Saturday, April 18, 2015
(May 2001, U.S.)
Over the course of my blog, I've come to learn that several things are certain. Coincidence is certain, irony is certain, and the ability for me to take occasional exceptions to some of my most hard-ass rules of thumb when it comes to film and film makers is certain! That being the case, you've likely read in previous posts of my very low opinion and utter disrespect for a film maker (and I'm using that term very loosely here!) like Michael Bay, who, in my very strong opinion, has proven to a man like me that his true talent lies in his ability to blow shit up! Strong words, indeed, but what else could I possibly feel for a man whose only cinematic efforts over the last eight years has been four TRANSFORMER movies (for myself, I couldn't even sit through the entire first one!). However, (and this is where the certainty of irony first comes into play) if you're an expert at blowing shit up on the big screen, then perhaps the story of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor serves as no better arena for one's expertise in demolition. So now, here's where rule exception is certain - despite the negative reactions from audiences and critics alike, Michael Bay's PEARL HARBOR is not only a good film, it's actually one of the best air combat war films I've ever seen. Yes, I've said it and it's out there now. Shake your heads in disbelief and disgust, if you must, but hey, it's MY opinion that counts here, right??
Much like Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) or even James Cameron's TITANIC (1997), you need to take matters of fact versus fiction on a somewhat light account when committing yourself to three hours of historical drama that is ultimately supposed to be pure entertainment and perhaps nothing more. I would like to think that any film maker (even Michael Bay!) who sets out to put a historical event on the big screen would have the good and responsible sense to do their proper homework to at least get most of the historical facts accurate. After all, unless you're watching a Quentin Tarantino movie for nothing more than the pure fun of it (think INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and Hitler's final outcome!), you expect as much historical accuracy as possible. The first fact that anyone who knows their history is that on the morning of December 7, 1941, a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy and their fighter planes against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii took place and the attack led to the United States' entry into World War II. This attack, like it or not, was a destructive and explosive cataclysm on our American soil in which a lot of shit blew up! I purposely simplify this historical event into rather juvenile words to make a point and that's this - when you're portraying a piece of history that was in itself a very visual and destructive event, then perhaps a demolition expert like Michael Bay is just the man to pull it off! And quite frankly, in his defense (can't believe I'm actually doing this!), the man does nail the attack's visual feels and sensations right on the head. Let me prove it to you. Take a look at a couple of real black and white archival photographs from the attack as it happened on that fateful day in 1941...
...and now take a look at these recreated color images from the film...
...and I defy you to tell me that Michael Bay didn't do his homework when attempting to accurately portray the correct visuals of the attack and the battles that followed. And as far as the attack is concerned, it's my honest opinion that PEARL HARBOR produces the most spectacular battle sequence (any battle sequence of any film genre!) I've seen on the big screen since RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)! Think I'm reaching a bit here? Think I'm crazy? Perhaps, but there you have it. For the military characters and the events that inevitably lead to Pearl Harbor, the case includes solid actors like Dan Aykroyd as Captain Thurman, Colm Feore as Admiral William Halsey, Alec Baldwin as Major Jimmy Doolittle, Mako as Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and Jon Voight as Franklin D. Roosevelt himself giving his famous "Day of Infamy" speech following the attack. Both sides, American and Japanese play their parts well enough. Their historical accuracy may not be as easy to ascertain as the visuals of battle, but I can say that I've seen similar stories and performances in another film about the attack on Pearl Harbor called TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970), a superior film on this specific subject, I might add. Still, many real Pearl Harbor survivors dismissed the film as grossly inaccurate and pure "Hollywood". I would hardly think to debate the real people who were actually there, but still, my purpose in films such as this is not that of a historian, just a lover of film. Perhaps one can appreciate a film like PEARL HARBOR when comparing to something high octane like Tony Scott's TOP GUN (1986) rather than something more viable and serious like Steven Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998).
And so the real big question now for PEARL HARBOR is this - are actors and overall "nice kids" like Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale worth a damn in the love story element of this film? I suppose. Why not? Let's be honest, here - I don't think anybody came in with great expectations of cinematic love that would compare to the likes of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh (GONE WITH THE WIND), Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (CASABLANCA) or even Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (TITANIC)! But again, in defense of Michael Bay, I think he does a far better job at directing actors and their emotional complexities far better than someone like George Lucas whose best efforts brought out very "wooden" performances from his actors in the three STAR WARS prequels. And although a love story against the backdrop of a world event or tragedy seems commonplace enough throughout the history of movies, such a love story in PEARL HARBOR was not the first thing I was looking for to satisfy my curiosities and desires for a great combat war film. So like I said...I suppose. Why not?
Thinking back now on the Summer of 2001 calls upon very serious memories of before and after - before September 11, 2001 and after. I saw PEARL HARBOR on screen twice in the early part of that summer and back then I deemed it as an entertainingly worthy film that would pay homage to the actual event that would turn fifty years-old that coming December 2001 and nothing more. To think back on the film since 9/11 only brings chills to my mind in considering that we were only just a couple of months away from another day of infamy in American history that would change our world forever. This is perhaps where the irony of film and, indeed, life is certain.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz: "So, sir, you would have us mobilize the entire fleet, at the cost of millions of dollars, based on this 'spine-tingling' feeling of yours?
Captain Thurman: "No, sir. I understand my job is to gather and interpret material. Making difficult decisions based on incomplete information from my limited decoding ability is your job, sir."