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Pearl Harbor (2001)

June 30th, 2007 · 10 Comments

In the 5th season of South Park, Kyle exclaims, “Job has all his children killed, and Michael Bay gets to keep making movies. There isn’t a God.” In the fourth of six articles, I determine the existence of God by revisiting the films of director and alleged anti-Christ Michael Bay.

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In Tennessee of 1923, little rascals Rafe and Danny climb aboard a cropduster. Rafe accidentally starts the plane and almost takes to flight. Danny’s dirt farmer daddy (William Fichtner) smacks his no-count son for playing with some stupid boy who can’t read (sort of an indictment against the audience here).

In 1941, Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) now train with the Army Air Corps. Their top gun antics bring a reprimand from Major Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin), but he notifies Rafe that he’s been accepted into Eagle Squadron, to fly for the RAF against the Germans. Danny gets emotional: “It’s not training over there. It’s war.” Instead of slapping him, Rafe gives his good buddy a hug.

Some nurses (James King, Catherine Kellner, Jennifer Garner, Sara Rue) get fellow nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) to tell them “the story.” While administering physical exams to flyboys, Evelyn meets Rafe, whom she discovers can’t read. She think he’s cute though, and instead of failing him, puts the lives of untold numbers of people at risk by passing him.

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The flyboys meet the nurses at a dance. Most of them are looking for some bedside manner from the girls, but not Rafe. He tells Evelyn that he’s headed to war. Even more preposterous than an American serviceman joining the RAF is that Rafe elects not to go back to the hotel with Evelyn before he ships out. “I don’t want you to have anything about tonight that you regret,” he says. Instead of slapping him, she gives her boyfriend a hug.

President Roosevelt (Jon Voight) confronts his staff about how long they’re going to pretend the world isn’t at war. The Japanese prepare a surprise attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Rafe is shot down and believed to be dead. Danny and Evelyn are stationed at Pearl, and comfort each other in a parachute hangar following news of Rafe’s death. He shows up alive, but the love triangle is interrupted when the Japanese strike.

The idea for this film came from Todd Garner, Disney’s head of production. He had visited the Pearl Harbor memorial and been moved by what had happened there. Garner approached producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who was intrigued by “a period that had a lot of innocence and a lot of brutality at the same time.”

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Studio chairman Joe Roth was upset that Michael Bay was going to direct Phone Booth for Fox. Disney had a deal with Bay, but the director couldn’t find anything at the studio he wanted to do. It had taken forever to develop Armageddon and Bay wanted to shoot something sooner than later. Garner said the words, “Pearl Harbor, love story, Jerry’s interested.” Bay read up on the subject and asked Randall Wallace if he’d be interested in writing a screenplay.

Tennessee – Wallace’s home state – became the code name for the top secret project. Ed Burns was the frontrunner to play Rafe, while James Caviezel and Wes Bentley were approached for the role of Danny. Bay wanted Gene Hackman to play Franklin Roosevelt, and Gwyneth Paltrow the female lead. Paltrow’s schedule became an issue, while Charlize Theron turned the role down for Sweet November.

Early drafts of Wallace’s script were described on the Internet as “contrived,”with “all the resonance and depth of a comic strip”. Bay did ask for some changes in the military dialogue, and when Wallace refused, Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais were hired to polish it. But according to Bay, 95% of the shooting script was by Wallace. Bruckheimer felt the subject matter was too serious for a factory assembled screenplay and ordered few – if any – changes.

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Pearl Harbor is an event so spectacularly bad, no one may see anything quite like it for another 100 years. Wallace was absolutely the wrong screenwriter to be asked to craft a love story, particularly on this scale. He has a flair for composing battles – as he did for Braveheart – but was unable to endow human beings with anything resembling depth. Relationships transpire at a comic strip level. Dialogue is also laughably flat.

Asking Michael Bay to direct this script was like putting a crackhead at the controls of a tank. Narrative finesse, engaging an audience emotionally, honoring reality, these are not in his arsenal. The story isn’t even about the sailors who died that day; it’s about pilots, perhaps because aerial combat was more titillating than men on a ship. The historical inaccuracies range from minor gaffes to complete fabrications and can be read here.

Industrial Light and Magic provided the digital effects, which look dazzling enough, though the attack on Pearl Harbor (which runs a little over 30 minutes) is surprisingly short on shock or awe, terror or majesty. But even if Steven Spielberg or James Cameron had orchestrated it, nothing excuses the other 150 minutes of hokum masquerading as a monument to the tragedy of December 7.

