PEARL HARBOR (2001) One star
If you’re a fan of Turner Classic Movies, surely at one point or another you’ve come across the old-fashioned screen romance set in the midst of wartime be it World War I or World War II or (even) Vietnam.
A FAREWELL TO ARMS and WATERLOO BRIDGE are just a couple of the classic titles.
You might have noticed a hallmark or two at work from the Meet Cute and the romantic, lyrical interludes (before Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, and every other overly sensitive singer-songwriter provided the songs) to the departure scenes before the soldier goes off to fight and finally tragedy for the star-crossed lovers in such harrowing times for all humanity.
They become a microcosm.
Right or wrong, such cinematic hallmarks should be laughed right off the screen in postmodern times when they’re played wrong.
For example, Michael Bay’s PEARL HARBOR, one of the most insulting, most cloying excuses for mass entertainment ever made. (Keep in mind that Harrison Ford’s worst movie just might be HANOVER STREET, another weeper from Hell.)
PEARL HARBOR not only borrows scenes and themes wholesale from those earlier wartime romances, but it smuggles in good old-fashioned World War II films to form a half-soap opera and half-war epic for the Attention Deficit Cinema. It turns out to be all-crock and all-crook.
I don’t know about you, but the romantic triangle between would-be matinee idols Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, and Josh Hartnett does not belong in the same picture with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Be prepared for the attack on both elements.
How about that romantic triangle?
Let us break them down angle-by-angle-by-angle.
I’ve never been a big Affleck fan, Hartnett’s not much better, and Beckinsale nearly always proved to be easy on the eyes but difficult on every other sense.
They’re no Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, Helen Hayes or Vivien Leigh.
Basically, we’re dealing with three dubious actors in the first degree, then …
Give them dialogue that would have sank greater actors, like “Returning from the dead wasn’t all that I expected … but that’s life”; “You are so beautiful it hurts,” “It’s your nose that hurts,” and “I think it’s my heart”; “You know, the only thing that scares me is that you might love him more than you love me,” and they’re flirting with disaster.
How dare them Japanese attack a romantic triangle? Do they have a heart?
There’s not one scene between the lovers in PEARL HARBOR that even approaches indelible screen moments like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s love scene on the beach in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s farewell in CASABLANCA.
PEARL HARBOR unfortunately does not get any better in the war scenes and since this is historical fiction, we see fictional characters intertwined with impressions of real-life characters Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, who are portrayed respectively by Jon Voight and Alec Baldwin.
If the actors playing the romantic triangle get dialogue rejected by a soap opera, Voight and Baldwin chew on dialogue that’s just as recycled from old war movies, especially for Baldwin’s Doolittle.
Doolittle: “There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer” and “Victory belongs to those who believe in it the most and believe in it the longest. We’re gonna believe. We’re gonna make America believe too.”
I believe in victory, sure enough, and that’s every time I have survived the 3-hour, 4-minute cheesefest (that’s an insult to cheese) that will live in cinematic infamy.
There was the time my sister and I watched it in a suburban St. Louis multiplex because she refused to watch anything else. Oh, I would have paid extra to watch anything other than PEARL HARBOR or hell, I should have stayed home and watched paint dry. At least the paint won’t explode after an hour of the worst dialogue.
After the movie, I looked around for military recruiters creeping and crawling through an Affton theatre.
A few years down the line, our History in Film & Fiction class at Pittsburg State brought out Michael Bay’s disaster, and it still epically sucked or in the past tense of a hit song, it felt like the first time.
PEARL HARBOR’s lasting positive contribution to culture was that it provided the inspiration for one of the memorable songs in TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s satire on lamebrained action movies, “Pearl Harbor Sucks.”
I could have quoted the lyrics for this review, believing in every line except for the one about how Cuba Gooding Jr. needed a bigger part.
Anyway, those lyrics are definitely better than this blurb found on Movieweb: “On a sleepy Sunday morning in December, as children played and families prayed, squadrons of Japanese warplanes screamed across the skies of a Hawaiian paradise and launched a surprise attack on the U.S. armed forces at Pearl Harbor. The infamous day that jolted America from peaceful isolationism to total war and altered the course of world history is relived in this epic tale of patriotism, passion and romance from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, producer/director Michael Bay and screenwriter Randall Wallace.
“PEARL HARBOR focuses on the life-changing events surrounding December 7, 1941, and the war’s devastating impact on two daring young pilots (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) and a beautiful, dedicated nurse (Kate Beckinsale). It is a tale of catastrophic defeat, heroic victory, personal courage and overwhelming love set against a stunning backdrop of spectacular wartime action.”
Hey, please keep in mind that you don’t have to believe in the bullshit you write.
I, however, believe in every single word when I tell you that PEARL HARBOR sucks.