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Harbored to Death

‘Pearl Harbor’ Visually Astounding, Lacking Emotion

By Bogdan Fedeles

staff writer

Directed by Michael Bay

Written by Randall Wallace

Starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Alec Baldwin

Rated PG-13

The latest movie from producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Con Air, Armageddon), Pearl Harbor is an epic love story which takes place at the dawn of World War II. Although sometimes unbalanced, the plot captivates the audience through its forceful cinematographic rendering. Employing astounding visual effects, the recreation of the attack at Pearl Harbor is very intense and credible, making the audience feel the agony of the war. The romance, however, is less credible and the characters don’t seem to stand out very well. Nevertheless, the movie overall is an amazing production that can be both inspiring and entertaining.

Although the producers’ intention of presenting a great historical event is admirable, the outcome certainly would have trouble garnering an audience interested enough in history. So, a love story is almost artificially thrown in to make the movie more appealing but unfortunately bringing it too close to a commercial recipe. Even though the movie focuses on the romance, the audience doesn’t see the characters in the context of the war, perhaps because of clichÉ scenes and unconvincing acting.

In the center of the story, there are two young and talented pilots, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), who share a brotherly bond and a passion for flying. Rafe falls in love with a beautiful Navy nurse named Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) just before he volunteers for fighting in England in the Eagles Squadron. He leaves promising to return, but soon word hits that Rafe’s plane has been shot down in battle.

Stricken with grief, Evelyn eventually finds relief in the arms of Danny, who falls for her almost too fast. Unexpectedly, Rafe finds his way back, but only to start the typical love triangle. Soon after that, the stupendous Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor occurs, forcing the United States to enter the war. The romantic puzzle will eventually come to an end after the surprise counterattack commanded by the General Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) over Japan.

Given the simplicity of the story, it was perhaps calculated that the emotional impact would be made by the Japanese attack itself. However, even though the war scenes are extremely realistic and well shot, the audience never really has a chance to know or see most of the victims. The horrors of the war are presented, but not through the viewpoint of any particular character.

This movie is not acted poorly, but the acting is definitely not refined. Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett perfectly fit the mold of the sexy, tough guy-type of characters, but they lack depth in their conveyed emotions and feelings. They don’t seem seriously involved either in war fighting or in romance.

Similarly, Kate Beckinsale’s performance lacks brilliance and emotion and we can hardly feel the emotional struggles of her character. Alec Baldwin may be more convincing but he has only a few lines in this movie.

Nevertheless, the special effects of Pearl Harbor make up for most of its weaker parts. The hundreds of Japanese planes that fill up the skies, approaching their unsuspecting targets, make a strong impact on the audience. The rain of bullets and bombs that follows is visually astonishing. The sinking battleships are depicted with intensity and the rotating viewpoints of these scenes are impressive. During the war scenes, the cameras move either very fast, or in a blurry slow motion, rendering very well the chaos and the agony of those depicted moments.

The soundtrack also plays a major role in this production. A simple yet effective theme accompanies the dramatic moments, whereas the battle scenes have no music in the background, highlighting the infernal noise of the roaring airplanes, shootings and explosions.

Pearl Harbor has all the ingredients that a great movie needs, and still, somehow, the pieces don’t fuse together in the most fortunate way. The outcome is a bearable movie for its abominable length (over three hours), featuring demanding special effects, but conveying little emotion from its almost artificial love story. Nevertheless, it may be entertaining enough to merit a low-expectation viewing.