score to top it all off (but it certainly fits).

When it comes down to it, I guess the blame for the films flaw shouldn't always be on Michael Bay, but screenwriter Randall Wallace. We should cut Wallace some slack... he certainly hasn't written terrible movies ("Braveheart," adapting "We Were Soldiers," among others). Still, a lot of my problems with the movie rested within the story. The dialogue isn't terrible, but the love triangle has been done over and over before... and much better. The triangle's start and finale is quite predictable, but my main problem with the triangle is the middle... there was some, but not enough to fill it in, making it a bit ridiculous and annoying. It felt pretty clichéd. And what's up with the lack of tension between Danny and Rafe? Is it because the war is so much more important? I think there should have been something...

Yes, as you'd expect, the story has its fair share of inaccuracies, but it's a movie, and while the idea is history, I think people complain too much. It's a movie... it doesn't always have to be exact. Some people still don't quite get that. But given that, I like the idea that real characters from history were drawn into the movie with the fictional ones... but it wasn't done quite proper. Paths cross, and that's it basically. There could have been more integration with that.

Still, the film does have its corny moments... really corny moments. I must admit I did laugh out loud at a few of them, thinking they were intentionally meant to be funny... but were actually supposed to be serious. The script itself is also a bit uneven. It does tend to do a good job keeping the focus on the main characters, but it jumps back and forth between real history and the other events. It could have been ironed out a bit more in my opinion, namely, more on the real history and political intrigue there, since there was a lot if you know your history.

All in all, I think "Pearl Harbor" is a somewhat underrated movie. I can understand some people's distaste and dislike for it, but despite its flaws and overused main romance plot, I found it quite entertaining and interesting. Still, it's what you'd expect from Bruckheimer and Bay: action, explosions and the like. Still, I think the movie's heart is in the right place, even if the film is pretty pro-United States. A lot of you have already seen "Pearl Harbor," but being a first time watcher, it wasn't as bad as I was lead to believe. It's not perfect, but a big summer blockbuster, it worked for me, with historical backdrops and all. It's not a masterpiece, but it is a decent piece of work if you ask me. I think everyone owes themselves to check out - or revisit - "Pearl Harbor."

 

Presented in a THX-certified transfer, this director's cut of "Pearl Harbor" is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I've seen a good deal of live action transfer from the mouse house, but this very transfer is by far the best one I've seen from them for a live action film, or any live action film for that matter, and will most likely remain one of 2002's best transfers. There is so much to like about this transfer, that I'm not sure where to begin. I suppose I'll focus on the great first before getting to the few flaws.

First off, and what impressed me most, was just how sharp this transfer was. It's really sleek and very, very visually attractive. Fleshtones are right on target, they are really perfect and quite fitting. Colors are very well saturated, vibrant and bold. Be it the enemy war planes on the attack at Pearl Harbor, the dullness of the machines, the whites of the hospitals or the greens of the fields, everything here looks very strong. Black levels are excellent as well, while detail is really amazing.

The flaws are tiny and don't add up to very much, but they're still there. There is some grain which is noticeable, but I think it's supposed to be that way. There is also some really, really slight edge enhancement. At times, there are also some halo edges (I'm a stickler about those, as you should know) and shimmering is found. Very impressive though is I only saw about one or two blemishes and a scratch, which is quite nice if you ask me.

Another kudos goes to Disney for breaking the film up on two discs. It's nice to see them not squeezing a three hour film on a single disc. It's nice to see that they want to ensure video and audio quality to its best and highest form. And while the film is not divided up evenly, it is a nice thought and works nicely so the film doesn't get bogged down in compression issues. And as a result of all of that, you have an amazing, jaw-dropping transfer that pleases on so many levels. Great job Disney!

 

Quite a few audio options here, and for a movie like "Pearl Harbor," it's something you'd definitely come to expect. And if there's a movie that's meant to show off your sound system, no matter how decent or extravagant, "Pearl Harbor" can't be beat (and you'd probably expect that too, given that this movie has many opportunities for surrounds, namely, those action packed scenes plus it's a giant Bruckheimer spectacle). You're given sound options in English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Headphone, plus English closed captions, English subtitles and Spanish subtitles.

