Ben Affleck – Capt. Rafe McCawley
Josh Hartnett – Capt. Danny Walker
Kate Beckinsale – Nurse Lt. Evelyn Johnson
Alec Baldwin – Lt. Col. James Doolittle
Jaime King – Nurse Betty Bayer
Jon Voight – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Cuba Gooding Jr. – Petty Officer Doris Miller
Language: English, Japanese
Release Date: USA – 25 May 2001
2002 ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards, USA – Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures: Diane Warren (For the song “There You’ll Be”); Top Box Office Films: Hans Zimmer 2002 Academy Awards, USA – Best Sound Editing: Christopher Boyes, George Watters II; Best Effects, Visual Effects: Eric Brevig, John Frazier, Edward Hirsh, Ben Snow (Nominated); Best Music, Original Song: Diane Warren (“There You’ll Be” – Nominated); Best Sound: Greg P. Russell, Peter J. Devlin, Kevin O’Connell (Nominated)
2002 Razzie Awards, USA – Worst Actor: Ben Affleck (Nominated); Worst Director: Michael Bay (Nominated); Worst Picture (Nominated); Worst Remake or Sequel (Nominated); Worst Screen Couple: Ben Affleck and EITHER Kate Beckinsale or Josh Hartnett (Nominated); Worst Screenplay: Randall Wallace (Nominated)
2010 Razzie Awards, USA – Worst Actor of the Decade: Ben Affleck (Also for Daredevil (2003), Gigli (2003), Jersey Girl (2004), Paycheck (2003), and Surviving Christmas (2004). Nominated for 9 “achievements,” “winner” of 2 Razzies.)
Canada: PG (Alberta)
Canada: 14A (British Columbia)
Canada: PA (Manitoba)
Canada: 14 (Nova Scotia)
Canada: AA (Ontario)
Canada: G (Quebec)
New Zealand: M
Rotten Tomatoes: 25% (Rotten)
Common Sense Rating: Iffy for 12+
So, I try to be as objective as I can when these movies come up, but sometimes a movie’s reputation precedes it. Pearl Harbor’s reputation is like somebody’s bad cologne that enters the room five minutes before they do.
I remember when the movie came out, not only did it get bad reviews but Tania had heard that the characters use the word “Japs,” and that understandably upset her. So we didn’t go see it, and I was OK with that because after all the bad reviews I didn’t really care. Then, a couple years later the movie Team America: World Police came out with this song:
I miss you more than 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 you like Ben Affleck needs acting school
He was terrible in that film
I need you 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
Well, OK then Messrs. Stone and Parker. Don’t hold back, boys. But, I have to admit that after hearing that song I had no interest in actually sitting down and watching PH. That’s the great thing about the Random Movie Review. I don’t have a choice. Once a movie is suggested by one of my random machines, I have to watch it. Unless it’s unavailable. Or scary. But usually I have to watch it.
So here it is.
PH has a couple of strikes against it right out of the gate: It’s director and it’s star. No biggie.
Ben Affleck is a movie star. He’s kind of like his generation’s Harrison Ford or Kevin Costner. He shows up, looks good, says his lines, and gets paid a phone number for his efforts. You don’t really expect much more from him. He’s not Meryl Streep, Kenneth Branagh, or even his old buddy Matt Damon, but he’s not as bad as the above couplet makes him out to be. I’m sorry, he’s just not.
Frankly, I think a lot of the criticism that he gets is from people who’ve been drinking too much hateraid. The problem with Ben Affleck is that he’s preternaturally handsome, he boffs good looking starlets (although he’s apparently done with that now), and has made some bad choices. Now, put away your Kleenex box, Ben’s gonna be OK. Don’t cry chickpea.
Besides Affleck’s been having a bit of a comeback lately. He’s done some well received directing in the past couple of years. One of my favorite movies that he did as an actor is Hollywoodland where he played George Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the old serials. Know what other movie George Reeves was in? From Here to Eternity. Know what From Here to Eternity was about? Pearl Harbor. See? It’s all coming together.
