|Pearl Harbor (Vista Series Director's Cut)|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 02 July 2002|
“Pearl Harbor” is essentially the story of two buddies, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), and the military nurse (Kate Beckinsale) who is the love of their lives, played out against the horror that was the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941. The story of this friendship, the loss and accidental betrayal of love, and the courage needed by the men who faced the devastation of the American military base provides the thread that pulls together a dozen different stories and give the movie its scope. However, the different story arcs get somewhat tangled and at times lost in the choreography of the battle and in the emotional fallout after the attack.
Chapter 1 begins with a beautiful montage of a biplane against a dulled gold sun. As the plane passes over a small airstrip, the buzz of the prop wash cycles from the center speaker(s) to the left then the right main, giving the viewer the impression that the plane just missed him or her. The story moves on into the lives of young Rafe, who is dyslexic, and young Danny, who has an abusive father scarred by service during World War I. Their friendship is firmly set into place when young Rafe accidentally starts the biplane and makes a run down the small field that luckily ends with the two boys walking away. However, Danny’s father catches them and starts beating on Rafe. Danny interferes.
Chapter 3 opens with planes passing. The drumming thunder of their props cycles through the left and right mains. The adult Rafe and Danny show up doing daredevil plane action that features more seriously later in the movie. They play chicken, flying straight at each other and dodging at the last minute. The sound thunders through the front speaker(s) and peels through the front, left and right, so that the viewer will feel he or she narrowly avoided impact.
In Chapter 4, Major Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) chews out Rafe and Danny for the flyby grandstanding. Rafe volunteers for assignment to the British Royal Air Force, giving Danny no chance to join up as well. They argue and hurt each other’s feelings. Then the storyline cuts to Evelyn Stewart (Beckinsale). As Evelyn’s train crosses the screen, the sound moves directionally through the left and right speakers, making the watcher feel as though the train passes right in front of him or her. The storytelling interweaves the past (of how Rafe and Evelyn met) while at the same time introducing the nurses who become integral to the developing story lines.
Chapter 5 continues the story of the meeting between the two lovers, at once intriguing, comedic and touching. Chapter 6 continues the storytelling of the lovers’ meeting, then ends as Rafe sweeps Evelyn off her feet at the station. The train sounds echo through the speakers, giving sharp counterpoint to the smoke and fog onscreen.
Chapter 7 showcases the swing dance music in the bars, lifting the moviegoer’s mood before the heaviness of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The music and the festivities offer a sharp image of the innocence that is later taken away. In Chapter 8, Rafe spirits Evelyn away for a date that is the stuff dreams are made of before telling her that he’s volunteered to go to Great Britain to fight with the RAF. Later in Chapter 8, a friend calls to him from a hotel lobby and the voice cycles through the left front speaker.
Chapter 9 shows newsreel footage, then switches to a truck arriving at a military base in England, the sound echoing across the main speakers. Planes roar by overhead as Rafe gets his plane, still filled with the blood of the man who died in it only moments ago. Switching the action to Washington, the story picks up with President Franklin Roosevelt (Jon Voight), keying on the tick-tick-ticking of his wheelchair’s spokes as he’s trundled through the White House to a meeting with military intelligence, who are instructed to learn what the Japanese military is doing. The scene changes again, shifting to the Japanese military intelligence offices. With the introduction of the Japanese threat, the subwoofer blasts a basso thunder undercurrent.
Planes pass at the opening of Chapter 10. Sailors whistle at the arriving nurses in Pearl Harbor. The plane effects continue, becoming so loud that they trigger the subwoofer. Everything on Pearl Harbor seems far removed from the action the audience has seen so far. Pilots are in Hawaiian shirts and working on surfboards. The crashing of the waves in Hawaii melds and morphs into the screaming engines of RAF planes over Europe, where Rafe is engaged in an aerial battle. Voiceovers carry the story, streaming from the center speaker(s) as the left and right mains and rears carry the noise of battle or the backdrop of the quiet scenery or crashing surf of Pearl Harbor.
