Pearl Harbor packs everything needed for two pretty good movies into one OK blockbuster.
Thursday, May 31, 2001
The flight of least resistance would be to fall into formation with other critics around the country and bomb Pearl Harbor for being a bloated, melodramatic soap opera. The second easiest thing would be to take a Pollyanna approach and rhapsodize about the special effects, cinematography and feel-good patriotism. Either approach would be valid. But there might be a third way to look at Pearl Harbor that''s more accurate, and which might explain why the movie gets applause from some moviegoers.
With a running time of a little more than three hours, Pearl Harbor is slightly more than one-and-a-half times the length of today''s average movie. The problem is, it needs to be about double the length of other films. That''s because it''s really two movies: Pearl Harbor: The Love Triangle and Pearl Harbor: The War Movie. If the filmmakers (producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Michael Bay and writer Randall Wallace) had focused on either tale, they could have given it enough depth to make it a good stand-alone experience.
As it is, Pearl Harbor has all the elements for two good (if not great) movies, but doesn''t have the time to make either entirely satisfying. On the other hand, for moviegoers willing to fill in the blanks or who are simply captivated by either the movie''s visual appeal or its manipulation of emotions, Pearl Harbor is very watchable.
If you''ve missed all the hype and hoopla, Pearl Harbor chronicles the tale of childhood buddies cum ace flyboys Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett). Rafe falls in love with nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). Rafe volunteers for hazardous duty in Britain, gets shot down and is presumed dead--leaving the field open for Danny and Evelyn to embark on their own affair. It comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched old war movies (or even Tommy) that Rafe is bound to come back and there''s going to be big relationship trouble. This story is set against the backdrop of the growing tension between Japan and the United States that culminates in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the retaliatory raid on Tokyo.
Frankly, the love story left me cold, partly because it was so predictable from beginning to end. But the war story wasn''t half bad. Despite the fact you know the attack is coming, the filmmakers manage to build and hold a certain amount of tension. You have to give some of the credit for the success of this side of the movie to an absolutely stellar performance by Jon Voight as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Just as our real servicemen responded to Roosevelt''s call, it would be easy to follow Voight''s president straight into the bowels of hell if he asked. The war story is also buoyed by the performance of Dan Aykroyd as a cryptology expert and by Alec Baldwin''s bravura take on Colonel James Doolittle, mentor to Rafe and Danny, and leader of the fateful bombing raid on Tokyo.
For the most part, Pearl Harbor is an engaging spectacle for the eyes and has the best explosions and special effects that $135 million can buy. On the other hand, there are scenes that go so far over the top that they can only be described as cheesy. As the USS Arizona goes down, there''s an underwater shot of the American flag, backlit and almost translucent, rippling through the water as it sinks.
Another example? As US bombers fly over Japan, the camera takes us low into a Japanese garden, looking up past kimono-clad, parasol-bearing women so that we see the anti-aircraft bursts "blooming" in the sky. And the whole approach sequence as Japanese planes fly into Pearl Harbor has such a high cheese factor that the movie theater virtually smelled like limburger.
Bottom line: If you go into Pearl Harbor looking for two OK movies, you''ll be more satisfied than if you expect one great movie. I''d give the love story about one-and-half stars and the war story about three--together they add up to a movie that''s worth about two and a half.
Pearl Harbor... ( * * 1/2 )Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight, Dan Aykroyd, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Sizemore
Where: Crossroads Cinema in Carmel, Century Galaxy in Monterey, Northridge Cinemas in Salinas
When: See Movie Times