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PEARL HARBOUR ( Movie Review)


Army.ca Fixture
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NOTE: When I first wrote, published this review on anoter site the working title, for obvious reasons was:AYankJoinsTheRAFFromHereTo EternityThirtySecondsOverTokyo

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie‘s plot.

I really wanted to like this movie, honest. From the minute I saw the trailer months before the premier, at some now long forgotten other flick we were catching on a Saturday night. What‘s a summer without in the words of the late John Candy, "blow em up real good" summer blockbuster? That it was Jerry Bruckheimer, the king of the blow em up real good films, was just the icing on the cake.

When it opened in Toronto, I grabbed the better half and $20.00 in my sweaty little palm and off to the Cineplex we ran. Some three hours later I emerged, more than just a tad disappointed. Not enough to run screaming to the pimply faced assistant manager screaming for my money back, but let down none the less.

This did have the potential to be a good movie. Parts of in fact were excellent. Nobody blows sh*t up better than good ole Jerry and director Michael Bay, and here they had a lot to work with.

No mickey mouse prison island, transport plane, or rogue asteroid this time. Here they had one of the greatest military screw-ups in modern times to play with, and they did well with it. One, two, or half dozen sunken battleships does not a good movie, or a blockbuster make though, or for that matter a war won or lost.

There are more than enough that have already savaged this movie, some more eloquently than others. I really won‘t join in the debate too much. Especially on the "lets graft a love story onto a disaster flick, it worked for James C." topic.

The so-called Titanic plot device has been torn apart enough on. However it was done for one reason, and one only. Pearl Harbour was as much a product of it‘s times as an earlier take on this moment in history Tora Tora Tora was of it‘s time.

Tora Tora Tora came out in the 1970‘s, the era of the big budget disaster movie. Airplane, Airplane 75, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Meteor, The Hindenburg, and The Poseidon Adventure, all of them followed the same format. Ok maybe The Poseidon Adventure reversed the formula but it still falls into this genre.

The idea was simple. Fill the movie with box office names, stars, or if the budget couldn‘t stand it at least recognisable names and/or has been stars. Follow them around in their various little sub plots and intrigues for the first part of the movie, and then bang throw the disaster at them.

A disaster they all conveniently managed to be on the same flight, office New Years Eve party, or whatever for. It was copied and copied all the time for one reason. It worked; it put people in the seats ands that‘s what the producer‘s wanted.

Tora Tora Tora was a product of this mind set for that reason. A lot of money was spent on the production of it, as in the other examples. Star‘s salaries and elaborate, for the time, special effects. A decent return was needed and expected, so you stick with something you know works.

Move ahead almost thirty years and we have Titanic the highest grossing movie of all time. It in turn created a new plot device. Instead of the star-studded cast, we take a natural or man-made disaster, and graft a superfluous love story with a couple of really photogenic young actors onto it. Instant success, just ask James C‘s accountant.

Of course if it works once, it will twice, therefore the love story in Pearl Harbour. Just to be different of course we add a little twist. This time we‘ll make it a love triangle. They‘re always good for a few thousand extra ticket sales at the box office. Prepare yourself for a slew of "new disaster" movies over the next decade or so all with this new theme.

Of course there will be some variations. Just to keep the idea fresh, or edgy. I personally can‘t wait for the Gay romance tale of star crossed Gestapo agent and Jewish refugee grafted onto the retelling of the Hindenburg disaster. By the way if some Hollywood scriptwriter hasn‘t already thought of that one already, which I seriously doubt, then I want full credit on the screenplay and points.

I didn‘t really mind the love plot tacked on to this movie. Mind I knew going in it was going to be there, from several reviews I‘d read, here and elsewhere. This aspect was even played up for marketing the film in Japan by Disney as opposed to the sneak attack, and gee I wonder why.

Actually I don‘t think the Japanese public would have been too offended. Even with the heavily edited revisionist version of modern history they‘re taught over there. They still won this one, and in a big way.

Actually It also meant that it technically qualified as a "date movie." This meant the better half came with me and I could save movie night out with the boys for something else, say Tomb Raider. Actually though she doesn‘t mind, blow em up real good movies.

She sat through Armageddon and liked it. At least she was polite enough to say she liked it, and sat through the whole video with out going to sleep on me. That‘s better than my record with some "chick flicks" I have to admit.

I did, do have one real beef with Pearl Harbour though. I‘m part Scottish and we‘re supposed to be a frugal, read cheap, people. Therefore I should have loved this one, because it‘s actually three movies showing one after the other.