What's great about the tracks on "Pearl Harbor" is that there is such an effective balance. Everything doesn't become cluttered together, but are separated out nicely: dialogue, sound effects and the music. The words coming out of the mouths of the characters are crystal clear and have much clarity to them, giving off a lot of natural activity. Hans Zimmer's moving and finely tuned score is also quite nice to listen to on the tracks, as it has good low ends and is mixed very nicely throughout the channels, to give off some extra dramatic flair.

But when it comes down to it, the tracks take full life due to the sound effects. There are tons and tons of surrounds, and each of them sound magnificent, giving off the full big budget scale and placing you in the war itself. Be it planes zooming up from behind you, the sinking of the ships, the gun firings, the bombings, people screaming, clicks of cameras, the explosions and even softer effects like footsteps, knocks on doors and doors opening. There is a lot (and I mean A LOT) of life to be found in each track. Very enjoyable and it surely pulls you into the movie, especially with some fine subwoofer sounds.

The Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are each fantastic, so no matter which one you choose, you're in for a treat. Still, I slightly prefer the DTS. It envelopes differently throughout and is more subtle in how it sucks you in, something I immensely enjoyed and noticed. The Dolby Digital is a bit more gung-ho and full force at times, but the DTS felt a bit fuller and certainly a lot sharper. Still, each are mixed with much thought and no one should really complain since each one is so impressive.

And finally, we have our "gimmick track," Dolby Headphone in glorious English. I'm all for novelties if they work well, but sad to say, despite the development of this, it's not worth listening to the Dolby Headphone track. I tested it out with my portable DVD player and a good set of phones, and it sounded a bit cheap. It's supposed to give you the full 5.1 effect, but it doesn't sound so great. It's nice and there if you really want it... but pass. You really need to get the full sense by listening to this movie in full, real 5.1 I actually found the DTS and Dolby Digital mixes downcoverted through the headphones a lot more satisfying! On a different note, this is the first DVD from Disney since the "Clerks" animated series where you can switch audio on the fly. Always a little pleasure for me when that is offered when making audio comparisons or wanting to hear someone talk on a commentary right away.

 

If you like extras, you know to go with the Vista Series edition... for the standard stuff, you've come to the right place.First off, we have the Faith Hill Music Video "There You'll Be" in non-anamorphic widescreen (what an overrated, crappy song that still got an Academy Award® nomination) and a preview for the National Geographic: Beyond The Movie "Pearl Harbor" feature (which was included on the earlier DVD set in a special package). The preview is in full frame, has old war clips and stuff from the movie.

ThClocking in at forty-seven minutes and twenty-five seconds, is Journey To The Screen: The Making Of "Pearl Harbor." This is basically your promotional featurette advertising the film, but it's longer and features much more, probably since the film had so much massive hype riding on it and they wanted to make something really amazing and to please. It's in non-anamorphic widescreen, and features a slew of interviews with Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and quite a few more. A lot is covered here, including some stuff on the real events of Pearl Harbor, interviews with survivors, film clips, behind the scenes footage and special effects creation. A lot of passion and excitment from the movie can be felt here, and it's a very nice watch overall, if a tad bit superfluous at times.

Also very informative and lasting 46 minutes is the other special, Unsung Heroes Of Pearl Harbor. It features interviews with historians and survivals, newsreel footage, real life footage of memorials and the like, this talks about people who made made a difference and impact with their own agendas during Pearl Harbor. We also have the Theatrical Teaser and Theatrical Trailer, plus, for you DVD-ROM users, you can check out the Pearl Harbor Definitive Bibilography.

You've all probably formed your own opinions now about "Pearl Harbor," but being a first time watcher, it wasn't as bad as I was led to believe. By no means is it a perfect film, but I found it very entertaining and it all really works for what it is. It may have been done before, it may be flawed, it may be recycled elements from other films and what have you, but "Pearl Harbor" represents what movies are: sitting down, being enthralled by what is presented and having an overall good time. People are quick to bash Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, but hopefully in the future people will check out "Pearl Harbor" and realize that the movie actually is a rather decent piece of work and a strong fire of filmmaking, all of which was underrated at the time of is release.