Plot: What’s it about?
The secret for success seems to be that you take a tragedy from our past, throw in a few good-looking, young actors and have them be in love. Of course, one has to die or else it won’t evoke that emotional response that will make you want to see the movie time and time again. The best (or perhaps worst) thing that the giant, ‘Titanic’ accomplished is that it laid the foundation for movies to come. Every director/producer/actor and so on thought “Hey…we can do that except instead of Titanic it can be ______”! And now, just a few years after Titanic won 12 Academy Awards, we are greeted with ‘Pearl Harbor’. Behind Pearl Harbor is none other than Michael Bay. Bay made a name for himself with Bad Boys, The Rock and Armageddon and now he essentially has free-reign to do whatever he pleases with Pearl Harbor. I think Michael Bay is a great director, he can take movies and make them very entertaining, but I feel that this whole movie was just about the marketing and making money off one of our most severe tragedies. I could be wrong and probably am, but that’s just my opinion. Then again, movies are all about being entertained, so maybe I should just say what it’s all about and let you make up your own mind…
We are confronted with two pilots and a beautiful girl. Captains Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) are hotshot pilots not unlike those of modern day’s Maverick and Goose. Rafe is deeply in love with a nurse by the name of Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) and it’s clear that the two are off to get married in the future. Rafe and Danny have been friends since childhood, but it might be their fake Tennessee accents that was the first sign that the movie wouldn’t be all is was hyped to be. Still, a problem arises when Rafe is shipped to the British Air Force and is lost at sea and presumed dead. Naturally, with Ben Affleck’s name above the title, we can assume that he will not perish in the first half of the movie, but this sets the scene for Danny to get to know and fall in love with Evelyn. They have coped with the "death" of Rafe rather well and it’s now clear that Evelyn and Danny are headed for the sunset together. But as we soon see, Rafe is alive and well. This all takes a backseat to what is going on in the world, though. The Japanese are plotting an attack on Pearl Harbor (hence the movie) and it will change the lives of Rafe, Danny and Evelyn forever.
Like the World War II movie, Midway, the Japanese aren’t portrayed as merely kamakazi pilots who dive bomb mindlessly into battleships. Rather, they are portrayed as intelligent and perceptive agents of war who are trying to win for what they believe in. As you might imagine, the attack on Pearl Harbor is destructive and amazing and now takes on a different meaning now that we have been exposed to the events of September 11 here in the United States. The movie features a fine supporting cast including a few Oscar winners by the names of John Voight and Cuba Gooding Jr. The person who I liked most in the movie was hardly in it, but Alec Baldwin’s Colonel James Doolittle steals the show as the commander who takes the crew to an attack over Japan. Baldwin’s charm and natural "ruggedness" are perfect for the role and it’s clear that he didn’t take his role as seriously as some of the other actors. For a Michael Bay movie, that’s a welcome change and makes it much easier to watch. While Pearl Harbor may or may not be your cup of tea, it’s almost required watching. For those who lived through it, I’m sure this is a very emotional movie to see. While it’s no Titanic, it’s good, but about an hour too long. Watch it, but you might want to rent it first.
Video: How does it look?
Pearl Harbor is shown in it’s 2.35:1 anamorphic image. The transfer looks very good for the most part. The print is clean and clear and free of any blemish that might detract from what’s going on screen. There are a few minor spots of some de-saturation and some spots tend to look a bit muddy, but for the most part, it’s outstanding. There was no real edge enhancement to report and the blacks are right on target. The print, as mentioned before, is free of any dirt or scratches that would likewise take away from the visual experience. The color palette is very muted, showing the grittiness of what happened back then. Some scenes, though, are very warm and friendly and that’s shown in the image as well. While not reference-quality, Pearl Harbor is one good-looking disc.
Audio: How does it sound?
Michael Bay’s movies are usually synonymous with great sound and Pearl Harbor is certainly no exception. The attack on Pearl Harbor is among the best in sound on DVD and with a Dolby Digital or DTS option, you’ve got to hear it to believe it. I do think, however, that the sound could be a little better. It seems that the majority of the sound is centered to the front three channels. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds awesome, but to have 2.1 channels not working up to their 100% capacity is just crazy! The dialogue is very clean and has none of that "hiss" that is associated with it from time to time. The surrounds are used, just not enough and it almost makes me sad to say that Pearl Harbor doesn’t live up to it’s full potential here as this should have been the one given that it would have. Lastly, there is a rather unique function called a Dolby Headphone track. It is the soundtrack in it’s entirety but has been set for a pair of headphones (for a portable player, I’m assuming). While this is a rather nifty feature, I am not sure what to think. It does do a good job at recreating the soundtrack, but is no substitute for the real 5.1. I wonder if we’ll see more of these…
Supplements: What are the extras?
First and foremost, let me tell you that this is one of three versions of this movie. The version reviewed here is the 60th Commemorative Edition. There is a Vista Edition coming out next Spring that is loaded with features, an additional disc (for a total of three) and a director’s cut of the film. If it’s supplements you want for this movie, wait for that one…as it will surely be the definitive version. Ok, on with the features! While this version is relatively free of any supplements, it does have a few interesting ones, the first being a 45 minute documentary entitled "Journey to the Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor". Unlike most featurettes, this is very in depth and informative. While it’s a welcome addition to the disc, it does tend to get a bit repetitive and it’s amazing how seriously they take the movie (then again…I suppose everyone in the movie thought it would be the next Titanic). Another documentary, "Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor" is more of a History Channel feature. While not concentrating on the movie per se, it focuses on the survivors of Pearl Harbor. Quite moving and very informative and entertaining. A Faith Hill music video is also included as is the original theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 sound. As mentioned before, if you’re a casual fan of the movie, then this version may suit you. But if you’re feature savvy, then patience my friend…for the Vista Series will arrive shortly.