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Michael Bay
Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Ewen Bremner, Alec Baldwin, James King, Jon Voight, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mako, Colm Feore, Dan Aykroyd, Tom Sizemore
Randall Wallace

December 7, 1941 - A day that shall live in infamy
Box Office:
Budget $152.75 million.
Opening weekend $75.177 million on 3214 screens.
Domestic gross $198.527 million.
Rated PG-13.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Sound Effects Editing.
Nominated for Best Visual Effects; Best Sound; Best Song-"There You'll Be".

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English Uncompressed PCM 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 183 min.
Price: $26.50
Release Date: 12/19/2006

• Movie Showcase
• “Journey to the Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor” Documentary
• “Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor” Documentary
• Trailers
• Music Video


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Pearl Harbor [Blu-Ray] (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 29, 2014)

Boy, that Titanic sure did rake in a boatload of money, didn’t it? I have the feeling this thought raced through the collective minds of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay as they planned Pearl Harbor, their epic examination of the events that took place on or about December 7, 1941. While Pearl doesn’t totally rip off James Cameron’s mega-hit, it certainly seems to be cut from the same cloth.

As with Titanic, Pearl takes factual events and adds a fictional spin to them. Both films go the romantic route in this regard. Roughly the first half of each flick deals with boy-girl relationships, and both include love triangles, though the approach taken to these entanglements varies. Nonetheless, after 90 minutes or so of mainly lovey-dovey material, the action flies during each movie’s second half.

Those are the points during which both films go for a more factual approach; because each flick’s initial half largely focuses on love affairs between fictional characters, those segments feature a smattering of realistic background elements but tend toward the fabricated side of the equation. Titanic and Pearl also play fairly loosely with some facts during their second halves, but that’s mainly because they continue to involve these made-up characters; the events that surround them come more closely from the truth.

Pearl starts in 1923, as we meet young versions of Rafe McCawley (played by Jesse James as a boy and Ben Affleck as a man) and Danny Walker (Reiley McClendon as a youngster, Josh Hartnett as an adult) and briefly learn of their friendship and love for flying. Fast forward to 1941, and we find that they’ve joined the Army Air Corps and become the pilots they always wanted to be. Rafe meets Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) and they promptly fall for each other.

However, this relationship becomes disrupted when Rafe hooks up with the British Royal Air Force. With the US still not at war with the Nazis, he wants to do his part anyway, so he heads off to fight with the limeys. Unfortunately, he takes a hit during battle and becomes presumed dead.

This being a romance, someone needs to pick up the slack, so after they combat their hormones for a while, Danny and Evelyn become a hot and heavy couple, though not until both are transferred to Hawaii. (Ain’t that a coinky-dink?) To the surprise of absolutely no one - as though we believed a star like Affleck would vanish so early in the film! - eventually Rafe turns out not dead, and this creates a problem within the now-existing love triangle.

Luckily for them, war intrudes on their little soap opera. The Japanese strike Pearl Harbor, and a significant amount of the rest of the movie concentrates on this attack. However, the film doesn’t end when the bombs cease. Instead, it follows the American counter-response that took place a few months later when Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) led a bombing raid over Japanese turf. Inevitably, both Rafe and Danny become involved in this raid, and by the end of the film, their strained friendship and their relationship with Evelyn will finally get resolved.

Pearl Harbor took a serious critical thrashing when it hit screens in 2001, but I suppose director Bay must be accustomed to those responses. Actually, this one may have caught him by surprise, because I think he believed the flick would win over his enemies. Unfortunately, it didn’t; if anything, it created new detractors.

I’ve defended the work of Bay and producer Bruckheimer many times over the years, as I think that their enemies often miss the point. Flicks like Armageddon and The Rock aren’t meant to be deep and meaningful; they’re exciting popcorn films, and I feel that they deliver what they promise. No, I don’t simply excuse their flaws, but I believe that their positives outweigh their negatives.

In regard to Pearl, however, I’m not so sure. Part of the charm of Titanic stemmed from the fact that the romantic sequences worked just as well as the disaster segments. That shocked me at the time. I saw Titanic on its second day of release, but I wasn’t excited about the prospect. I went due to my respect for director James Cameron, but I doubted even he could create an entertaining three-hour-plus flick based on the events.

I was wrong, as I liked the soap opera scenes in Titanic just as much as I enjoyed the action bits. That definitely wasn’t the case for Pearl, however, as I found myself impatiently waiting for the bombs to fall. Both Pearl and Titanic had tough paths in front of them, for we know exactly what will happen and we also know when it’ll occur. We have some question about how the events will affect our fictional characters, but the flicks still go down an inevitable road to a large degree.

For Titanic, Cameron made that trail interesting and compelling. For Pearl, Bay was largely unable to do the same.

One of the major missteps found in Pearl revolves around its ending. No, I don’t mean the resolution of the love triangle, though it seems pretty lame itself. Instead, I refer to the inclusion of the Doolittle raid material. These elements feel tacked on so the story can have a happy ending. They greatly overstate the effectiveness and usefulness of the attack, and seem to exist just to send audiences out of the theater on a high note.

