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IN SHORT: Two of the three longest movies we've ever sat through. [Rated PG-13 for Sustained Intense War Sequences, Images of Wounded, Brief Sensuality and Some Language. 186 minutes]
Given the running time we will note that there is nothing in this film so vital that you cannot get up and make a bathroom run at any time in the entirety of the film.
Anyone that has ever taken a film scriptwriting class (or suffered through enough of our references of same) is familiar with the Three Act concept. Now, from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, comes the first of a novel take on the concept -- each Act is its own movie. Act One (aka movie one) of Pearl Harbor is a Harlequin Romance novel blown up to big screen proportions. Act Two (AKA movie two) is "Blow all the model ships to hell". Finally comes Act Three, "The Reason We Give A Damn". In between is every overused generic character stereotype that's ever been overused in a romance/ war/ action flick. Yeah, I'm repeating myself. We sat for over three hours. We've gone loopy.
Seriously folk. Is it possible to recreate an event such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, wrapping it in a love story about fictional characters and do so without trivializing it? Nope, for the most part, which helps to explain why the best parts of Pearl Harbor are the parts that are based on real characters and events. As for where the entire painful mess turns around and becomes something you care about watching, well, you'll know it when you see it, two hours down the line. The sad thing is that we know at least one critic who walked out at the two hour mark, meaning he missed the 180 change when Pearl Harbor the film became something interesting to watch.
Movie number one features Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck), Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) and Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). Two guys in love with one woman in love with two guys (for reasons that spoil a rare first act surprise). Rafe volunteers for service in Europe before America gets into the war. Danny and Ev and her complement of nurses fit to be pinups (thank you JB for the eye candy) are dispatched to Pearl, where swimming and sunning are the order of the day. All of this is underscored by Hans Zimmer's score, screaming capital Mush and making this male critic pray that someone would whack him with a shovel and put him out of his misery.
All the while, the Japanese Navy (Mako as Admiral Yamamoto) is planning their attack and US "Intelligence" (Dan Aykroyd) is confounded by the radio traffic they've been decoding. Something is up but they don't know what. And on the USS Arizona, a cook named Dorie Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is getting some deck time in a boxing match with a big white lug. Dorie signed up with the Navy to see the world, but the USN at the time was as white as their dress uniforms. Black sailors were fit to be cooks and bottle washers, or boxers, and that was that. That would change. Dorie's story is a real one. The other characters -- Red, the stuttering sailor (Ewen Bremner) and Betty, his too pretty to be real nurse fiancee (James King) and various mechanics with nicknames all fit any template of any war movie made from 1946 to 1964 or so. We grew up on 'em. We know 'em well. If you didn't you may not be wishing for that shovel whack.
We will note that a dozen twentysomething femmes in front of us sat riveted through this first hour. Batten down and suffer, boys, 'cuz that's what you'll do. Number one rates at chick flick/ dateflick. Onwards.
Movie Two is, of course, the recreation of the biggest butt whuppin' we've ever taken as a nation. All the special visual effects, and they're all top notch, can't take away the sobering feeling you get if you have any capacity for sympathy. It is one thing to see bodies shredded on the big screen. It is quite another to know that these anonymous (to us) sailors represent real people who died. It's no substitute for standing at the Arizona Memorial at Pearl and looking down through the oil slick that still covers the wreckage under the water. If you haven't had that particular experience, moments in this section may get you started. Once the bombs start to fall, the malarkey of the first movie starts to get drop away and the characters, real or imagined, do what they're "supposed" to do. Fight. Heal. Save. Repair. Survive. Our two heroes, off the base at the time of the attack, manage to get two planes off the ground and take out seven Japanese planes. This bit is also morphed from real characters, Lieutenants George Welch and Kenneth Taylor who took out six. We know an eyewitness to the Attack, who lived in a house that overlooks Pearl. Her descriptions of that day, at least as we've seen them in our mind, are pretty much up on that screen. This section works nicely -- we're long admitted effects fans and some of the airplane stunts are stunning. Definite thumbs up, but we were counting on that.
Movie Three begins in Washington where President Roosevelt (Jon Voight) is royally pissed at the defeatist looks on the faces of his military advisors. This one scene affirms the old saying about no little parts and steals the movie from star Ben Affleck. What follows is a revised version of 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, which detailed our retaliatory bombing raid on Japan in 1942. By this time we didn't mind the stereotype war movie shtick that passes for additional plot, alongside <Alec Baldwin's very cool performance as Col. Jimmy Doolittle, another real-lifer.
Have I made my point that, despite the three hour shellshock of sitting through this monster, there are still a couple of points that were interesting to watch and that every single one of 'em was in some way based on something that really happened? In going for spectacle over substance, Pearl Harbor bombs. But it'll work real nice on a big screen teevee.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Pearl Harbor, he would have paid . . .
And just when you think it's over and done . . . there's an epilogue!!!!! what Pearl Harbor lacks in decibels -- it's not as loud as previous Bruckheimer/Bay flicks like The Rock or Armageddon-- it makes up for in sheer length.
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