The problem is that the total time is only a little over three hours and divided by three that comes out to an hour a movie. That‘s too short for a real movie, it‘s more like a TV episode. Personally the only TV series that comes to mind with a budget near this one was Battlestar Gallactica, and we all know what happened to that now don‘t we.

To make matters worse they‘re not even three new movies, but all remakes. Now the title of this little rant starts to make sense eh, or at least to the film buffs who haven‘t abandoned me for the latest Laura Croft review in the "just in" box. Any ways we all know the universal rule regarding remakes. Nine times out of ten, it‘s usually not up to par with the original. Hey that‘s why the original was a classic in the first place.

Our first little tale is a nice one. It‘s 1940 and good ole American boy is aghast at what he sees happening over in Europe and is ticked that his Government won‘t step in and join the fight against the evil Nazis. Either that or he‘s bored and tired of buzzing airfields and getting reamed out for it. For whatever reason, off he goes to join the Royal Air Force and defend the White Cliffs of Dover.

We have the tearful "I‘ll wait for you" departure scene with his best (and still chaste?) girl. Then his grudging acceptance by the cynical and battle worn Brits. He eventually earns their respect through his prowess in gunning down German ME109‘s in his trusty, but shot up, Spitfire. There‘s even a cheeky Cockney aeroplane mechanic.

Finally he returns to the girl he left behind for the big happy ending. Ok I know the happy ending comes much later, but work with me here will ya.

Hey it‘s a great little flick, even at less than an hour. One problem it‘s already been done. Sorry Ben, but you really can‘t hold a candle as a dashing fighter pilot to Tyrone Power in A Yank In The RAF. Mind then Tyrone had one advantage over you. He really was a World War Two Fighter Pilot, although admittedly he joined up after this one was made.

Now we roll into Act Two. A bunch of bright eyed and even brighter shirted photogenic youngsters are gallantly serving their nation as dashing pilots and/or nurses in sunny Hawaii. Unknown to them, the devilish Japanese are plotting a sneak attack. Of course they‘re devilish, because they intend to attack early on a Sunday morning when all good pilots and nurses are hung over as **** , er excuse me praying in church.

Some of the good guys figure this plan but no one in charge will listen to them, mainly because they base their assumptions on logic, and evidence at hand. No self-respecting military higher up or bureaucrat listens to that kind of nonsense. Not in real life and certainly not in Hollywood.

Just when we‘ve had almost too much of this Norman Rockwell, Coke sippin, baseball playing, slice of Americana, the Japanese strike. Now we get what we paid for, forty odd minutes of the best explosions and ships sinking that CGI can come up with.

It is good sequence. As I said earlier nobody blows up stuff better than Bruckheimer. Here he outdoes himself. Planes strafe and bomb, ships blow and sink and tough looking, and photogenic young Americans throw off their hangovers and tacky Hawaiian shirts and fight back with bulldog tenacity. Like I also said though, this a movie in itself does not make.

Besides once again it‘s been done before. Sure the special effects are better than the models used in Tora Tora Tora. Hey they‘re even better than the real footage spliced into From Here To Eternity. That‘s it though and the photogenic youngsters and their petty little soap operas can‘t hold a candle to the performances of Lancaster, Kerr, Reed, Clift, Borgnine, and Sinatra in the original Pearl Harbour classic.

There are some good parts here that could have been expanded on though. Such as the true tale of Dorie Miller, as played by Cuba Gooding Jr the mess boy, turned hero on the anti aircraft gun he‘d never used before, and which the Navy in it‘s infinite wisdom had decreed he wasn‘t advanced enough as a human being to learn how to use. We couldn‘t dwell on this because the producers thought it necessary to squeeze a third act onto this little drama.

We can‘t have the movie end with an American defeat. It‘s just not fit and proper. We won the "big one" and showing us losing even one battle is just wrong. William Manchester in his semi autobiographical work on the Pacific Conflict Goodbye Darkness noted something about this when he visited Pearl Harbour and the USS Arizona Monument.

The US Navy shows a film to all visitors, compiled from archived newsreel footage of the attack. At the end we see the surviving US ships proudly steaming out of the harbour and into the sunset. Stirring martial music begins to play. The whole thing, Manchester thought made it seem as if Pearl Harbour was a US victory, not a drubbing.

It was a defeat there is no two ways about it. Lets leave it at that. Is the American ego so fragile that they cannot accept this? I would hope not, but one wonders. Defeats, especially hard fought ones are as revered as victories in military annals, if not more so.

We have immortalized, the Alamo, Wake Island, Pickett‘s Charge, Little Big Horn, Camerone, Thermopalye, Dunkirk, Dieppe, and Waterloo in our collective conscious. Name a corresponding victory in any of the wars the battles above took place in. The names do not roll of our collective memories so easily.

