Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 – A day that shall live in infamy. The tagline of the movie instantly gives you a synopsis – a recreation of the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet of the United States of America, and act which drew the US into World War II ultimately leading to the downfall of the Third Reich and the unleashing of the dreadful new weapon of nuclear fire, seen for the first time on the planet as man came up with New and Improved ways of killing.
I was really looking forward to this movie; the director Michael Bay has put together a stack of some of my favourite movies (most noteworthy of which are The Rock and Armageddon). However, a few hours before I was to set out to see it, I was told by reliable commercial radio that it was nothing but an “epic love story”! This, of course, shocked me and greatly reduced my enthusiasm – it basically had the same effect as when I found out James Cameron was making the Titanic.
Despite my newfound misgivings about the movie, I tromped on in hoping for some good action scenes. After enduring the obligatory introduction bits of Ben Affleck winning the affection of Kate Beckinsale and establishing the plot-within-the-plot (hell, we knew what was going to happen at Pearl Harbor anyway), I settled down a bit.
The build-up to the attack is fairly well done; I’m not exactly an expert on the Pacific War so I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the way the events were dictated, but it was done in a nice dramatic style which built up to the inevitable bombing, strafing and all-round destroying of a significant segment of the US Naval Forces as they were caught quite literally sleeping in the face of the Japanese surprise attack. The Japanese are made out to look like quite the bandits (which I guess in reality they were) due to their naughty behaviour in pretending the peace talks were actually useful when in fact they were secretly planning their sudden strike on the US Forces. As an interesting historical aside, Hitler did this kind of thing all the time, so future world dominators might want to keep in mind that if you do this, history is quite definitely against you in the long run.
Acting and dialogue in the movie is all fairly stock-standard stuff; nothing that made me sit up and cheer or anything (though I had a strange compulsion by the end of the movie to buy an American flag and wave it around patriotically). The special effects are very good – the Pearl Harbor bombing scene is fantastic and must have accounted for a significant whack of the budget of the film.
Weighing in at around three hours, Pearl Harbor covers a lot of ground in that time. Obviously, it follows the Private Ryan-esque morals that War Sucks, and effectively carries across this message by showing many Amercians being mercilessly gunned down. The power of love is, as always, questioned and there are many trials and tribulations that are demonstrated through all the main characters in the other part of the plot which isn’t related at all to the whole bombing thing. Would the movie have been better without the love story attached to it? For me, I think it would have – for instance, it would have cut down the length of the movie and kept the focus on the event, rather than yet another love tragedy.
Something else that is worth mentioning is the fact that it was one of the few movies I can remember that really demonstrate the role that women played during World War II. The nurses involved in Pearl Harbor are given a significant focus and their efforts in helping the many wounded and dying are paid respect. It was good to see a somewhat more unisex perspective on war.
Overall: I enjoyed it. The fictional love story was actually pretty good and was fairly well integrated with the bombing (well, it demonstrated love in war, anyway) and wasn’t too unbearable. I left the movie feeling impressed by the whole thing, but pretty depressed – the result of a combination of the love story being miserable and the sheer fact that war is so stupid and so many people die needlessly. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen for some of the effects.