I recall a short 1995 film by director Arthur Penn made in conjunction
with the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Lumiere films. The film
focused on a group of Japanese children running through a playground as
the camera tracks them and we hear explosions in the soundtrack. The area
they played in was a Hiroshima bombing site. The film was a meaningful,
poetic way of conveying the message that war can destroy dreams, especially
those of innocent Japanese children. Not that I expected Michael Bay's
souped-up, more-bang-for-your-buck extravaganza to capture such poetry
but it could have at least tried. "Pearl Harbor" is "Armageddon" for people
who love revisionist, dumbed-down history for the sake of some
special-effects. Considering that "Harbor" and "Armageddon" come from Bay,
I should have known better than to expect a serious treatise on one of
the more tragic events in American history.
The bulk of "Pearl Harbor" is a tired, cliche-ridden - not let's
rethink that. The bulk of the film is a bland, superfluous romance suffused
with enough syrupy music and dull melodrama to make women swoon for all
the wrong reasons. Ben Affleck is Rafe McCawley, the flyboy pilot whose
aspirations outweigh his romantic charisma. He falls for a nurse (Kate
Beckinsale) after being injected with hypodermic needles in his arse.
They fall in love too quickly even for standard screen time, and it is
no wonder since neither has much inner life or interest beyond blind love.
Rafe's childhood buddy, Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), is also an ambitious
pilot. He falls for the nurse exactly three months after Rafe has been
premused dead from being shot in the skies by enemy fire. I am sure you'll
know what to expect next. I would have thought that a soap-opera plot
like this would have died eons ago. Honestly, why would such a simplistic
love story interest anyone now in this millenium?
About one hour and a half later, the film gets to the Pearl Harbor tragedy
where over 2,500 people died after being bombed by Japanese fighter planes.
The whole frenetic sequence lasts forty minutes. Then we segue back to
the love story itself before we get a climax where the U.S. bombs Tokyo
in retaliation (the inspiration for the novel and film of the same name,
"Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"). In the meantime, the Japanese commandants
are briefly shown to be dubious of their attack strategy, only to be
shown as inhuman villains for the sake of some forced heroic chutzpah
from the Americans in Tokyo.
The two attack scenes are full of razzle-dazzle effects and plenty
of explosions but something feels off in the execution. The attitude
is all wrong and that should come as no surprise for those who enjoyed
the popcorn mentality of "Armageddon" (I was among the minority).
Director Bay enjoys visual overkill and he loves Dolby-ized explosions
but all at the expense of human involvement or human tragedy. He does
not present it as a post-"Saving Private Ryan" reality where we feel
the loss of innocent lives by unforeseeable forces. Instead, it is
an exciting sequence but almost too exciting - the thrill is sickening
knowing how many people actually suffered and died (especially those
trapped inside the "Arizona" ship). We may as well be watching "Rambo"
rather than a serious World War II film.
If the attack scenes were omitted, we would be left with two hours
of an interminable, sappy romance that lacks passion and chemistry.
Ben Affleck can't cut it as a romantic leading man. Josh Hartnett
is simply fodder for Affleck so he can have at least one bar fight
and a final reconciliation that smacks of pure sentimental hogwash.
Kate Beckinsale comes off unscathed but compare her thankless role
to her work in "Last Days of Disco," and you may be left wondering
what a potentially exciting actress is doing in a movie like this.
With Affleck as a witless flyboy, Jon Voight as former president
F.D.R. who seems ready to have a stroke, Alec Baldwin as the pontificating
Col. Dolittle and Beckinsale as the love object of the two pilots,
not to mention a characterless tragedy portrayed as the latest in
flag-waving American propaganda, "Pearl Harbor" manages to sink history
down the drain and everyone involved with it.
Note: I have the feeling that nowadays, people can't handle or
admit to certain truths. They rather have their history toned from
an R rating so it is more acceptable to the masses, thus causing the
least amount of controversy possible. It is disheartening to know
that people will see this movie to see the Pearl Harbor fireworks
sequence, forgetting that it should be upsetting to watch, not exhilarating.
Copyright © 2001 Jerry Saravia