" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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Pearl Harbor did well at the box office, but many critics and quite a few moviegoers were disappointed. People generally were impressed by the attack sequences, but often disliked Ben Affleck and the love story. I think for many, the movie was overhyped. Big ad campaigns and big budgets amount to big promises, and people, myself included, become skeptical.

Movie Habit’s review (3 out of 4 stars) was critical, but more positive than many. “Pearl Harbor manages to be an entertaining war picture without being overly violent, and does a nice job of honoring the thousands of American lives lost on December 7th, 1941.”

A new epic DVD has been released which will allow audiences to revisit the film and rethink their skepticism.

All Wrapped Up In A Neat Little Package

A 4-disc set in a replica of a soldier's diaryThe size and scope of Pearl Harbor are huge. It is 2.5 hours long. Its budget was $150 million dollars. There were hundreds of extras, dozens of vintage airplanes, and two filmmakers with gigantic reputations: Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. It is fitting then that Buena Vista should release this gigantic movie as a four-disc deluxe edition DVD.

Understanding the packaging is a feat in and of itself. The case is printed to look like old leather and the contents are faux-aged to look like fifty-year old documents. An introductory letter from Michael Bay says that the case “is designed to look like a soldier’s war journal, what our troops would actually carry into battle.” Unfortunately, the neatness of the package belies a bad design. With so many flaps and folds, it takes two hands to operate. You can’t hold a disc in your hand and get another one out with the other. As neat as the case looks, it is definitely not user friendly. With such a big printing budget for this neat little package, you’d expect some good liner notes. While there aren’t any notes, there are lots of still photos from the film and a booklet that explains what is on each of the four discs.

Pearl Harbor on DVD

The discs themselves are impressive. The movie is encoded on two DVDs, rather than being overcompressed and crammed onto one. The movie is presented in its original widescreen format of 2.35:1.

The film is also the director’s cut. It has been a year since I saw the theatrical release, so I couldn’t swear to what was different, although I don’t seem to remember seeing so many severed body parts when I was in the movie theater. I imagine with few exceptions, the director got almost everything he wanted in the theatrical cut.

What I loved about Pearl Harbor was the vicarious thrill of the action sequences. Only in the movies can you see and hear another time and place, somewhere exciting and dangerous. Pearl Harbor is the perfect example of a unique and appropriate use of the medium. The leap to the small screen holds up emotionally. I was as riveted by the attack on Pearl Harbor at home as I was in the theater. We are lucky to be alive when such a medium exists.

By the way, the surround sound on this Vista Series edition is great, particularly during the battle sequences. Zeroes at six o’clock buzz overhead and onto the screen. Pinging bullets ricochet on all sides. Next time I want to show off my sound, I’ll use Pearl Harbor.

Home Movies

I never thought Pearl Harbor was flawless, but I did gain a newfound respect for the movie with this box set. Part of this new respect comes from the “making of” documentary. Home movie footage from the set shows real explosions, real planes, real crowds. Much of final cut is real. There are also a lot of computer-generated graphics, and the “making of” shows how computers intensified what was filmed to make it harrowing instead of just impressive.

The personality of Michael Bay is also captured on home movies. He dresses casually, apparently never eats, and never stops moving. At one point, a small raft drifts “too close” to an explosion that’s about to go off and Bay loses his temper. I was reminded of my days as a clerk earning minimum wage, when getting chewed out by the boss was the most humiliating experience imaginable. The movie set is Bay’s world, and if you don’t take it seriously enough, you will feel his wrath. At other times, like when he’s coaching Cuba Gooding, Jr., how to approach a big gun, Bay looks like he’s making it up as he goes. But the proof is in the pudding, and the sequence with Gooding as it appears in the film works very well.

Extra Extras

There are three sets of commentary. The first has the director with his film professor. She is able to comment on structure of the script, storytelling techniques Bay used, and she was also able to comment on the period when the film is set. I wonder, however, if she was constrained in her objectivity with Bay sitting right there with her.

The second commentary track has Jerry Bruckheimer, Alec Baldwin, and Josh Hartnett & Ben Affleck. Hartnett and Affleck are funny. They are willing to joke around, willing to concede that they are only a part, and that they couldn’t see the whole big thing as they were giving their performances. It was refreshing to hear them be willing to criticize with a certain angle if they disagreed.

The same goes for third commentary, with the production designer, cinematographer, and costume designer. These three talk about the look of the movie — the colors, the costumes, some of the sets. They were willing to explain what went into their corner of the film, and criticize the parts that didn’t work for them. I’m impressed that Disney didn’t try to rein them in, and I have a greater respect for the DVD because of these minor criticisms.

At 184 minutes, with three sets of commentaries, you could spend more than 12 hours just watching Pearl Harbor with different soundtracks, and that doesn’t include all the

supplemental material on the discs.

Wrapup

Pearl Harbor Vista Edition is one of the biggest, most impressive DVDs I’ve seen. It’s full of material that took a lot of thought and planning to produce. It is not just slapped together, but crafted by DVD artisans. If you are a DVD collector and you like Pearl Harbor at all, buy this edition. Renting it won’t do it justice.