Billed as the most spectacular war film ever, Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor always had a lot to live up to, and given the enormous budget and pre-release hype, it was inevitably going to be compared to Titanic (1997) and other such blockbuster films that we come to expect as the Summer arrives. So does it live up to its build up? Well sadly no. The viewer is subjected to the usual character build up, depicting the fictional characters later to become heroes, enjoying their innocent childhood, not imagining what could possibly lie around the corner. We already know, of course how the story goes, so maybe instead we could be reminded more of the events that led up to America's final reluctant decision to fight for justice, but this was never going to be a film so much about war, more a tedious love triangle saga.
The films heroes, played by Ben Affleck (Rafe McCawley) and Josh Hartnett (Danny Walker) both fall for the same beautiful nurse, Evelyn Stewart played by Kate Beckinsale. It was not quite that straight forward though, because to be fair, Danny was under the impression that his best chum Rafe, was in a watery grave after losing a dog fight in the Battle of Britain - not before wiping out most of the Luftwaffa single handedly of course. So, raised from the dead, Rafe comes to rescue of America only to find Danny being more than just a supportive friend to the grieving Evelyn.
With the big budget special effects unleashed on our senses, the pathetic love story and pre-war events, pale into insignificance. As we enter unquestionably the best section of the film, we witness the extremely well prepared and cunning Japanese Air Force deploy an amazing display of fire power and daring aeronautic brilliance, as they annihilate the U. S. Pacific Fleet. Pearl Harbor, considered to be a safe haven for the fleet had turned into a free for all shoot 'em up. Ill prepared partly because of the (apparently) improving relations with the Japanese Empire and insufficient radar detection, the huge destroyers were effectively sitting ducks.
We are briefly witness to the more horrific side of battle as we are shown the true to life story of desperate sailors trying in vain to escape from the upturned Oklahoma, with engineers trying to cut through the foot thick steel while all the time bullets and torpedo's threaten their attempts. The trauma goes on as we are subject to the scenes in the hospital as the injured are rushed in and the hospital shakes around them as the bombs rain down. This is a day Evelyn would probably rather forget as she and her fellow nurses lose the plot amid the hassle of sorting out the casualties.
True to form, our heros put their differences aside and go looking for some air worthy planes. In a tear jerking scene Rafe tells the more than anxious Danny, how much he needs him as a wing man. When they get round to taking off the ground, a cunning plan ends in the shooting down of a couple of Japanese fighters.
If the film put more emphasis on getting the facts across and less on building up what was, it has to be said - a poor cast -, then more justice would have been done to what really was a horrific massacre. Instead we are left with not so much a feeling of having witnessed a piece of history reenacted, but more of a pathetic love story, which I'm sure the average member of public couldn't care less about.
The saddest moment of going to see Pearl Harbor is parting with the admission fee.
With thanks to the Warner Village Cinema at
Clifton Moor Centre, York.