Then there’s the director, Michael Bay. OK, step into the wayback machine with me and let’s think about this: It’s the early 00s, the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack is coming up. I know! Let’s make a movie! Let’s make a bad ass movie with all of our 21st Century knowhow, but of course it’s a somber event that needs to be taken seriously. So who should we get to direct it?
How about Clint Eastwood? He hasn’t done WWII yet (remember we’re still in the wayback machine, this is 2001) but he can handle complex material. Besides he lived through the period and served during the Korean War.
Again, for what he does, Michael Bay is a talented craftsman…but was he really right to try to take on this material?
PH tells the story of the events leading up to the Japanese invasion, and the retaliatory Doolittle Raid through the eyes of three fictional characters who are composites of real people, and also a few of the real heroes.
Rafe and Danny (Affleck and Hartnett) are childhood friends from Tennessee who both end up in the US Army Air Crops in Hawaii in 1941. These handsome lads both happen to be in love with Evelyn, a Navy nurse played by the lovely Kate Beckinsale. I won’t go into how this love triangle comes to be, but if Facebook had been around back then they could have all listed their realtionship statuses as “it’s complicated.”
Resolution of their little problems would have to wait because at 0755 hours on December 7, 1941 the war that the US had been trying to stay out of came to our shores. Amid the carnage and raining hell from above and below, Rafe and Danny race toward an airfield to get aboard some planes so they can fight back. Danny and Rafe are fictional characters based on six real life heroes who were able to get into planes and take down some of the Japanese zeroes. Evelyn and most of the other nurses and servicemen are also fictional composites.
In the movie’s loooong buildup to the attack, you would get the idea that nurses are mainly around to provide…um…recreation for the boys, but in some of the most effective scenes of the movie, Evelyn is put in a situation where she has to triage the massive number of service people coming to the hospital. She has to decide who will get treatment and who is beyond help.
One character who is not fictional is Dorie Miller, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. One thing I can’t argue with in the song from Team America is that Gooding should have had a bigger part. In fact, Dorie Miller could have an entire movie instead of a couple of scenes.
As an African American during the time when the Armed Forces were still segregated, Miller served on the battleship West Virginia as a cook and a server. During the attack, Miller assisted the wounded, dragged some to safety and grabbed an anti-aircraft gun (that he had previously had no training on) and shot down at least one, possibly up to six Japanese planes.
Miller became the first African American to receive a high military honor, the Navy Cross. Sadly, he would continue to see more action in the war. He was also involved in the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943 and was presumed dead when his ship, the escort carrier Liscome Bay was struck by a torpedo.
Did I say his name was “Dorie” Miller? Apparently that’s what they called him, but his name was actually Doris. Ouchie. He’s not the only real character in this story with a funny name, the Admiral in charge of Pearl Harbor was named Husband E. Kimmel. What the whatting what? Who names their son “Husband?” That must have been a weird ass family.
Maybe his Mom just got confused. Maybe her husband’s name was “Sonny.” “Hello. This is my husband, Sonny. And this is my son, Husband. Oh, and here comes our daughter, Coffee Table.”
Alec Baldwin plays Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle who led the retaliatory raid that dropped bombs on Tokyo. In the second part of the movie, Rafe and Danny take part in this raid. In real life, none of the pilots who fought back during the Pearl Harbor attack participated in the Doolittle Raid.
Which leads us to the problem with historical accuracy. It’s always an issue when you make a piece of art out of a historical event, especially one as meticulously researched and documented as Pearl Harbor. Then, as we said earlier, it’s also a cherished, hallowed event. Just as the monuments to some of the downed battleships, like the Arizona, are actually graves containing the remains of servicemen who perished there, the memory of Pearl Harbor is almost like a graveside. It’s not to be taken lightly.
I’m not saying that Bay, Wallace, Bruckheimer, et al intentionally took the subject lightly, but most analyses that I’ve seen say that they did play fast and loose with the truth when telling this story. The film is apparently riddled with historical inaccuracies.
Another thing regarding historical accuracy, nobody smokes in the whole movie. It’s 1941 and nobody smokes. Hwat? How can this be? Is PH about a platoon of Amish? Nope. They drink, they cuss, they fight, they chase pretty nurses, but nobody smokes. The fact is that many service people started smoking during the war because cigarettes were included in their C-rations or sent to them by loved ones.