Chapter 11 focuses on a major turning point in the story. Rafe, embroiled in a deadly dogfight, loses out. The whoosh of the planes and the staccato roar of the machine guns cycle through the surround sound system, making the watcher feel as though he or she is in the eye of the raging storm of violence. When Rafe is shot down, he lands in the water. The muted effect of the impact streams through the center and main speakers, effectively recreating the aural experience of being submerged. The effect is very eerie because the sounds will be familiar to anyone who has gone under while swimming; the noise places the viewer inside Rafe’s cockpit as he struggles to get out.
On Hawaii in Chapter 12, church bells ring in the background, then fade into the meaty blows of two boxers going at each other aboard an aircraft carrier. The cheers and bloodlust of the crowd echo through the main and rear speakers, so that the viewer feels like he or she is standing within the ranks of the crowd.
Only minutes after treating fighter Dorie Miller (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Evelyn is told by Danny that Rafe has been shot down and is presumed dead. In Chapter 13, Danny’s footsteps echo like lead slamming against the ground, pounding through the subwoofer. Then, when Danny tells Evelyn that Rafe has been shot down, the dialogue is deliberately obscured, an effect that makes the horror and the helplessness come across even more strongly. The subwoofer pounding of Danny’s footsteps melds into the rolling thunder of an approaching storm, then changes again into an anxious beat in the subwoofer that signifies the cuts to the Japanese intelligence officers.
Chapter 14 builds the tension and interest of the budding romance between Danny and Evelyn. Both of them miss Rafe, but they are finding each other. This kind of storytelling is what made many of Hollywood’s films of the ‘40s era great, but today’s audience has seen this tactic several times. The love story is a good one; it’s just not new or different enough. At this point, the story almost starts to feel like a rerun.
The subwoofer hammers out a warning in Chapter 17 as the scene rejoins the Japanese military. The film’s method of revealing the Japanese strategy while showing why the Pentagon and the White House didn’t respond is very well done, and serves to heighten the suspense of the impending horror that waits to be unleashed.
Chapter 19 showcases a bar fight, with the sounds of meaty blows and splintering chairs and breaking glass fills the surround sound system.
Chapter 20 sounds the prelude to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The snarls of the Japanese fighters echo through the left and right main speakers as they come to life on the carrier decks. In Chapter 21, one of the most awe-inspiring scenes in the whole movie takes place as young boys watch in stunned disbelief as Japanese fighter planes rip through the valleys leading to the harbor area.
The next chapters, 22-29, detail the violence and death that littered Pearl Harbor on that Sunday morning of December 7, 1941. The subwoofer remains active, thumping out explosions, cannon fire, heavy artillery fire, and the screaming engines of Japanese planes. Some of the best shots are the hospital scenes, shot through a fish-eye lens. The special effects at this point are nothing less than spectacular, and the sound effects pretty much match that.
Chapter 30 brings us into the Pearl Harbor military hospital in the aftermath of the attack. Up until this point, the carnage done to the victims of the attack was totally graphic and in the viewer’s face. Now the after-effects are revealed and the tension is once more placed on the love triangle. Chapter 31 continues the stark, horrific images of the battle’s aftermath as men continue to be lost in sinking ships.
The “Pearl Harbor: The Director’s Cut” DVD release is a four-disc set, with the film itself split over two discs, presumably because to include the entire 184-minute film with its multiple soundtrack options and three separate commentary tracks on a single disc is either literally impossible or so difficult that a two-disc feature seems the best option. In any event, while the liner notes have Disc 2 resuming with Chapter 32, the chapter counter on your DVD player picks up Disc 2 with Chapter 1. The Disc 2 review chapter references go by the DVD chapter counter rather than the liner notes.