Personally, I don’t go to see a movie about Pearl Harbor and expect a bright and cheery finale. Actually, this represents a change from the Titanic template, since that film ended in a fairly depressing manner. In a way, Pearl tries to have its cake and eat it too; the Doolittle raid represents a way to show a victorious US, but the film doesn’t go all-out with smiles and frivolity.

In any case, I really could live without the Doolittle material. It seems gratuitous and unnecessary. It wraps up some love triangle loose ends, but I’m sure Bay could have found other ways to do this. Ultimately these scenes simply contribute to the film’s excessive length.

As a whole, the acting of Pearl seems fairly bland. Hartnett and Beckinsale are attractive, and I think they’ve shown talent elsewhere, but they seem fairly blah here. As for Affleck, he gives Rafe an odd Elvis vibe much of the time, at least during early scenes, and that throws me off; it’s a weird choice for the character, even if he’s supposed to be a Southern boy. (Hartnett doesn’t bother with any sort of accent for Danny, however.)

Probably the most disconcerting piece of casting is that for President Roosevelt. Bizarrely, they chose Jon Voight, and his bug-eyed intensity feels all wrong for the part. However, I can’t blame the actor for the film’s worst scene, in which the handicapped president rises to his feet to make a point. Even if the rest of Pearl had been flawless, that terrible segment would have represented a serious blotch.

Despite all of these concerns, Bay shows such flair with the action sequences that I can almost forgive them. Make no mistake - he creates some vivid and memorable visuals during the attack. As dull as the first 90 minutes are, the subsequent half hour largely compensates.

Some folks complained that the Japanese assault was presented in too clean and antiseptic a manner. They seem to feel that if a movie doesn’t go for the gore of Saving Private Ryan, then it must be unrealistic.

That’s hogwash. No, Pearl doesn’t indulge in flying body parts, but it doesn’t need to do so. I think the relative lack of graphic human damage in Pearl doesn’t harm the film whatsoever. The attack remains visceral and convincing even without those elements.

If you want to see a movie that didn’t communicate the impact of the attack, check out 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora! While that flick featured an admirable restraint and emphasis on facts, it utterly failed to portray the devastation of the bombings. I left the film with little sense that anyone had died.

The same concerns don’t arise during Pearl, which I think does a terrific job with the battle. It gives a clear sense of the chaos and confusion and all of the destruction the fight wrought. Would additional gore have made it more effective? I doubt it. I think the movie strikes a good balance, as it demonstrates the negatives but doesn’t get hung up on the graphic qualities.

Are these sequences good enough to make Pearl Harbor worth my while? Yeah, I think so. I don’t much care for the plastic love story, it plays fast and loose with a number of historical areas, and the extended ending feels unnecessary, but the attack itself merits the price of admission. Pearl Harbor certainly isn’t a classic, but it does enough right to be a watchable piece.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio A/ Bonus B

Pearl Harbor appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. An early Blu-ray release, the transfer looked good but not great.

Overall sharpness was good. Some wide shots showed a little softness, but those instances occurred infrequently. Instead, the majority of the film delivered solid accuracy. I saw virtually no examples of jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement.

Print flaws seemed similarly absent; I never witnessed any grain, speckles, grit, marks, debris or issues of any sort during this clean and fresh presentation. However, some artifacts came through and could give the film a slightly messy feel.

Bay imbued Pearl with a warm and romantic glow for the most part; even during some of the more frantic attack scenes, the movie generally presented this kind of tone. In any case, the colors looked quite solid, as they consistently appeared concise and vivid. The hues of Pearl didn’t exactly leap out at me, but they seemed vibrant and distinct, and the disc reproduced them with fine clarity.

Black levels were deep and dense, while shadow detail appeared appropriately opaque but never excessively heavy. Low-light scenes really came across well, as they presented accurate and well-defined shots. The mild softness and artifacts could distract, but in general, the film looked fine.

Not surprisingly, Pearl presented a vivid and active uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundfield. During quieter sequences - i.e., most of the first 90 minutes - the mixes remained reasonably subdued. However, they still offered a lot of involving and convincing ambience. Even when the tracks lacked any slam-bang effects, the audio showed good atmospheric aspects.

Those segments weren’t totally devoid of any engulfing sound, by the way; for example, when trains rolled in and out of stations, the tracks presented them with excellent spatial characteristics and definition. In addition, Hans Zimmer’s score showed nice stereo presence and separation and filled the setting well.

Of course, the audio really came to life during the action scenes, and the entire attack sequence came across like one long demo piece. All five channels got a very active workout, as effects burst out of every possible area. Planes flew by, bullets zipped past, and explosions rocked the room. The mixes really brought a great sense of presence and dimensionality to these scenes, and the overall effect offered a fine environment.