But nooooo, the Smoking Nazis at Disney drew the line at the evils of tobacco in this movie. They’ve since made it official, no smoking ever in a movie produced by Disney, Touchstone, etc. Unprotected sex in a pile of parachutes: Great. Smoking: Bad. Three words: What. Ev. Er.
One area where the screenplay does try for some accuracy is the characters using the word “Japs.” It’s not easy to listen to, but it is accurate. The Japanese were the enemy in the Pacific Theater and you can’t really expect Allied soldiers to speak very kindly of them. Because they are of a different ethnicity than most of the characters in the movie, it does smack of racism, but to leave it out would be even more jarring than having no characters smoke.
To her dying day, my Mom would refer to the war and the Japs. This would upset my sister Iris, who lived in Japan for five years in the 70s, and my Mom would apologize. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body, she was just from that generation.
There’s no doubt that racism played into the propaganda against the Japanese enemy. You can see it in some of the propaganda posters I’ve put up here…and I left out some of the more offensive ones that I’ve seen.
But about historical accuracy, we’ve talked about this before. This isn’t a documentary, and one can and should be prepared for some poetic license to be taken with a movie like this.
What kind of a movie is PH? It’s a love story set against the backdrop of a major turning point in US history. Is it out of bounds to set a love story during World War II? Certainly not, Hollywood has made tons of romantic war movies, during and after the war. Real life romances were sparked during the war, including my parents who met when my Dad was in the Army stationed in California. So if all is fair in love and war, then love and war are fair game for art.
The problem with PH may be that it tried to do too much. It took the energetic hype/action of movies like Top Gun, folded in every Hollywood war movie John Wayne ever made, and sprinkled in a heaping helping of classic Hollywood romance. I kept waiting for Rafe, Danny, and Evelyn to burst into song.
The most prominent ingredient in PH is James Cameron’s Titanic. It is an attempt at an epic/tragedy/romance of the same scale. Some of the scenes of the battleships capsizing were even filmed in Baja California on the same set they used for Titanic. In order to further beat to death my recipe analogy, PH is topped off, just like Titanic was, by a treacly love theme. In this case it wasn’t Céline Dion’s heart going on, but Faith Hill who will have you be everywhere she is or some shit. According to the source of all knowledge, Céline was even offered a chance to do the song but she had to turn it down because she was too busy trying to get her 90 year old husband to put a baby inside her.
So, all these ingredients were whipped up into a souffle that is just…so…gosh darned heavy. The thing is 183 minutes long, and the actual attack doesn’t take place until 87 minutes into the movie. So, OK, a movie on an epic scale can be long. Ben Hur is 212 minutes long. Lawrence of Arabia is 216 minutes. Gone With the Overrated Wind is 238.
I don’t mind sitting through a long movie if it’s worth the trip. Hell, I saw Branagh’s Hamlet in a movie theater and that clocked in at four hours and two minutes. Naturally there was an intermission. I met a girl there. She was really nice and sweet. Nothing happened, I was too chicken. What’s the matter with me? Why don’t I take chances in life?
But I digress.
My point is, PH isn’t as bad as you think it is. It’s not great, but it’s not as bad as the above song and its reputation would have you think. It’s like a container for a good movie. Did you ever buy something and try to get it out of the package, and the packaging is so excessive that you need an engineering degree to get it out? There’s a good movie in there if they had trimmed some of the romance stuff that didn’t work, maybe cleaned up some of the history problems, jettisoned Hartnett, etc.
But it’s easy to pile on. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. It’s easy, fun, and profitable (well, not so profitable) but I just don’t feel like it with this movie. I know Bay and Bruckheimer have their reputations, but looking at the interviews on the DVD I honestly feel like they tried to make the best movie about Pearl Harbor that they could.
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
I dunno. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but Pearl Harbor just isn’t that bad. I’m going with…
Random Quote Whore Quote:
Pearl Harbor is a similar, obtainable, mutant of a movie! Ben Affleck is floodlit!!!
