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Alive 3

(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
(posthumous) daddy!

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

Alive 3