Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Dan Aykroyd, Alec Baldwin
Director: Michael Bay
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 183 Minutes
Release Date: December 4, 2001

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941…a date which will live in infamy…the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and aerial forces of the empire of Japan.”

Film ****

Yes, that is an actual four-star rating you see before you. It may be the only one you ever see in your life, but I more than ever ready to defend this motion picture, which was a box office smash, but is probably on the verge of topping every critics worst movie of the year list…and for what reason, I will never know, but I don’t really care to know, because I know, and you know too, that as always, I’m right, and they’re wrong (hey, I think I just created a new slogan for myself).

Right from the moment I first saw the teaser trailers for Pearl Harbor nearly a year before the movie was even released, I knew it was going to be a winner. The trailer was one of the most emotional ones I had ever seen. I grew even more anticipated when I noticed that it was the latest project from director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Bay and Bruckheimer are a movie making duo I always enjoy giving props to, and the reason is a lot of people don’t seem to enjoy bashing their films more than any other filmmakers’, such as the case with Bay’s last movie, Armageddon, a film that I keep defining as the epitome of “popcorn” movies, which are made solely to entertain and nothing more. I was actually expecting critics to praise the movie, since I was able to screen the movie before it came out, but sadly, they wasted no time in bashing what I think is a remarkably grand and stirring epic in the spirit of the classic epics of yesteryear.

There has only been one other pivotal Hollywood movie about the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor, which was Tora! Tora! Tora!, a classic in itself. That movie, for one made in 1970, did a remarkable job of re-creating the Pearl Harbor attack, and Bay’s re-creation is simply awe inspiring, complete with stunning visual effects and camera shots that gaze the eyes with visual wonder. The entire attack sequence is one of the most astounding action sequences ever put together for the lone reason that it stretches to about 40 minutes in length, illustrating perfectly that three hour and three minute running time will not bore at all.

The movie also blends in a sweeping story of romance and friendship.  At the center of the story are  Rafe McCrawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), childhood friends who go from tending the farm as youngsters, to aspiring aerial pilots in the military circa 1941. Rafe’s flying maneuvers capture the attention of Captain Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) who issues Rafe an opportunity to fly for England in the Battle of Britain. Rafe quickly takes advantage, and on the eve of his departure, shares a romantic fling with his girlfriend of some time, navy nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale). After several months fighting, Rafe is shot down into the sea, and Danny and Evelyn receive information that he has been killed in action. Stunned and heartbroken, Danny and Evelyn become close friends, and are soon engaged in a romance.

All is well, until on the evening before the fateful Sunday morning, Rafe emerges from the dead, which was false information, and is stunned when he discovers his best friend and the love of his life are in love, especially since Rafe promised Evelyn very firmly before leaving that he would come back. A brawl between the two friends occurs, and the next morning, Japanese bombers emerge from the sky and ignite a massacre that will forever remain the memory of America.

This lively epic is highlighted by a list of noteworthy performances. Ben Affleck is in superb form as always as the heroic Rafe, and Josh Hartnett remains a strong standout among the current parade of young actors as he delivers impressively in the role of Danny. And then there’s Kate Beckinsale, a pure beauty I might add, who actually has the look of a woman from the era, and provides a strong willed female rarely seen in movies when she is called to the horrific task of saving the many wounded men.

Pearl Harbor is, I suppose, a love-it or hate-it affair, as is the case with many mainstream blockbusters. For my money, the movie is a work of grand scale and scope, and presents a truly outstanding re-creation of a fateful time in American history, much like the ill-fated voyage depicted in Titanic. Be prepared to have your senses assaulted and your emotions stirred.

Video ****

This extraordinary looking presentation from Touchstone may go on record as one of the best jobs to ever come from the studio, but the package itself contains a minor flaw; the movie is not presented entirely on one disc. I have no idea why they chose to do it this way, because one of the greatest advantages DVD has ever given us is the chance to few lengthy movies without having to put a second disc in, like you always had to do with a VHS tape. Paramount also went the same route for its release of The Godfather Part II, but that film clocked in at nearly four hours, while Pearl Harbor is a harmless three hour feature. Disc 1 contains about 130 minutes of running time, while disc two contains the remaining 50 minutes or so, as well as extras. I guess the only reason there could have been for this format was to ensure a top quality transfer, which is certainly the case here. Picture is sharp, crisp, clean, and alive with most vibrant of colors. Not a single noticeable picture flaw spotted at all.

Audio ****

Hands down, the single best audio presentation for DVD of 2001, which I think is safe to say with only a few weeks until the new year. The 5.1 presentation provided, which is THX certified, bursts with dynamic and superior sound that really blasts away the competition. Every single thing you could think of from the movie is heard in a knockout mode of sound. Get ready for a pure jolt once the Pearl Harbor attack sequence kicks in, because it is going to feel as if you are in the midst of the action yourself. A rousing DVD presentation to remember.

Features ***

With the much anticipated, extras-loaded Director’s Cut edition slated to arrive in May, the extras on this edition are more than enough to satisfy at the moment. Included are two documentaries, “Journey to the Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor”, and The History Channel’s “Unsung Heroes” documentary. Also included is a music video for the Faith Hill song “There You’ll Be”, a teaser and trailer for the movie, and DVD-Rom “Definitive Bibliography”.


I have no problem admitting that Pearl Harbor is one of this year’s truly best films. The scope and feel of the movie are at a breathtakingly grand scale, and is a fond remembrance of a time in history we will never forget.