Disc 2’s Chapter 1 sums up the drive of the remaining third of the movie. Now that Japan has struck a blow against the unprepared American military machine, causing the deaths of over 3,000 people, a bold counterstrike needs to be swiftly mounted. The echoes of a trumpet fill the beginning of Chapter 2, a bittersweet sound that brings a lot of heartache after the horrors the viewer has just witnessed.
Chapter 3 finds the surviving characters back stateside as they prepare a unique offensive involving a small fleet of B-25 Flying Fortresses. When Col. Doolittle challenges the men to step forward if they’re willing to take the almost certain chance of dying for their country, the subwoofer hammers those brave footsteps home.
Chapter 4 amps up the viewer’s interest level us feel as if we’re a part of the flight deck crew as the planes take off at the line. From this point on, the movie develops yet another plot thread while eventually resolving the personal/romantic issues set up far earlier.
As far as the “Pearl Harbor: The Director’s Cut” DVD goes, the packaging is exemplary. The four-disc set comes in a small portfolio that looks like a junior officer’s flight book or a memory album. The rustic design and plain brown coloration of the sheath as well as the book lend the set an air of authenticity, as if it had somehow survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, though not without some telling damage. The portfolio contains the four discs mounted in flip-book style, a faux ID badge, the quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from his speech to Congress after the attack on Pearl Harbor on what is meant to be aged paper from the White House, several pictures in the fold-out sections that look taped into place, four postcards under a strap, and a 24-page booklet. There’s also a $10 savings certificate when a buyer upgrades to “The Director’s Cut.” The packaging is strong and durable, tempting in itself because it will look nice on any collector’s shelf.
The added value really kicks in when considering the extra features. The first day of shooting on any movie in Hawaii has to be blessed, and that time is captured on film. Sunlight remained a constant problem because cloud cover kept rolling in. Director Michael Bay is an energetic guy and he comes across that way during the commentary and in the short features regarding the movie’s stunt work and explosives. It’s interesting to compare the skies as they were when actually filmed, then how they look after the computer-generated planes were added. One of the planes crashed into a palm tree on a stunt, and the attention to details, the fact that the stunt planes use small gas tanks so that unforeseen explosions can be reduced, comes across in the documentaries, offering more knowledge to the viewer on how these stunts are rigged.
The two History Channel presentations are worth the additional cost of the director’s cut over the regular DVD release of “Pearl Harbor.” “One Hour Over Tokyo” and “Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor” are both excellent additions to the History Channel productions, and a real bargain as part of the four-disc set.
The feature on the animatic process, with CG planes, ships and explosions, is absolutely amazing. To see how much work was put into the actions shots before filming started, then to see the how the sequence actually turns out is an intense learning experience. The computer-generated people that were used in the film is another interesting aspect revealed in a discussion between Director Bay and special effects master Eric Brevig of Industrial Lights & Magic. Tons of great information and insight on the making of this movie and filmmaking in general are layered into the movie itself as well as the special features. This is definitely a movie lover’s set to watch and absorb.
“Pearl Harbor” is a great and grand movie in the tradition of the early days of Hollywood. That said, that skeletal structure is also the strength and the weakness of the movie. “Pearl Harbor” has all the heart and soul of the great wartime epics and shows a love of camerawork, big screen stories, and the ambition on part of the director, writer, producer, and special effects people to “get it right.” Unfortunately, hewing so closely to the style of the halcyon days of filmmaking, “Pearl Harbor” also offers little in the way of any new storytelling. Movie fans have seen this story time and time again, and there are no new moves, no new arcs that carry the watcher forward. At three hours, four minutes in length, with a familiar-feeling plot and conventional acting, the audience can become aware of the seat or of how much time is being given up to watch the whole movie. “Pearl Harbor” is a definite rental for a lazy weekend and a bowl of popcorn. Fans of Jerry Bruckheimer’s action films or Ben Affleck or Josh Hartnett will want to add this one to their DVD collections. People with an interest in the early days of World War II will also want to pick this package up due to the 12 hours of additional material that cover the attack on Pearl Harbor.