Pearl Harbor (2001)

pearl harbor

“I think World War Two just started!”

The Scoop: 2001 PG-13, directed by Michael Bay and starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale.

Tagline: It was the end of innocence, and the dawn of a nation’s greatest glory. [Deliberately chose the most sick-making for you, MRFH readers. You’re welcome.]

Summary Capsule: Mr Day and Mrs Infamy go on a date… who knew it’d be such a ruckus?

lissabannerLissa’s rating: Don’t. Just don’t.

Lissa’s review: Warning: Many spoilers ahead. Of course, by now you’ve (a) seen the movie or (b) heard enough about it and had enough sense to avoid it, so I’m not really giving much away. But just in case, consider yourself warned.

Every now and then, a movie comes along that makes us examine our values and believe in true love. Just for a moment, we can be convinced that there is someone for each of us, and that all will be right in the world. Pearl Harbor is one of those movies, at least in my universe. Let me explain. As we were walking out of the theater, I confided in my other half that I was so bored, even during the action sequences, and that I was looking at the jet fuel canisters rather than the action itself. He gave me a sheepish smile and confessed that during the scene in the service station where two characters are having a “meaningful” discussion, he was trying to figure out how much they were paying for gas back then. I’d been dating this man for ages and we’d been engaged for a half a year, but right then I knew I would never have any doubts ever again- I had met my perfect match. That’s the only good thing I can say about love in Pearl Harbor.

If you can’t tell, I hated this movie. But let me tell you why. Pearl Harbor is a Titanic-wannabe epic about three people caught in the throes of a predictable love triangle right before the U.S. involvement in World War II. Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) are best friends from way back when they were little kids watching planes and beating up Danny’s abusive father. (Are you seeing why I hate this movie yet?) They join the military, where Rafe meets Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), and they fall in love. Rafe runs off to war in England, leaving both Danny and Evelyn behind. Naturally, Rafe gets “killed” in combat. (By the way, we’re only -only- 45 minutes into the movie at this point). Anyway. Danny comforts Evelyn, and in a predictable and implausible scenario that lasts maybe five minutes, they fall in love. I think. I’m not positive about that part, because I sure wasn’t convinced. But she sleeps with him (in parachutes. Who’s idea was that, and have they been beaten senseless yet?), and naturally ends up pregnant. And then Rafe comes back and Pearl Harbor is attacked, which is really the meat of the movie. Hopefully you’re still reading this and not bored silly. I was.

Amazingly enough, the acting is not all bad. Granted, there’s only so much you can do with characters that are flatter than a pancake, but the actors don’t do that badly with it. Ben Affleck (who, I hate to admit, can act when he actually chooses a decent role, which is rare) plays the same character he has in his last eight movies, but if you like that character he’s tolerable. Josh Hartnett, who is good actor (see O if you don’t believe me) and some seriously nice eye candy, does a decent job with the nauseating, slappable character he’s been given. Kate Beckinsale doesn’t have to do much besides stand there and look pretty, but she does it well, and her American accent is quite convincing. And John Voight actually does an impressive job as a historically inaccurate FDR. Cuba Gooding Jr. shows up as Dorie Miller, but his role is so badly edited and so chopped it’s hard to tell if he did the character justice. Hmmm. That statement seems to be appropriate for any of the other performers in this.

What else? Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer are very good at blowing things up. Very good.

That’s all I have to say that’s positive. Now let’s have some fun.

Let’s start with the plot. It’s insipid. It’s stupid. And it’s LONG. Very long. And terribly predictable, which doesn’t help the time pass. You know Rafe’s not dead, because the geniuses in marketing didn’t think about that when they put together the trailers. You know Danny is going to die from the very minute you see him, because the sheepish shy best friend always dies heroically. And Evelyn? Let’s talk about Evelyn for a moment. She’s supposed to be a wonderful, amazing woman that both men fall in love with. (I always thought this would be a much more interesting movie if Danny and Evelyn were both in love with Rafe, instead of the two guys going after the girl. But Hollywood never listens to me.) But in reality, Evelyn is a shrew. She actually tells Rafe that she’s only marrying Danny because she’s pregnant with his child, and she still loves Rafe. How cruel (and melodramatic) is that? “Either watch your friend be miserable because you know I don’t really love him, or say something and break his heart. Either way, you’re gonna be the bad guy. But I love you, so that makes it all okay.” Please.

The military plot doesn’t fare that much better, as it’s historically inaccurate and not given much depth. And the Japanese component? So much media attention was given to how the Japanese were not portrayed as villains. For one or two lines, perhaps. The rest of the time they might as well have had fangs and Wolverine-style claws, with “Slay all Americans!” stamped across their foreheads. Now, I don’t have a problem with movies trying to convey the American feelings against the Japanese at the time. We had camps for them during WWII, for crying out loud — obviously we weren’t exactly swilling sake with them. But you don’t go blathering around about how you’re giving the Japanese a “fair role” in the movie and then give the Commander a few token lines that express regret. The inconsistency bugs me (as well as the feeling that it was easier to take this approach than to actually put any depth or subtlety into the American-Japanese relations).

Dialogue. “You jump, I jump, right?” almost sounds intelligent next to some of this fare. (Hey, at least it’s only five words long.) Let me give you some samples. “I think World War II just started!” “I’m giving my heart to Danny. But I’ll never look at another sunset without thinking of you.” “’You’re so beautiful it hurts.’ ‘It’s your nose that hurts.’ ‘I think it’s my heart.’” “You died, Rafe. So did I.” “Every night I watch the sunset and soak up every last ray of its warmth, and send it from my heart to yours.” Okay, okay, I’ll stop before you puke. It was making me sick anyway.

