Throwback Thoughts – Pearl Harbor

On this day 75 years ago, one of the most infamous sneak attacks in the history of the world killed over 2,400 Americans at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The pictures are appalling, and the stories are still heartbreaking.  We will never forget those who lost their lives during the heinous attack that ultimately brought the U.S.A. into WWII.

It is easy to have somber, depressing thoughts on a day like today.  However, as I watched the Pearl Harbor specials and heard surviving veterans recount the horrific event, it randomly made me think of Michael Bay’s film Pearl Harbor, made in 2001. In fact, it inspired me to write this blog as my first “throwback review” on the site.

I have to admit, I could not wait for this movie to come out. It was talked about for quite some time prior to its release, and it was one of those cool movies that had a cool teaser trailer released several months before the movie hit theaters (I still love when distribution companies do that).  Anyway, it wasn’t far removed from the Titanic phenomena, and I was looking for the next movie that was going to create a similar craze.  I think we all were.  I could have sworn this was going to be that movie. It had all the tools – a big time director, an all-star cast, a musical score composed by Hans Zimmer, a love story mixed into a historical tragedy…how could this NOT be an instant classic?

In my opinion, this movie wound up being one of the biggest disappointments ever. It fell way short of reaching its potential.  I thought, “well, maybe I set the bar way too high and it wasn’t really as bad as I thought.”  Those thoughts didn’t last long, though, because every time I talked to someone about the movie they each would describe it with a similar set of adjectives…cheesy, boring, predictable, long.

It made me feel better, but it also kind of made me feel worse.  This movie was all of the above.  If I was a betting man, I would have lost a fortune betting that this would have cleaned up at the Oscars and been a part of American cinema immortality forever.  To be fair, it did win an Oscar for sound editing, but so what! No disrespect to the sound mixing and sound editing people who worked hard on this, but I mean, you made the loudest movie of 2001. Great job and well deserved.

I don’t think a full, all-out review of this movie specifically is warranted at this point, since it was out so long ago (I mean, the Philadelphia 76ers were actually good back then and had the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2001. That DID happen.).  But what I did want to do was give my two cents on why it was a flop.

Rafe (Affleck) and Evelyn (Beckinsale) share an “undying” love in Pearl Harbor.

First, they had Michael Bay direct it. Bay, who I actually enjoy most of the time, has never shown the world to be the type of director who will create an award-winning film – which I truly believe Hollywood wanted this to be.  He is the guy you get when you want to make a fun, summer blockbuster.  But this movie was supposed to be different. This movie was supposed to show the world he was deeper than we thought. Despite being given a lot to work with and a golden ticket for a golden trophy that was his to lose…he lost it. Ah well, the Transformers movies still kick ass!

Next, it was waaaaay tooooo looooong! It had a running time of 3 hours and 3 minutes.  A wise person once said, “Ain’t nobody got time fa dat!” I don’t mind a long movie, but it better have some serious substance. This movie was three hours of a cut and dry, good guys vs bad guys, aerial shoot em’ up mess that mixed in a crazy (and unrealistic) love story to try to lure in a different fan base.  It turned out that the action movie buffs didn’t care at all about the love story, and the love story dreamers were freaked out by the violence and realities of war.

The next thing that sucked was the plot.  The thing I remember most was this guy Rafe (really? Rafe?), played by Ben Affleck, falls in love with his best friend Danny’s (Josh Hartnett) girlfriend after his death.  Things get awkward, though, when it turns out Danny isn’t really dead and comes back to see his boy Rafe boo-lovin hard with his girl (or ex, I guess?) Evelyn, who was played by Kate Beckinsale.  Also, were there REALLY men named Rafe in 1941? I could be wrong, but that doesn’t sound right to me. Which leads me to my next beef…

There were several surviving soldiers and sailors who disputed the reality of the events in the film. I give military members the highest amount of respect, so if they ain’t cool with it, I ain’t cool with it.

The last thing that grinds my gears about Pearl Harbor is that it was released around Memorial Day. Why? Are release dates like airport runways where you have to get a spot early or you sit and wait until it’s clear to take off?  Was kicking off the summer movie season more important than actually paying homage to the true date?  Fifteen years later, and I still have no idea how a movie celebrating what, at the time, was 60 years since Pearl Harbor, doesn’t come out on or even around the time of the anniversary!  I thought that would have been much more effective.

I also think one thing that may have made it more effective would have been to shoot it in black and white, a la Quiz Show or The Artist.  Unfortunately, that kind of artistic display and cinematography may be out of Bay’s range.  As cold as that sounds, I really mean that in an endearing way.

Overall, Pearl Harbor was as frustrating as a 7-foot center who can’t dunk.  It was supposed to be Titanic in the air. Instead, it ended up being a 1940s Top Gun.  All jokes aside, I truly believe those who survived or lost their lives in the Pearl Harbor attack deserved a better depiction of their story.  If you want to see a quality, accurate WWII film related to Pearl Harbor or the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, I’d recommend Letters from Iwo Jima or Flags of Our Fathers, both directed by Clint Eastwood.