PEARL HARBOR - Blu-ray review

Tora! Tora! Tora! is still the reigning champ for historical drama, but if you like soapers and romantic treatments, Pearl Harbor is the film for you.

James Plath's picture

This was the day that would live in movie infamy. The attack sequence in "Pearl Harbor" set the record for amount of explosives used in a film--something that was duly noted by the Guinness Book of Records. Special effects experts went through 700 sticks of dynamite, 2,000 feet of primer cord, and 4,000 gallons of gas. Talk about a gas guzzler.

All that fire explains why, in other aspects, this film seems so oxygen-deprived. For an epic about the worst attack America had ever experienced, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" lacks the intensity of energy and emotion you'd expect it to have. Maybe they get lost in a tonal shuffle, because the script and director Bay can't seem to decide whether they want "Pearl Harbor" to be a sweeping romance, a poignant buddy story, a balanced account that shows the Japanese side as well, or an unapologetically flag-waving film. The result is that this strange film plays like a TV mini-series, but without the episodic feel.

Yes, the attack on Pearl Harbor is impressively rendered. The filmmakers even borrowed real Mitsubishi Zeroes from war museums to use, when in the benchmark film against which all others are measured, "Tora! Tora! Tora!," they used all replicas that were constructed like every other set and prop. And they filmed on location in 30 different sites, including several real ships: the USS Lexington and USS Texas. But there are a lot of niggling things wrong with this film.

The first, is that Bay obviously confuses "epic" with "long." Tighter editing would have helped this 183-minute film.

Second, Jon Voight is a talented actor, but in all the films I've watched that have featured actors as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Voight is the most ill-suited and least convincing.

Third, when the cameras shift to the Japanese point-of-view, the dialogue seems totally unbelievable. Talk about "Lost in Translation."

Fourth, this film glorifies war while pretending to decry it. But from the opening frame, when we see a small boy swiping his daddy's crop-dusting plane to take it for a joy ride, the music and dialogue establish attitudes about flying and fighting that go beyond patriotism. These are people who love to fight, not people who love to defend their country. There's a difference, though Bay doesn't seem to get it.

Fifth, there are some corny and hard-to-believe moments, as when a lowly cook (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) ends up comforting his dying commander, "Everybody's where they need to be, Captain." Cooks calm captains, and nurses tell doctors what to do. Maybe it happens in real life, but that doesn't make it any more believable when you see it onscreen. And though he does a decent job playing it straight, it's still a head-snapper to see Dan Akroyd playing a code breaker.

Finally, the film just doesn't have a vintage look and feel. Everything (and here's where Blu-ray makes a difference) is just too pristine looking, and there aren't nearly enough inconic reminders that we're in a different era. Of course, it's more than that. With a historic incident anchoring it, you expect a historical treatment . . . not a romantic one.

Now, all those criticisms aside, this was a film that had plenty of built-in pockets of interest. It's hard not to be interested in two childhood friends who grow up to be flying buddies in the military and rivals for a woman's affection, and Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale bring their clichéd characters to credible life. But the buddy sideplot, the nurses and sailors' romances, and the cook sideplot just weren't skillfully meshed with the action/attack sequences and the war-room scenes. It feels like a slapdash book report hastily assembled the night before it was due.

The original source materials must have been pretty decent, because the 1080p Hi-Def (2.35:1) picture looks awfully good, despite a dull palette and plenty of military khaki. The attack sequences especially look good, with licks of flames carrying the full detail around their edges and every ripple of water holding the same amount of detail. Black levels are also strong. Great picture, in other words.

Same with the sound, which earned an Oscar for Sound Editing. The featured option on this disc is the English 5.1 Uncompressed (48kHz/24-bit) audio, and again, the battle scenes especially rock across all the speakers. It's a deep and robust soundtrack. Lesser options are English and French Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. As with the video, I have no complaints.

There's not much in the way of extras here. From the first two releases there's "Journey to the Screen," a pretty standard making-of feature that runs around 45 minutes long. Also from the first two releases is a music video from Faith Hill, "There You'll Be," which, of course, won't satisfy anyone's appetite for information. From the Director's Cut SE comes a short clip of interviews with real WWII veterans which aired on the History Channel. "Unsung Heroes" is the best of the extras. Also included here is the theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer, and that hard-to-figure "Movie Showcase" feature which gives you "instant access to select movie scenes that showcase the ultimate in high definition picture and sound." If you say so.

Bottom Line:
"Pearl Harbor" isn't even close to a war epic or historical drama. It's a romance that glorifies war and nationalistic revenge, and doesn't do enough to fill in the gaps between the two main events that anchor the film: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Gen. Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo that was launched on April 18, 1942. It's the straightest and shortest as-the-crow-flies route you'll see in a film, which takes a complicated war and reduces it to two major events. "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is still the reigning champ for historical drama, but if you like soapers and romantic treatments, "Pearl Harbor" is the film for you.


Film Value