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Conclusion: Pearl Harbor became the highest budgeted movie ever greenlit for production. Kyle was right. There is no God.

“It goes beyond my realm of comprehension why anybody would try and shove a love story into the center of an attack where nearly 3,000 people died. It would be like if the World Trade Center was attacked during an episode of General Hospital,” says Jonny Lieberman at Ruthless Reviews.

“If you’re looking for a passionate love triangle, Three Amigos had more chemistry and heat,” according to DVD Verdict, who review the director’s cut.

Pearl Harbor doesn’t seem to have been written by a professional screenwriter as much as it seems like a badly written assignment in sixth grade creative writing class. The student gets a D- and is made to stand in the corner,” writes Jerry Dean Roberts at Brokedown Cinema.

Tags: Military · Train

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pauly // Jul 1, 2007 at 6:31 am

    I would agree that this is one of the worst movies ever made. But I think Ruthless Reviews misses the mark on “shoving a love story into the center of an attack.” What about From Here To Eternity? It’s perhaps the best Pearl Harbor movie to date and one of Hollywood’s really great love stories.

  • 2 Moviezzz // Jul 1, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    All I remember about the film is the struggle it was to stay awake during it. And I went in with an open mind.

    Great series, though. Glad it isn’t all Michael Bay praise out there.

  • 3 stennie // Jul 2, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Man. I always knew Michael Bay sucked, but until I saw you listing all of his films here in your blog and knocking them off one by one, I really didn’t realize the depth of his suckitude.

  • 4 Piper // Jul 6, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Love this whole trail of Bay films and the quote that opens each one.

    This is a terrible, terrible movie.

    I have recently written about it in my Angry 10.

    Seriously, history is not a play thing for the likes of Bruckheimer or Bay. It makes me angry that shit like this goes down.

  • 5 Burbanked // Jul 9, 2007 at 8:45 am

    I’m proud to say that I’ve never watched this movie end-to-end, and I never, ever will.

    However, one bit from the attack sequence has stayed with me, in which we see various staccato shots of this cutesy little dog running around, and it’s seen running away or acting frightened as something smashes/blows up/sinks or something…

    …and then that frigging dog is seen, about 30 seconds and 59 edits later, climbing out of the body-, fire- and wreckage-strewn water, little the worse for wear, as wounded servicemen welcome it aboard a piece of floating something or other.

    This is what passes for emotion in Michael Bay World.

  • 6 Joe Valdez // Jul 9, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Pauly: I agree about From Here To Eternity. You could do a love story set in the Holocaust if you wanted to, and it could work if you didn’t exploit tragedy for entertainment value. Something Bay was clearly inept about here.

    Jim/Heidi/Pat: Thanks again for reading and for leaving intelligent comments. With all the money Bay’s movies tend to generate, it’s easy to forget that a lot of them are actually sad fucking excuses for entertainment.

    Alan: The U.S. Navy has never permitted pets aboard ships. Crimson Tide ignored this and I didn’t mind, but having a pooch paddling around Pearl Harbor while all these sailors were drowning was the height of that movie’s stupidity.

  • 7 Janell // Sep 19, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    So bad Trey Parker of South Park fame wrote a song for a puppet in Team America to sing:

    I miss you more then Michael Bay missed the mark
    When he made Pearl Harbor
    I miss you more than that movie missed the point
    And that’s an awful lot girl
    And now, now you’ve gone away
    And all I’m trying to say is
    Pearl Harbor sucked, and I miss you

    I need u like Ben Affleck needs acting school
    He was terrible in that film
    I need u like Cuba Gooding needed a bigger part
    He’s way better than Ben Affleck
    And now all I can think about is your smile
    and that shitty movie too
    Pearl Harbor sucked and I miss you

    Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?
    I guess Pearl Harbor sucked
    Just a little bit more than I miss you

    *********************************
    “You’re gonna be a father”
    “No, you are…[croaks]”

  • 8 Hal O'Brien // Nov 30, 2007 at 5:54 am

    On the other hand, it should be said the original trailer for “Pearl Harbor” — with no dialogue, and music swiped from Hans Zimmer’s score for “The Thin Red Line” — is one of the best ever.

    (I’ve just been searching all over YouTube to provide a pointer, but they all use the later original soundtrack score composed by Zimmer specifically for the film — which just doesn’t work as well.)

  • 9 wendy lee // Jun 20, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    i love this movie..
    it’s the bomb!

  • 10 adinda // Feb 11, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    it’s really nice story.i am from indonesia. I wanna watch this movie again. PEARL HARBOR is the best

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