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PEARL HARBOR
Director's Cut

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Colm Feore, Alec Baldwin
Director: Michael Bay
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 184 Minutes
Release Date: July 2, 2002

“Are all Yanks as anxious as you to get themselves killed, Pilot Officer?”

“No, sir. Just anxious to matter.”

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.

This long awaited director’s cut contains footage cut from the original theatrical version, which first earned the movie an R rating. The newly restored scenes, which are pretty much within the huge attack sequence, are very graphic and extremely gory. I can certainly say that it does add more authenticity to an already elaborate recreation of the Pearl Harbor attack.

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 ****

No difference at all from the previous release. The image quality from Touchstone is superbly flawless in its sharpness and scope enhancement. Unfortunately, like the original release, the movie is presented on two discs, with about two hours and ten minutes on disc 1 and fifty four minutes on disc 2. One of the pleasures of the DVD format for me has always been the ability to view lengthy movies without having to get up and insert a second portion, a la VHS. Such films as JFK, Magnolia, and The Green Mile, which carries three hour plus running times are such examples of discs that can be viewed on one disc, but my guess is that Touchstone did it this way in order to ensure a dynamic video transfer, which it certainly has.

Audio ****

Nothing has changed in this department either; with the grand audio presentation which I initially selected for the absolute best Audio transfer at last year’s DMC Awards. There isn’t a single moment in this presentation that doesn’t carry with it a striking ounce of sound presence, whether its from the sweeping score from Hans Zimmer, to the endless roar and boom of the movie’s lengthy attack sequence, which serves as a perfect scene to test your sound system with. Bottom line, Touchstone should congratulate themselves for what I consider to be by far one of the best audio transfers I’ve come across on any disc.

Features ****

Gee…where to begin? Buena Vista has applied their Vista Series collection to soaring heights with this breathtakingly packaged 4 disc set that includes endless feats of extras to keep you busy for days on end. In fact, the reason it’s taken me longer than I would like to complete this review is the extras. Ever since I bought the disc on its release date, I have found something new on it every day since then.

Disc 1 includes three commentary tracks; one with Director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger, the second (my favorite one) with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and stars Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Alec Baldwin, and the third with director of photography John Schwartzman, costume designer Michael Kaplan, and production designer Nigel Phillips. Also included is a brief featurette on the importance of the film’s widescreen format titled “Why Letterbox?”

Disc 2 contains the continuation of the three previously mentioned commentary tracks, as well as the making of documentary “Journey to the Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor”, a music video for the Faith Hill song “There You’ll Be”, a preview for National Geographic’s Beyond the Movie documentary, and a hidden feature containing a very hysterical gag reel.

Disc 3 includes a production diary, a segment at boot camp which captures the actors going through some horrendous exercises in order to fully prepare for their roles, a Super-8 montage, three documentaries; “Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor”, “One Hour Over Tokyo”, and “Oral History: The Recollections of a Pearl Harbor Nurse”, plus a theatrical teaser and trailer for the film.

Disc 4 features an interactive attack sequence, “Deconstructing Destruction”: A Conversation on Visual Effects with Michael Bay and Eric Brevig, an Animatic Attack, Interactive Timeline, and photo galleries.  (EDITOR'S NOTE:  The Interactive Timeline is a real plus for history buffs!)

Summary:

Pearl Harbor has become more authentic and elaborate than ever thanks to this superior Vista Series release. This an astounding 4 disc set that is bound to keep you busy for days. Thus far, the Best DVD release of the year.