Audio quality also appeared excellent. Dialogue remained natural and distinct at all times, and I observed no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music seemed nicely bright and vivid, and the score offered fine fidelity and dynamics. The drumming that accompanied the shots with the Japanese sounded especially vibrant and forceful, but all of the music worked well.

The effects had a life of their own, as those elements showed fine range and accuracy at all times. No matter how loud the situation became, I always thought the effects stayed crisp and free from distortion. Highs appeared clear and bright, while bass response was devastating at times. Low-end consistently remained deep and rich, and I thought bass was also very concise. Those elements really shook the room, but they seemed quite tight and lacked any boominess. Across the board, this was an excellent mix.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2001 DVD? Audio was richer and more dynamic, while visuals seemed more accurate and concise. Even with some picture concerns, the Blu-ray offered an upgrade over the DVD.

The Blu-ray duplicates the 2001 DVD’s extras. Entitled Journey to the Screen: the Making of Pearl Harbor, the first lasts for 47 minutes and 28 second as it covers the creation of the film itself. The program combines the standard array of movie clips, shots from the set, and interview snippets. In regard to the latter, we hear from a long list of folks. In addition to film participants such as director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, actors Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Kate Beckinsale, Jon Voight, Alec Baldwin, and Josh Hartnett, Department of Defense Project Officer Lt. Melissa Shuermann, DOD Public Affairs Phil Strub, writer Randall Wallace, costume designer Michael Kaplan, special effects coordinator John Frazier, stunt coordinator Kenny Bates, aerial coordinator Alan Purwin, chief pilot Steve Hinton, property master Charles Stewart, director of photography John Schwartzman, first assistant director K.C. Hodenfield, second unit director/visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig, co-visual effects supervisor Ed Hirsh, and associate visual effects supervisor Ben Snow, we also get comments from veterans Don Jones, James Bunting, Robert Vilcone, Gene Byers, John Russak, Peter Janovich, Charles Tompkins, Archie Boek, Loyd Scott, Van Harrison, Edmond Chappell, William Davis, Richard Duran, Richard Fiske, Karl Johnson, Rik Richards, Hank Potter, Dick Cole, and Robert Kronberg. Wow - that’s a lot of folks to pack into a 47-minute show!

For the most part, “Journey” integrates the participants reasonably well, though don’t expect to hear much from most of them. Bay dominates the piece, but even he only adds a little to the table. Still, the large variety of voices helps bring some decent facts to bear. Though a promotional show at heart, “Journey” happily keeps the film clips to a minimum; they don’t fill too much of the program.

Where the show shines relates to the “behind the scenes” snippets. These provide some nice looks at the creation of the movie and they flesh out the piece. Overall, “Journey” is a bit too fluffy and light to be much above average, but it still offers a fairly interesting look at many aspects of the production.

Originally aired as a special on the History Channel, Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor gives us a second documentary. Narrated by Fritz Weaver, this 45-minute and 33-second program combines archival films and still photos with interviews. In the latter domain, we hear from USS Arizona Memorial historian Daniel Martinez, author Paul Stillwell (Air Raid: Pearl HarborRun Silent, Run Deep) and Colonel Joseph H. Alexander (A Fellowship of Valor), and veterans Roger Thomas, Stephen B. Young, and Anthony J. Dilorenzo.

Overall, the program tends toward the melodramatic at times, but it offers a pretty good recap of the events of December 7 1941. The show stays away from a broad historical or political focus and essentially concentrates on the attack itself. In that regard, it provides a fairly thorough look at the different elements, with a special emphasis on the various ships that took hits. I especially liked the comments from the veterans; in particular, Young - a survivor of the Arizona - added a strong perspective. Ultimately, “Unsung” wasn’t an exceptional documentary, but it gave us a reasonably compelling view of its subject.

A few minor extras round out the disc. We find a music video for Faith Hill’s There You’ll Be. The song itself is yet another crappy Diane Warren ballad, and the video resembles many other clips that promote tunes from movies; it uses liberal film snippets and simply shows Hill as she wanders around and lip-synchs the rest of the time. Hill looks pretty good in the video, but it’s still a loser. We finish with the theatrical and teaser trailers for Pearl.

Under Movie Showcase, we’re told we’ll get “instant access to the filmmaker’s most cinematic moments that showcase the ultimate in high definition picture and sound”. What this means is that we find an alternate form of chapter search, as the “Showcase” links to three short clips; these run a total of five minutes, two seconds. The “Showcase” feels pointless to me.

In 2002, Disney released a Director’s Cut of the film. Not only did it alter the film itself, it packed multiple commentaries and other new bonus materials. I have no idea if Disney will ever put out the DC on Blu-ray, but years after this disc’s release, it doesn’t look to be on the horizon.

As a movie, Pearl Harbor seems more enjoyable than its detractors claim, but I won’t claim much more for it than that. The battle sequences are fairly compelling and dramatic, but the romantic elements seem uninspired and forced. The Blu-ray provides good picture and audio along with an excellent soundtrack. This remains an inconsistent movie but the Blu-ray replicates it well.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of PEARL HARBOR

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main