Bad story, bad dialogue, way too long. That explains the 0 in rewatchability. But the 5 in offensiveness?

I have no objection to historical movies. I have no objection to them making money. Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan both earned every cent they got. However, Pearl Harbor deserves to be burned. The difference? Schindler’s List took true stories and retold them as accurately as possible. Saving Private Ryan put fictional characters in a historical setting, but they did nothing that changed the course of history. Even Titanic came up with a way to account for fictional characters on a ship with a set passenger list. Pearl Harbor did none of these.

You probably heard the people associated with the movie spouting off their great respect for those who fought and died at Pearl Harbor. They had a special ceremony at the Arizona Memorial, they interviewed people who were there, they invited veterans to the premiere. But let me tell you this. There were two men who managed to get in the air at Pearl Harbor. Their names were NOT Danny Walker and Rafe McCawley — I believe it was Lt. Taylor and Lt. Welsh. I can understand putting fictional characters into the attack — enough people were there that it doesn’t really matter. But you do NOT usurp the accomplishments of real people like that for entertainment purposes. It is unethical, offensive, hypocritical, and in this case completely pointless anyway, since it added nothing to the movie. Additionally, I was against Rafe and Danny being included on Doolittle’s raid. Approximately 30 pilots flew in that raid. Again, it’s a measurable number and if you’re enough of a World War II geek (I’m not), you might actually know who those pilots were.

On top of that, there are so many other historical errors. FDR never got to his feet. The bikini didn’t actually start showing up until 1946. Cropdusters weren’t around until after World War II. Pilots with stutters were not accepted because clear communication is essential. I can handle other kinds of mistakes, like continuity or seeing the mikes or whatever. I can cope with a few factual errors in most movies. Or even history rewrites in films that don’t claim to be accurate or fair (example: Amadeus). But errors like this in a movie touted as a historical drama or blatant rewriting of history are simply not acceptable. Especially when you make a big deal about respecting those who lived through that day that lives in infamy.

Don’t see this movie. Don’t rent this movie. Don’t even buy it to burn a copy. Do not put another cent towards this movie, because everyone involved should have known better. Bad acting, bad writing, and bad cinematography I can forgive, and simply leave a movie to molder on the shelves of the $4.99 rack. But this goes beyond simple good or bad taste to the unethical. Michael Bay and company, you should be ashamed.

To lose one boyfriend in a movie is unfortunate. To lose two looks like carelessness. *has a sad*
To lose one boyfriend in a movie is unfortunate. To lose two looks like carelessness. *has a sad*


  • The jet fuel canisters had “O.N. 100” written on them, signifying an octane number of 100 and that the fuel itself was gasoline. Amazingly enough, this is accurate. Gasoline was used as a jet fuel until WWII, when kerosene became the fuel of preference due to gasoline shortages. After WWII, people continued to use kerosene because it’s safer to handle.
  • The price of gas during the scene at the service station? If you did, please email me, because my husband really wants to know.
  • Alec Baldwin’s Chinese accent is terrible. And for anyone who wants the proper pinyin for “I am an American” in Chinese, it’s “Wo shi yi ge meiguo ren.” (Sorry I can’t stick in the tone marks. But IMDb is WAY off on that one)
  • The Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor (on the Hawaiian island of Oahu), December 7, 1941, was the climax of a decade of rising tension between Japan and the United States. On September 27, 1940, Japan joined the Triple Alliance with Italy and Germany and began to expand into northern Indochina. The United States, in response, placed an embargo on aviation gasoline, scrap metal, steel, and iron. After Japan’s seizure of the rest of Indochina in July 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt closed the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping and added oil to the embargo list. On November 25, 1941, though continuing the discussions, the Japanese dispatched aircraft carriers eastward toward Hawaii and began massing troops on the Malayan border. American military leaders, expecting a Japanese attack on Malaya, gave only general warnings to U.S. forces in Pearl Harbor. Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and Gen. Walter C. Short, in command on Oahu, took few precautions; there was no effective air patrol, and neither ships nor planes were safely dispersed. Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m., December 7; a second wave hit an hour later. By the time the planes returned to their carriers at 9:45, most of the American planes on Oahu were wrecked; eight battleships, three destroyers, and three cruisers had been put out of action; and two battleships, Oklahoma and Arizona, were utterly destroyed. A total of 2,323 U.S. servicemen had been killed. The next day President Roosevelt spoke for the American people when, before a joint session of Congress, he proclaimed December 7 a “date which will live in infamy.” With only one dissent, Congress granted Roosevelt’s request to recognize the state of war that existed between the United States and Japan. With that vote, America entered World War II.
  • Soundtrack review by Lissa: Eh. Forgettable, except “There You’ll Be”, which has been played ad nausea on the radio. And by the way, please, please, please don’t use that as a song at your wedding. It’s about someone dying. (You’d be amazed at how many people do.)
  • The amount of money that it cost to make the movie was more than the damages inflicted in the attack.
  • The premiere party cost more than the entire production of Billy Elliot, which was by far a better movie, by any standards.

Groovy Dialogue

Admiral Kimmel: “U.S. Navy believes attack on Pearl Harbor imminent.” Well… they’re only an hour late.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt: I like sub commanders. They have no time for bulls**t, and neither do I.

Doolittle: You know what top secret is?
Rafe: Yes, sir. It’s the kind of mission where you get medals, but they send ’em to your relatives.

If you liked this movie, try:

  • Titanic
  • The Patriot
  • Cold Mountain


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s