Despite the Razzie Award nomination for “Worst Remake or Sequel,” PH isn’t technically a remake of anything, but the most well regarded telling of the Pearl Harbor attacks remains the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! so I figured I had better check it out for you so we can compare and contrast. It’s that thing I do.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Martin Balsam – Adm. Husband E. Kimmel
Sô Yamamura – Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto
Joseph Cotten – Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson
Tatsuya Mihashi – Cmdr. Minoru Genda
E.G. Marshall – Lt. Col. Rufus S. Bratton
James Whitmore – Vice Adm. William F. ‘Bull’ Halsey Jr.
Takahiro Tamura – Lt. Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida
Eijirô Tôno – Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo
Jason Robards – Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short
Wesley Addy – Lt. Cmdr. Alwin D. Kramer
Shôgo Shimada – Japanese Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura
USA – 23 September 1970
Japan – 26 September 1970
1971 Academy Awards, USA – Best Effects, Special Visual Effects: A.D. Flowers, L.B. Abbott; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration: Jack Martin Smith, Yoshirô Muraki, Richard Day, Taizô Kawashima, Walter M. Scott, Norman Rockett, Carl Biddiscombe (Nominated); Best Cinematography: Charles F. Wheeler, Osamu Furuya, Shinsaku Himeda, Masamichi Satoh (Nominated); Best Film Editing: James E. Newcom, Pembroke J. Herring, Shinya Inoue (Nominated); Best Sound: Murray Spivack, Herman Lewis (Nominated)
1971 National Board of Review, USA – Top Ten Films
The interesting thing about Tora! Tora! Tora! is that it tells the Pearl Harbor story from both the US and Japanese sides. Only 28 years after the events themselves, US and Japanese writers and directors were hired to film their versions of the buildup to the attack and the attack itself. Apparently the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa was hired to do the Japanese segments, but the studio found him too difficult to deal with.
Unlike PH which focuses on (fictional) enlisted men, T!3 almost exclusively concentrates on the brass. Dorie Miller makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance, there are a couple brief scenes of Second Lieutenants Ken Taylor and George Welch – the real life heroes that Rafe and Danny from PH were based on, and several scenes of the Japanese pilots, but the screenplay focuses mainly on the decision makers on both sides and how their decisions made history.
Remember the guy named “Husband” that I
mocked mercilessly wrote about in PH? Well, he’s here too and he’s one of the main characters in the US story. Apparently people who addressed him familiarly called him “Kim.” He’s played by Martin Balsam, one of those great character actors from back in the day. In fact, the filmmakers made a conscious decision to avoid big stars for this movie, at least on the American side. The movie is filled with actors that will make you say, “Hey that’s Steve Austin’s boss,” “Hey, that guy was on Bewitched.”
Turns out that old Husband had a rough time after Pearl Harbor. Although there is plenty of blame to go around, he and Army Lieutenant General Walter C. Short seemed to get the brunt of it. Now, I’m not a military historian. I’m not even a military buff, so I can’t argue whether Kimmel and Short were scapegoats or not. Apparently they were acting on the intelligence that they had received, and felt that sabotage from Japanese residents on the island was a greater threat than an attack from outside. Short, played in the movie by the great Jason Robards, decides to bunch his planes together on the field, making them less vulnerable to sabotage…but of course during the attack they all went off like a row of sparklers.
But there are lots of blunders that the US made, by people ranked above and below Kimmel and Short. The movie shows where this newfangled invention called radar picked up the Japanese planes coming, but the warning was ignored. Important Japanese messages were decoded, but information was bottled up between departments and branches of the service.
T!3 shows mistakes that were made on the Japanese side too. It’s easy for us, after all these years, to see our former enemies as some monolithic collective marching against us in lockstep, but the movie shows that not all of the Japanese brass wanted to get the US into the war.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was meticulously planned, and their intention was to send a message to the US that peace negotiations were being called off at 1pm Washington DC time. This was meant to be interpreted as a de facto Japanese declaration of war, and the bombing was to proceed a half an hour later. However, this message did not get delivered to the US in time, but came after the attacks.
To add injury to (perhaps unintended) insult, US codebreakers had this message ahead of time and correctly interpreted it as a warning of an impending attack. This message was sent by telegram, but they didn’t mark it “urgent,” and because of that it got stuck in somebody’s inbox.
