Review: “Pearl Harbor”

Its the biggest film of the year but does that make it the best? No. As Summer movies go its fine – Bruckheimer doing what he does best and delivering an action/drama that is weak on script but BIG on action. Its not up there with his best efforts, but is better than a lot of the weaker stuff that’s been coming out of his studio as of late (eg. “Coyote Ugly”, “Gone in 60 Seconds”, “Armageddon”).

Everyone will have different levels of anticipation going into this. My level was quite low actually as I watched the trailers but none of them really got me excited (only the recent US TV ads have), then there’s other factors like I usually don’t like war movies, plus its a Michael Bay movie and thus the patriotism angle and the fact that its the same team behind “Armageddon” means I wasn’t expecting much. Did it deliver? Well, yeah.

Anticipation is the key – if your going in wanting the definitive WW2 movie, a real modern day classic, or even just a serious war movie like “Saving Private Ryan” then your not going to like it. If your going in expecting an escapist piece of Summer entertainment then you’ll likely enjoy it, or at least find it watchable.

It’d be a lot more enjoyable had some more script revisions and editing had taken place, but due to the seriousness of the real life incident I won’t be surprised if quite a few find this a too Hollywood-ised version of the incident (cause that’s exactly what it is).

One daunting thing is the three hour runtime which certainly is overly long. The first 80 minutes of the film establishes the characters and is where some big cuts could’ve been made as its also the weakest act of the three. We start off with a prologue involving two kids which really doesn’t fit into the rest of the movie and nothing in it really adds to the story.

Then comes the whirlwind romance between Affleck and Beckinsale which is hampered as Bay’s signature rapid editing style (which is far more relaxed here, thankfully) pushes us along too fast, whilst the situations in which they meet (and the cheesy dialogue) means we don’t get emotionally involved with this pair.

If they’d cut out the prologue and the ‘courting’ scenes and set it up that the pair had been in love for sometime and the movie starts with him departing, the story would’ve flowed much smoother. Affleck’s fighting scenes in England are the first big action bits from the movie and are pretty spectacular. The Hartnett/Beckinsale romance again moves pretty fast again though a bit more naturally.

Still there’s all sorts of setups to shots which look great on camera but in real life are curious such as scenes of Beckinsale writing letters – one where she’s sitting on rocks in a bikini doing it, another against a glorious sunset (but its near pitch black so how in the hell is she seeing what she’s writing?). Like ‘the cracker scene’ in “Armageddon”, there’s the corny love scene – this time in a parachute hangar.

In fact the pre-attack movie (ie. the romance) is basically dead weight – including the unimpressive score, the only interesting thing at all being Dan Aykroyd’s naval intelligence officer sub-plot which is his best work in years. Acting wise Hartnett is easily the leader of the three, Beckinsale coming in second. As much as I like Affleck, he doesn’t get to do too much in this though his big crying scene is better than the “Armageddon” ending.

The supporting cast range quite diversely with all the veteran actors giving great performances – Voight makes a great Roosevelt which you can’t help but admire whilst Baldwin is surprisingly refreshing as Doolittle, on the flip side Gooding Jr. is wasted.

The Japanese are portrayed stereotypically though it doesn’t come as a surprise. There’s a few lines thankfully attempting to give them a bit more depth with the Japanese Admiral indicating that war is an absolute last resort and that the country was basically forced into initiating it, but the rest of the time they’re stuck with a lot of cliched dialogue typical of war movie enemies.

The supporting actors of the younger cast aren’t so engaging but not due to their skills, but rather poorly written characters. There’s a character with a flatulent-sounding stutter which is really annoying at certain times (look out for his scene during the attack, you’ll wish you were there to shoot him), but his girlfriend (James King) is quite a babe.

Then there’s the action and oh boy!!. Its a Summer PG-13 rated movie so its more big explosions than “Saving Private Ryan” style gore, but man the explosions are wow. Its been a long time since I was impressed by a big explosion sequence, I think ID4 back in ’96 was it – well this tops it. The attack sequence kicks off with a tense 5-10 minute buildup which works real well, then comes the bombing which is amazing – you know the shot where we follow the bomb falling down to the ship that’s in all the trailers? Its good but the resulting explosion shot from that same bomb is even more “Holy Cow!” reaction inducing.

The second half of the attack is quieter, lower scale and thus isn’t as interesting as that first 15 minutes of it. The action then moves to the Dolittle raid in the final act which sadly feels like an anti-climax. This could’ve been a seperate movie in itself which would’ve been interesting, but as is feels tacked on (albeit a good tacked on bit). Its better than the romance story thankfully.

People are going to spend hours picking this baby apart and rightly so, nevertheless it does achieve what it set out to do (ie. be a big Summer blockbuster) and will likely make a bunch of money. “Saving Private Ryan” was a war film with an unforgettable opening 20 minutes and then was just a bust from there on in. “Pearl Harbor” has an unforgettable middle half hour, is a complete bust for over an hour before it, and has a weak last hour.

Had they concentrated more on the big people involved (Voight, Baldwin, Aykroyd) and dumped the love story it’d have been an hour shorter and a whole lot better (around 8 out of 10 territory) but as is I had a really hard choice deciding between 5 & 6 (I would say 6 after one screening but 5 on further ones). As is, its a overly long but certainly a watchable Summer movie. A good distraction for a few hours on the Holiday weekend – especially if you come in about an hour after its started.