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By Gareth Von Kallenbach | December 4, 2001

With the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor coming this December, it stands to reason that Hollywood would give us a epic war film that would arrive in a mass of Hype and controversy.
The proposed $160 Million opus by the team of Director Michæl Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, set out to do a picture that was grand in scale as well as being a gripping drama and visual masterpiece. In many ways, the creative team behind such hits as Armageddon and “The Rock” achieved what they set out to do, as Pearl Harbor is a visual masterpiece. Sadly the dialogue and characters as well as many of the liberties that have been played with Historical facts caused many elements of the film to bomb with a fury far greater than the ordinance that was unleashed onscreen by the Japanese fighter planes.
The backdrop of the film is the year leading up to the attack and how the lives and loves of a group of young nurses and pilots were effected. They key players in the film are two young pilots Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker. (Played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) . It seems the two have been friends ever since childhood with Rafe constantly watching out for Danny.
A chance meeting between Rafe and an attractive nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) soon leads to a romance between the two, and while they are a picture of bliss, there is trouble brewing. It seems that Rafe is unhappy with the notion that at 25, he is close to being to old to be a fighter pilot and may soon be reduced to little more than a flight instructor rather than a combat ace. With war raging in Europe, and the US standing by its policy to not get involved in a foreign war, Rafe has signed up with a squadron to fight in England. No sooner does he receive the news that he has been accepted and must ship out in the morning. What follows is just about every cliché from every war movie complete with the send off at the train station and letters filled with notions of sunrises and joyful reunions.
Without giving to much away, lets just say that things do not go as planned for the two lovers as life, circumstance and the war soon catch all of them by surprise.
The big star of the film would have to be the special effects as the wizards at ILM have come up with a gripping 40 minute sequence for the attack that shows the brutal attack in all its horror as well as just how devastating the damage inflicted was. That being said, many of the stars including a very under used Cuba Gooding JR. are little more than charactures and spot lines that seem to be a conglomeration of every war movie ever made. We have the young couple who plan to get married, the grizzled old sarge, the desperate mission against all odds, and young lovers unaware that destiny is about to arrive.
My biggest issue was not with the lack of any character development or the lines that would make a first year acting class groan; rather it was with the historical gaps in the film. The movie shows much about the attack but precious little as to why Japan attacked, and completely forgets to mention how the Ambassador from Japan was left waiting with a formal Declaration of War in Washington D.C. until after the attack was under way, as it has been speculated that FDR wanted to bring the US in the war, and by allowing the surprise attack to happen, the American people could be whipped into a frenzy of revenge and thus entering the war. The film also is very obvious about putting the Japanese pilots in the bad guy rolls as numerous shots of hospitals, unarmed civilians, and men clinging to the side of sinking ships, or trying to swim to safety, are riddled with bullets and bombs by the merciless pilots.
The film seems to fit the standard profile that I have been complaining about for two summers now, lots of great special effects, but no real story, or character development, leaving one a film that is all sizzle with no steak, and not worthy of the men and women whose lives were changed that day, as a nation lost its innocence. ^ Film * * * 3 stars
The DVD contains some great features on this two disc set including a making of segment and a fantastic documentary from the History Channel called “Unsung Heros”. With a two disc set, I was hoping for some deleted scenes however fans may have to wait until May for the 4 Disc set of the Directors cut for that. There is also a Gift set available that includes a National Geographic segment and commemorative map. The sound and picture quality is first rate and the stunning visuals of the film carry over well to the DVD. All in all, a solid DVD release. ^ DVD with Extras * * * * 4 stars

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