The filming of the attack itself is incredible. Remember that this was filmed in 1969, before all the CGI that Bay had in his toolbox. Well, guess what? The attack in T!3 looks better. Director Richard Fleischer used real planes, miniatures, and covered explosions from different angles so that one explosion could look like several. There are some times when you can, like any movie of the period, look at it and say, “That’s a matte painting. That’s rear projection.” But it works.
Some may find the film slow and uninvolving because it deals with the inner workings of the military and brass on both sides. There’s no love story here…in fact there are hardly any women depicted at all. Just a wife, secretary, or geisha here and there (it was a man’s world back in 1941), but I didn’t find it to be to be slow at all. For me, the buildup to the attack and cutting between the US and Japanese stories just added to the suspense. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was still saying to the screen, “No! Don’t ignore that phone call!” “No! Mark that message as ‘Urgent!’ ”
All the actors do a good job. Like I said, aside from Robards and Joseph Cotten (The Third Man, Citizen Kane) there aren’t a lot of names. I think the Japanese actors were more “stars” in Japanese cinema at the time, that’s what the commentary on the DVD seems to indicate. They’re all great. The pain on Martin Balsam’s face during the attacks is heartbreaking. He plays it as a man who knows that he will carry the blame for this event.
Whether it is deserved or not, Kimmel and Short did carry the blame for Pearl Harbor. They were both demoted and ended their military careers in disgrace. In 1999, the Senate voted to exonerate them, but they were both long gone by that time. Short died in the 40s, Kimmel died about a year before T!3 came out.
T!3 doesn’t end on an “America fuck yeah!” note like PH. It cuts from the smoking remains on Pearl Harbor to the somber declaration of Kaigun Taishō (Admiral) Isoroku Yamamoto that instead of striking a fatal blow to the US and the Allies, that they have only served to “awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
War is hell. I think that’s why I don’t like it all that much. And I’m not a big fan of war movies either. Even in a war like WWII where you can make a pretty good case that we were on the right side, and where there are winners and losers…there are no real winners. Yes, we needed to fight off Hitler especially, but the cost is so great. It’s like Sollozzo said to Hagen in The Godfather: “Blood is a big expense.”
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
So Tora! Tora! Tora! worked for me. Even though Pearl Harbor isn’t that bad, I recommend T!3 if you’re choosing between them. Better yet, if you’re really interested get a documentary. Or read a book. You have lots of choices. You know, you have so many toys in your room, I don’t ever want to hear you say you’re bored.
Random Quote Whore Quote:
Tora! Tora! Tora! is a dire, cultivated, stranglehold of a movie! Martin Balsam and Sô Yamamura are frictionless!!!
Closing Love Theme
So for those of you who have hung in there through this looong post (like I have a right to criticize Pearl Harbor for being too long…sheesh), here’s a treat. I’m thinking about adding a new, fun (for me anyway) element to the movie reviews: A closing love theme for the imaginary credits to run over. No, not by Céline Dion. Sorry.
The closing love theme will be something personal, a gift from me to you my fervent readers. It will be a song that the movie(s) made me think about, or a song that I heard while I was writing the review that resonated. And sometimes there might not be one if the movie is uninspiring or for whatever reason.
Throughout my viewing, researching, and writing about these two movies I kept thinking about the generation of men and women who fought this war. Tom Brokaw called them “The Greatest Generation,” and he was pretty much on the money. My parents were, as I mentioned, in this generation and met during the war. My dad never went overseas, he spent most of his time guarding prisoners, mostly soldiers who had gone AWOL and got caught. He always said that he didn’t do much, not compared to my uncle who got wounded in Saipan, but I used to say, “Dad, you did what they asked you to do.” He was as much of a hero as any other soldier as far as we were concerned.
I came across this 1995 song by Daniel Amos, a band that few people know about. The song is about the WWII generation, it’s called “When Everyone Wore Hats.” I think it perfectly captures the bygone era of “chain smoking dreamers” who “handed down their pride and prejudice” to later generations.
This is a video for the song brilliantly put together by one of the band’s fans, LUH1214. I hope you enjoy it.