"I'm so cold. I'm so cold."
That's what one of our main characters says when he finally dies - or rather, just before, I suppose. And that's how this movie left me, and I don't mean the good I've-been-touched-in-a-new-and-strange-way I had after watching Fargo.
The biggest mistake here was in trying to give a complex historical event such a broad-based appeal. We have pilots and nurses falling in love, and when one is shot down and presumed dead, we get a nice little soap opera where she falls for his buddy, gets pregnant, and then our missing pilot reappears to say hi. What does this really have to do with Pearl Harbor? They might as well call this "Two Pilots, a Nurse, the President, and some Explosions" or "There's something about Kate Beckinsale".
The movie regards these two pilots very highly, and campaigns heartily to convince us. They're vague clones of Luke Skywalker, and would probably shoot Womp Rats in Beggars Canyon just as well if given half the chance. But why do we care? Out of surely thousands of human stories why focus on these folk who ooze cool and could have held off the Japanese with frisbees if only those darn Japs didn't have so many other targets to shoot at? There's a grave miscalculation here in the films attitude toward its fictionalized characters. It makes them the heroes, rather than those who valiantly fought in a losing effort that day. They oh so conveniently miss the initial brunt of the action by being off base when as the first wave hits, then rush back heroically to make some small victories before the Japanese fly home. The fact that, to end on a high note, the film continues through a raid on Tokyo is further confirmation that Pearl Harbor itself is, at best, an inconvenince in telling the upbeat, keep 'em in their seats, story they want to tell.
The more I think about it, the more I am disgusted by the casual treatment of this story. Certainly, with this amount of money spent, there was much homework done. We see many aspects of the raid, from preparation and the moves and countermoves of intelligence, to the details on how ships were sunk - where the bombs hit, what side they listed to - and how people were trapped underwater afterwards. It all amounts to showing off. The sympathy for those trapped is allocated a few bare seconds, so that we can get back to our whiz-bang main characters. There's even a small side plot of a black sailor whose heroics earn him some medal for the first ever given to a black man - the reasons for putting it in lie somewhere between adding some token color and the fact that his story was one of the few positive things they could find that happened. If I had to remake it, I'd probably keep that plot thread, but make sure there was some kind of balance with the stories.
The fighting and explosions, and the whole movie for that matter, is extremely well done technically. I'm sure they blazed some new effects territory in the making of the film - they certainly spent enough money on it all. It's a shame that all that effort was pretty much in vain. Maybe you could edit the almost three hours of the film down to ninety minutes or so, Saving Private Ryan-style, that would simply be fun to watch (at least more fun than this was). I simply cannot recommend the movie for anyone, except maybe those learning about special effects.
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