Hey folks, Harry here with Alexandra DuPont's review of PEARL HARBOR. Before I hand things over to her I want to answer some of the Talk Backers on my review... PEARL HARBOR isn't a cut and dried film. There will be no definitive opinion of the movie. There is enough bad for people to hate it, and enough great for people to love it... and still enough of both for people to be in the "It was ok" to "I liked it but wanted to love it" areas. Film is not a THUMBS UP, THUMBS DOWN world. There are gradients to this stuff... I liked it. I have problems with it... but the film could have been better. Now if ya don't trust me, trust a lady with a brain... here's Alexandra... swine, she said my review was EXCELLENT.... HEAD SWELLING!!!
Harry. Assorted gentles. Aware that AICN is at this
point bursting like a week-dead plague victim with
"Pearl Harbor" reviews, I'll try to keep this short
and easy-to-read and to the point:
ALEXANDRA DuPONT'S SUPPLEMENTAL, LAST-MINUTE "PEARL
I. First: Did you enjoy "Pearl Harbor"? Did the
Yes and yes. I personally was a bit surprised at how
much I enjoyed it -- given that online hacker movie
reviewers are supposed to hate everything, especially
when it's unironic and flag-waving, and given that
other, respected AICN contributors have been giving PH
mixed to negative marks. But then, I love America and
am highly suggestible when it comes to both jingoism
and well-choreographed explosions. Still, the entire
audience applauded with modest enthusiasm as the film
ended, so I am apparently not alone in these feelings.
II. What's the story?
Boy (Ben Affleck) meets girl (Kate Beckinsale). Boy
volunteers for Battle of Britain. Girl loses boy. Girl
meets boy's best friend (Josh Hartnett). First boy
turns out to not be lost. Japanese interrupt this
nonsense with astonishingly well-staged attack on
Pearl Harbor. Romance plot briefly flares up again.
America stages retaliatory Dolittle Raid on Tokyo.
Many explosions, casualties, perhaps too-tidy endings
III. Is this a searing indictment of the horrors of
war, a la "Saving Private Ryan"?
Not even close. The battle scenes -- while staged with
the same elan as Spielberg's (and utilizing many of
the same herky-jerky camera tricks, to great effect)
-- are surprisingly bloodless and un-horrific, despite
a body count in the thousands. Also, said battle
scenes move from terrible-carnage vibe to
thrilling-action vibe in an instant. A good example of
this is during the Pearl Harbor raid: Affleck and
Hartnett scramble on land through mortifying
tracer-fire that wipes out great swaths of men (albeit
bloodlessly), but then our heroes take to the sky and
the whole thing turns into "Top Gun"/"Star Wars" --
complete with our Affleck and Hartnett doing
action-movie-ish aerial tricks to confuse and decimate
IV. That sounds incredibly stupid and insulting !
I know, I know. I just ran the above example by a couple of elitist film-geek friends (who won't be paying to see "Pearl Harbor" anyway), and they practically howled and threw bricks at me. But while you're watching the film, it's not like that. Really. You're gripping your armrest.
For me, the Pearl Harbor attack and ensuing aerial
battle is one of the most singularly thrilling war
sequences I've ever seen. But it's THRILLING, not
INSTRUCTIVE. Despite what everyone expects, given the
instructive legacy of "Saving Private Ryan," this is
one of those WWII action films -- like "Von Ryan's
Express," say -- that entertains more than it edifies.
I found myself thrilled much more than mortified --
though, again, the repeated shots of Japanese tracer
fire cutting terrible swaths through men and women was
disturbing, retina-searing, incredible stuff.
V. But will Pearl Harbor survivors be insulted by this
jingoistic action-movie-fication of the most notorious
aerial attack in American history?
Not sure. The thing is, cinema's been giving warfare
this treatment since cinema was invented; people just
have less of a problem with it when it isn't a war
they actually LIVED through. I'll be interested to see
the media fallout. Personally, I was emotionally
primed to volunteer for WWII by film's end, which is
sort of scary.
VI. How historically accurate is "Pearl Harbor"?
I have absolutely no idea. Some supposedly "historic"
moments of the film -- President Roosevelt climbing
out of his wheelchair to emphasize a point, say --
seemed awfully cinematically convenient to me. I
wholeheartedly encourage knowledgeable folks who've
seen the film to weigh in on this subject in Talk
VI. And the special effects? Are they as good as
They are, by far, the best F/X I've ever seen. It was
one of those paradigm-shifting moments, like when you
first saw T2, where you realize a new gold standard
has been set.
VII. Okay, enough about the explodo-porn. How about
the love story? How about the characters?
I refer readers to Harry Knowles' excellent review of the film [CLICK HERE FOR THE "EXCELLENT" REVIEW OF SOOPER GENIUS KNOWLES!!!]: Harcourt the Red and I are in nearly complete accord on this issue. The love story is nowhere near as involving as the mayhem, and at least 20 minutes could have been trimmed out of the first hour. As Sr. Knowles indicates, the opening scene has all the subtlety of a Zyban commercial, and the movie really should begin on the train when Beckinsale relates how she came into Affleck's life. That said, the actors are all charming enough (I'm on record as an Affleck fan) to sell the many humorous moments. Still, the resolution was tidy in a way that love -- and war -- simply aren't. This didn't derail the movie for me, however. It may derail it for you.
As for the supplemental characters: Cuba Gooding Jr.
is righteous and probably kind of one-dimensional as a
(real-life) steward who mans the guns; the fellow who
plays Goose is dryly funny; Ewen "Red" Bremner has a
ridiculous stutter that's played for comic/suspense
effect during the Pearl Harbor raid, which is sort of
manipulative (He's can't warn the men! He's
stuttering, you see!); Jon Voight is nearly
unrecognizable as Roosevelt, which is in my mind a
good thing; Tom Sizemore seems to be playing a
character from a 1950s WWII film, the sort of gruff
fellow who'd say "Good gravy!" in times of duress; and
Dan Ackroyd, as an intelligence officer, proves once
again he should do more drama.
VIII. So what's good?
Bay has toned down his visual style, and narrative
coherence emerges as a result. Humor is balanced with
tragedy. Everyone and everything looks beautiful.
IX. What's not so good?
Bay has a habit of taking the most obvious possible
visual cliche (geisha girls with umbrellas in Japan,
women reading letters at sunset) -- only he stages
them with enough visual sophistication that you ALMOST
don't notice. Also, more than once, certain lines of
dialogue were guessed by this author just before they
were actually said -- never a good sign. Then there's
that weird juxtaposition of mayhem for thrills and
mayhem for tragic effect.
X. How did your dear sister Shelley DuPont-Livesley
describe the trailer when she saw it with you last
"This looks like it's going to be 'Starship Troopers' without the irony." Many of you may decide that she has a point.
I suppose that's all. You people have read enough about this movie, for pity's sake.