‘Pearl Harbor’ Sucked

And I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark

‘Pearl Harbor’ Sucked ‘Pearl Harbor’ Sucked

Uncategorized October 2, 2013 0

‘splosions. Buena Vista Capture ‘Pearl Harbor’ Sucked And I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark by MATTHEW GAULT Memorial Day weekend,... ‘Pearl Harbor’ Sucked
‘splosions. Buena Vista Capture

‘Pearl Harbor’ Sucked

And I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark


Memorial Day weekend, 2001. I went to the movies with my family. My grandfather — a veteran of World War II’s Pacific theatre — went with us. The film: Pearl Harbor.

After three turgid hours, my family wandered into the daylight, sick on popcorn and Americana. “Well,” someone asked my grandfather. “What did you think?”

My grandfather quipped back without hesitation, “I don’t remember there being so much kissing.”

We walked to the car and the movie faded away. I was just another casualty of it. Another victim in the wake of a terrible action movie from art school graduate and milk enthusiast Michael Bay. I forgot but the nation didn’t.

Pearl Harbor holds a special place in the hearts of Americans. Trey Parker and Matt Stone memorialized its mediocrity in song in their 2004 puppet musical Team America: World Police. The Onion ran a piece on the anniversary of the film’s release that equates the experience of being involved in the movie with living through the event it depicts. The film’s critical rating on judgement aggregator Rotten Tomatoes is a solid 25 percent. It’s a given that the movie is unwatchable garbage.

But I don’t remember it being eye-gougingly awful. Just mediocre. Forgettable. In my on-going quest to catalogue the world’s worst war movies, I decided — over 10 years after my initial viewing — to give the movie another shot.

It couldn’t be that bad.

Affleck in less respectable days. Buena Vista capture

It was worse

Every negative thing I’ve read and heard about this movie is true. The two male leads — Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett — affect hayseed accents of indeterminate origin in attempt to overwhelm the audience with a powerful sense of nostalgia for an era and a people that exists only in the country’s imagination, not its history.

The portrayal of the Japanese enemy is offensive, not because of its overt jingoist desire to make this a story of good guys and bad guys, but because the film thinks it’s being sensitive. There are token shots of Japanese soldiers staring at children with stoic reserve while they weigh the consequences of their actions.

But these are characterizations, not character development. Bay’s portrayal of the Japanese is still that of angry men in black uniforms, going to war because their oil supply has been cut off by an inferior race.

At one point Harnett is on the phone while Japanese Zeroes bomb his surroundings. The mechanic he’s talking to asks him what’s going on out there. “I think World War II just started,” Hartnett replies.

I knew going in that I’d be watching a jingoist film brimming with American as cowboy mythology, but holy shit is that line of dialogue troubling. But what can I expect from film-makers who admit to ignorance of the historical event they’ve decided to bring to theatres?

Sad music swells. Buena Vista capture

It’s not ABOUT history

Pearl Harbor is an epic movie. The characters are simple, the events easy to digest, the morality writ large. It’s an attempt to mythologize a moment in time we aren’t far enough removed from to see as legend.

The film is also painfully earnest. Michael Bay tried to do something here, tried to stretch out of the big-budget action box he’s so comfortable in. He wanted to make something here that goes beyond his normal fare.

During the production, he fought with Disney over and over again. He wanted a higher budget and they wouldn’t give it to him. He wanted more graphic violence and they forced him to cut it. Bay walked off of the set several times before Disney met him halfway on his budgetary demands. At the time — with an approved budget of $140 million — it was one of the most expensive films ever made.

The budget is blown in the big action sequences. This is where the movie, and Bay, shine.

There are quick cuts, bullets rip through soldiers, explosions arc across the landscape. In the all too brief action sequences, I can see why Bay keeps getting work. Pearl Harbor pulled in close to half a billion dollars, making back its monstrous budget with ease. Watching Zero fighters swoop over carriers while the background explodes, it’s not hard to see why.

I just wish Pearl Harbor was a silent film with a run time of 90 minutes, because the great sin of the movie is that it’s boring.

It is a thundering colossus of dull exposition and wasted time. This is a Michael fucking Bay movie. This is the man who sent Bruce Willis to blow up an asteroid and set an amazing car chase on the streets of San Francisco. Aside from a few timid scenes of Affleck dogfighting over Britain, the audience is made to wait an hour and a half before the action ramps up.

Going over an hour without an explosion is an absolute deal breaker for a Michael Bay film. Could I sit through an hour and a half of exposition before the giant robots beat the shit out of each other in Transformers? Would I like to watch Nic Cage chew Sean Connery for 90 minutes before they entered The Rock? Could I sit through an hour of Martin Lawrence blinking at Will Smith before they decided to be Bad Boys? No.

The historical inaccuracies can be overlooked, no one should expect truth from Disney’s dream factory. The fable of exceptional American cowboys starting and winning World War II on their own can be forgiven, and the movies comes from a different time and place. In 2001, our newest president was just an amusing cowboy, sure to be pilloried on Saturday Night Live for the next decade. We were insulated. Some said it was the End of History. Sept. 11 was months away, ready to remind us that history never ends.

It’s the slog that makes this one of the worst war movies ever made. War might be boring, but movies never should be.

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