Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor (2001) is an epic entertainment of near epically misguided proportion. Going the overly familiar route of taking an historic event and tacking on an implausible would-be fictionalized and light-hearted romance - doomed by the final fade out - the film is a showcase for miscasting and miscalculations.
Instead of intensity, we are provided with the most insipid and prerequisite of toss-away narratives. Bay delivers spectacle without substance; characters without characterization, and comedic plot devices and vignettes teetering precarious close to a desecration of the memory of those valiant war heroes who gave their lives for a more noble cause and greater future.
The film stars resident heartthrob Ben Affleck as self important hotshot pilot, Capt. Rafe McCawley. Rafe swoons – quite literally – after jabbed with a hypodermic needle by sultry nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale).
Evelyn finds Rafe rather annoying at first – who wouldn’t with an ego the size of Connecticut. However – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – she eventually warms to his particular brand of brute sexist masculinity, (in speculation) presumably because of his dimpled chin. After an unrequited whirlwind romance, fly-boy Rafe is sent off to hunt Germans. He is shot down while on a tour and later mistakenly presumed dead. This tragic news simultaneously reaches Evelyn and Rafe’s best friend, Capt. Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett). The two unite in their reminiscence and pain and are drawn closer. Not long afterward, Danny and Evelyn become lovers.
One problem: Rafe is still very much alive. He returns home to recover from his wounds but is distraught when he uncovers their affair. Bitter and determined to distinguish himself in aerial battle once again, Rafe sets for Pearl Harbor days before the ill-fated Japanese attack that decimates that American outpost.
In a rather awkward cross between historical epic and romance novella turned Harlequin downer, Bay populates the back story of this meandering folly with a stellar cast including Jon Voight, Alec Baldwin, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Gardner and Greg Zola; all wasted in much too brief vignettes that are subservient to the soppy main tale. The computer generated destruction of Pearl Harbor – impressive in both its scope and staging - inhabits a scant twenty minutes of this film’s lengthy running time and is really not the focus of the story, best forgotten as a lavishly mounted expensive footnote.
Buena Vista’s deluxe 2-disc DVD is quite stunning; anamorphic widescreen with a vintage palette of bold and refined colors, beautifully rendered contrast levels – deep solid blacks and very clean whites. Fine detail is evident even during the darkest scenes. Age related artifacts are a non-issue.
There is a slight hint of edge enhancement, but nothing that will distract. The film is spread across 2 discs with an intrusive break immediately following the initial deluge of Pearl Harbor. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and provides a very aggressive spread across all five channels.
Extras include ‘Journey To The Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor, a History Channel Documentary on the real heroes of the war (infinitely more satisfying than the film), DVD-ROM features, Faith Hill’s music video and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)