(And why can't they be arsed to spell 'Harbour' properly!)
One of the nice things about going out with someone is that your
opportunities and excuses to go out and catch a movie increase dramatically.
I mean, it somehow doesn't feel right going there on your own. You might
well associate solitary filmgoers with a certain kind of picture house, one
where a long, non-too-clean raincoat might be part of the dress code
Anyway, I was let off having to take her to see Bridget Jones the Movie. She
has a female best friend to go to see those sort of pictures with, but I was
roped into going to see 'Pearl Harbor', which was the next 'big thing' that
came along, moviewise.
How to describe it quickly? Well, it is a bad love story, loosely based
around the Second World War, with the sort of massively glossy production
values, and expensive film stock, that you normally only see when a new
chocolate bar, with a crispy crunchy undercoat, makes its advertising debut.
Or how about the quick summary route:- Boy meets girl at comedy medical
examination scenario, boy falls in love, boy gets posted overseas and takes
a seemingly terminal early bath. Girl is disconsolate, but manages to get
consoled by other boy, who is the best friend of the other one. However,
first boy turns up again, unhappy to find second boy making himself 'at
home' and making underwear out of parachute silk with the girl. History
kicks in at this point, so the two boys start talking to each other again,
just when the nasty Japa-nese navy starts blowing up Pearl Harbour.
All survive, and both boys fly off on a revenge bombing mission, but run out
of petrol, just before that crucial 'getting to safety' bit. They are
captured by Japanese soldiers, get away, but the second boy comes back home
in a wooden box shortly after he's been told that he's going to be a
So you've had your fun? Nope, I'm just getting started!
I'm going to concentrate on the not too firm grasp of history that this film
has. This comes in several guises...
There was a time, earlier in the film, where one of the characters
volunteers to fight in the Battle of Britain. Which was nice of them. The
casual historian might remember that the Battle of Britain took place along
the lines of June-September 1940, not in 1941, as this film suggests. This
pales in hilarity besides the 'fact' that the typical Royal Air Force
airbase from that period seems to be in the grounds of a stately home. And I
don't seem to remember the defence of the United Kingdom being conducted
from the front lawn of Woburn Abbey?
Being introduced to his (obviously damaged) aircraft for the first time.
"This Spitfire's yours, the last chap who had it managed to get it home
before he bled to death!" Son of cliche, or what!
Next up, there was some critical comments made about the portrayal of the
Japanese leadership as reluctant warriors, no raping of Nanking here. In the
case of the chief planner of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto,
this film actually wasn't too far from the truth (for once.) "I fear all we
have done is awaken a sleeping giant." The real tragedy of Pearl Harbor may
be, not the fact that it was a glossy load of poo, but the fact that it
nearly could have been made to work?
The climax of the film, the actual attack on Pearl Harbour, deserves some
comments a bit later on, as this was the part that worked the best, and
could have carried the picture, without the dead weight of the rest of it
pushing down. I might briefly mention that the producers borrowed parts of
the modern US Navy and thinly tarted them up to (poorly) resemble WWII era
destroyers, and these ships never stayed in shot for very long.
It could have stopped there quite satisfactorily, but there was a sort of
'Pearl Harbour v1.5' bolted on, which involved our heroes in the story of
the 'Doolittle Raid', the revenge bombing attack on Tokyo in spring 1942. I
assume this was added to make the Americans forget about getting their arses
kicked earlier? Apart from the implausability of getting our heroes involved
in the first place (A kind of "You guys did real good, so we've got this
certain death suicide mission for you" thing.) This was mostly historically
reasonable, and could have made a good (accurately presented) picture by
itself. For example, they were forced to take-off prematurely when the fleet
was discovered, still some 500-odd miles away from the ideal launching
position for the raid. This meant that the bombers did run out of fuel,
whilst still over enemy territory, and yes, the bulk of the crews had to use
escape and evasion techniques, linking up with friendly Chinese peasants
deep in hostile country to get away.
Some of the crews were captured, and it looked for one moment, that Pearl
Harbour, the movie, would suddenly become realistic and plausible, as our
heroes were picked up by angry Japanese soldiers. This looked all too
realistic, bayonets jabbing in the direction of our heroes despairing faces,
and yes, there was a moment of real tension there, most unDisneylike, that
suggests there would be no happy ending here? But what happens instead? A
fit of Schwartzeneggar style gunfight heroics disposes of the heavily armed
soldiery! So we get lightly armed airmen winning against combat infantry, on
their own ground, err, right!?
Also, the idea of bringing back the corpse for a full military honour style
burial seems to be a post-war conceit. Surely in a survival situation, which
is what this mission was, if anyone got dead, you would have to leave them
to lie where they fell?
Some very critical people were counting up the number of historical errors
large and small alike, and came up with a number in the low hundreds!
Historically speaking, mistakes jump out at you, even when you're taking
this in as a total no-brain roller-coaster experience. It's like the
backstage area of 'Grease', the musical being seen as somehow typical of the
whole of the 1950's, everywhere, at the same time.
Some good points?
Yes there were some, even in the most turgid bits. The initial stages of the
romance were played for comedy, and were amusing. There was a little bit of
a suggestion that one of the characters was dyslexic (in a time before that
condition was properly understood), and on the point of washing out of
training, and saved only by the understanding of the lead female character.
This is a rather daring subplot for a potboiler of this sort. Now if only
they had applied this level of care and attention to the detail in the rest
of the film?
Of course, the producers went to town, several towns, and a couple of cities
in fact, on the special effects. You can plainly see where the bulk of the
budget went, on the ordnance! By the end of it, I felt numb, battered and
exhausted, just like the real participants? A particular highspot includes
the reconstructed battleships, which were lovingly blown apart and capsized
(but I suspect that the sequence where an entire front section bulges out
from a huge internal explosion on one ship, was done on computer.)
They tried to jam in too much here. A silly romance with a historical
backdrop. A Boom-bastic action movie with enough firepower to quell a third
world war, never mind the second. Somwhere along the line, they remembered
there were some events that happened in real life that they had to base it
all on. not forgetting the last hour of the film, the 'revenge attack',
which could have made a good film on its own.
It suffered from having to please the greatest number of people possible. So
the emphasis was on the romance, in the Japanese market, rather than the
bullets, for example, which kind of suggests that the corporate marketing
people had more input than the director did?
A good film should leave you inspired, Pearl Harbour just left me tired
CiH - For Alive! Mag - July '01