These defeats have in the past been immortalized in films. The two previous tellings of this tale are but one example. Both of them incidentally didn‘t seem to suffer at the box office because the "good guys" didn‘t win this time out.

Of course lets not forget From Here To Eternity‘s eight Academy awards including Best Picture. Care to lay odds on how many, aside from technical ones, Pearl Harbour got?

Even movies made by Hollywood during the war noted the losses. Look at Wake Island and Bataan. Sure in retrospect they are perhaps nothing more than simplistic propaganda pieces, but at the time they achieved what they set out to.

They entertained and probably inspired a lot of people to go out and buy war bonds or steal their Mother‘s aluminium cook wear to donate to a war materials drive. Both also glorified a defeat, but in doing so sent a message. Sure we lost, this time, but we went down swinging.

There was honour inherent in that loss in this movie too. The heroism of Dorie Miller, firing his machine gun, while his ship sinks around him, still defiant. That as I said was an area that could have, no should have been expanded on.

Even one of the myths of the attack is shown. The legend of the two planes that were the only American aircraft to get airborne and counter attack. Records show several American fighters actually got airborne and engaged the attacking Japanese aircraft. Legends however are the stuff movies are about.

Even Tora Tora Tora had this scene in it and almost in an identical manner. The two misfit American pilots who just happen to be at an isolated air base not attacked initially and therefore able to get their P-40s in the air.

This actually, and Cuba‘s performance as Miller should have been the ending of the movie. Perhaps with a small epilogue showing the survivors and America coming out of it‘s peace time stupor and getting ready to strike back as the credits rolled. Corny perhaps but a better ending then the one we get.

Instead we are forced to endure act three. A mini remake of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo with Alec Baldwin recast as Spencer Tracy playing Colonel Jimmie Doolittle. The only purpose of this trite little add-on is to as I said let the good guys win before the credits roll. Incidentally this little tale won an Oscar in 1944 for special effects. That makes nine now that Pearl Harbour has to beat by my count.

It also serves one other purpose, to resolve the little love triangle between our three photogenic heartthrobs. This one could have been resolved in the attack scenes earlier though.

Honestly was there any doubt that she (Beckinsale) was going to not chose photogenic young pilot number one (Affleck) over photogenic young pilot number two (Harnett).

Therefore kill him off as he dogfights over Pearl Harbour or as he was taking off. Then Affleck can go on a nice little revenge rampage and splash an extra couple of Zeros before landing and running into Beckinsdale‘s arms before the credits roll.

I think it‘s this final little tag on complete with it‘s overacting, which up until then had been tolerable, that really threw it for me. Up until then I liked this movie. Not loved it but liked it.

The CGI was impressive and the attention to details seemed good. Little things that only really boring guys like me pick up on and then go into agonising details over a beer afterwards until you vow never to catch a movie with me again.

I even looked the other way at several little credibility holes in the plot. They weren‘t big ones anyway, more the kind you could fly a P-40 through rather than sail the USS Arizona through.

Affleck‘s character suffers from a learning disorder and his reading and spelling skills are shall we say a tad below average. He however writes long passionate letters daily to his beloved, and reads her equally verbose responses. How? The better half suggested that an unseen third party was helping Ben off screen so I‘ll buy that.

Dorie miller has only in the Navy a few months but he‘s already a Petty Officer, a senior non commissioned rank. This in the small peacetime segregated US Navy where promotions for good old white boys who "did the real fighting" were frozen.

He also manages to get a transfer from one ship to another in a matter of weeks, days (the time between the boxing match and December 7, 1941 is a little ambiguous). I guess the US Navy circa 1940 was faster at paperwork than their modern military counterparts that I‘m familiar with. Then again if you‘ve got a lot of gold braid on your shoulder and you want a boxer on your ship, miracles do happen.

Finally we have two now bloodied combat fighter pilots. The only two who managed to fight back on the day of the raid and shot down seven enemy planes. One of them also has a years experience fighting with the British against the best air force of the time.

What do we do with them? Not something logical like promote them and put them in charge of the new pilots we‘re recruiting and training for the coming conflict. Here they could train and lead others who may gain from their hard won experience. No we send them on a suicide mission flying planes they‘re not trained or qualified to be in. Good plan, who won this war?

These are little points as I said. Against my main gripes they are hardly worth mentioning, but I did any ways just for the **** of it. That main gripe however still stands.

Best bet for this movie is to wait for the inevitable Directors Cut when it is released on video/DVD which may add all the missing and cut scenes and re edit it into the three movies it really is. Then release it as a box set. Better yet digitally remaster A Yank In The RAF, From Here To Eternity and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and release them instead.