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Pearl Harbor (2001)

Pearl Harbour

December 7, 1941 - It Was A Sunday Morning...

Directed by:

Michael Bay

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 183 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12

On DVD

Country: United States

The makers of ‘Pearl Harbour’ have adopted a strange tactic in putting together their movie. It’s basically “if we make it long enough, some of it’s bound to be good.” I can imagine they were all sitting around watching James Cameron’s bloated mush-fest ‘Titanic’ shortly before arriving at that conclusion. It’s the law of averages, after all: make a film that lasts for over three hours, throw in war scenes, a tenuous recounting of history, some devilishly handsome leading men, a babelicious leading lady, a soppier-than-wet-bread romance, Hell – lets even chuck Dan Aykroyd in there. Some of it’s bound to stick, right?

To be honest, what probably disappoints me the most is that some of it actually does. This is a movie with the soul aim of capitalizing on a major historical occurrence in which thousands of people were killed. It has no lesson to teach, no message to put across. It purports to tell the story of events which, crucially, brought about America’s involvement in World War II – but it has no interest in giving us any insight into the politics behind it (sure, the grumbling Jon Voight makes fleeting appearances as the wheelchair-bound President Roosevelt, but such scenes often seem little more than an afterthought). No, this film is about making money, and that’s that. So I should probably dislike it a lot more than I actually do.

Fair’s fair, though. The “war movie” parts of ‘Pearl Harbour’ are really pretty good. We’re fired right into the heart of the shock felt by the American soldiers, sailors, mechanics and nurses as they’re taken unawares by Japanese attack. Director Michael Bay, whose other credits include ‘Armageddon’ and the ‘Bad Boys’ movies, excels during these scenes, making us feel as if we, too, are there amid the panic. As a war movie alone, it’s an edge-of-the-seater.

But then you’ve got the plot. Oh dear, the plot – over an hour of stilted uncomfortable romance between nurse Kate Beckinsale and her chiselled pilot beau Ben Affleck. Then we have to put up with watching it happen all over again, this time between Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett. It’s enough to have you hiding behind the sofa far more than any war scene ever could.

The end result is an uneven movie with its focus split between achieving believable war scenes (a success) and engrossing us in a bizarre love triangle (a failure). A shorter, sharper film introducing us to the characters and then focussing on the battle scenes could have been very good, as could a film that replaced the romantic goo with some well-informed political background info. It’s just a pity that the makers of ‘Pearl Harbour’ were too scared of box office figures to do either.

It's Got: The gloopiest, cheesiest lines being saved for fat Alec Baldwin and his cringe-worthy speeches.

It Needs: To be watched with the fast-forward button at hand, at least to get you through that awful first hour.

DVD Extras It’s a 3-disc daddy of a set, featuring ‘The Making of Pearl Harbour’, theatrical trailer, production diaries, interactive timelines, oral recollections of a Pearl Harbour nurse, ‘One Hour Over Tokyo’ featurette, special effects deconstruction, stills galleries, and even a Faith Hill music video. DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan, Tora! Tora! Tora!

Summary

It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s a bit of an all-American mess – but it’s not quite as bad as you might expect.

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