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— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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Summer is officially here! Even though it doesn’t actually begin until June 21st, everyone knows that Hollywood follows its own farmer’s almanac. Thus the change of seasons begins with the first Blockbuster of the summer, Pearl Harbor. Personally, I’m glad that we have a real title this time instead of the recent trend of abbreviated hooks like MI2, ID4, or T2 from a few years back.

Big Guys, Big Movie!

Ben Affleck pilots his way through Pearl HarborProduced by Disney Studios, Bruckheimer Films, and directed by Michael Bay (“Armageddon”), Pearl Harbor has big production written all over it. For the most part, the collaboration pays off. To their credit, 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.

The film’s visual effects are also very well done. The aerial battle scenes and the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor are spectacular. The CGI effects, combined with real planes — meticulously painted in period detail, create action scenes that many will find first-rate. They provide the grand excitement that one looks for in a movie like this. Unfortunately, the story itself, the part of the movie that serves to create characters we care about, is so riddled with cliché and corny dialogue that the movie ultimately lacks any real dramatic tension.

Farm Boys turn Top Gun!

We follow our two heroes, Raef (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) from farm boys to fighter pilots, as the opening scene quickly jumps ahead to just months before the attack. With the help of a beautiful nurse, played by Kate Beckinsale, Raef passes his eye exam and is approved for pilot training. Evelyn (Beckinsale) and her fellow recruits are to be stationed in Hawaii, which allows for a hastily built love story between Raef and Evelyn.

With reputations as mavericks, Raef and Danny wait for the war, currently occupying Britain, to come their way, and when Raef gets the chance to join a British fighting squadron, eager to get some action and become a hero, he leaves his best friend and new love behind. I don’t want to give too much away, but Raef ends up missing, and the grief of his loss brings Danny and Evelyn closer together.

Historical Accuracy?

All war movies have to deal with patriotism in some way, and patriotism is built around symbols (there’s a funny gag in this one involving an Adolph Hitler pincushion). Some war pictures question the use of those symbols and probe more deeply into how we justify the act of war. But most simply buy into the whole game, so to speak, using patriotic symbols themselves as justification.

Pearl Harbor is about the loss of innocence, the need for family, and the frailty of men and women. It’s a large film in terms of scope, but sadly it never addresses issues that would have fit in more with today. Do the women really need to be that obtuse and man-hungry? Are a servant and a cook the best the filmmakers could do for African-Americans?

Then there’s the inherent problem in portraying the Japanese as cold-blooded villains, given the growing population of Americans of Asian ancestry. Certain racial stereotypes are worth challenging. I couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed for those in the audience that might not share the movie’s Anglo-American heritage.

The strength of our country shouldn’t rest on our arrogance of a growing illusion of purity and innocence. Pearl Harbor still manages to have two “save the dog” scenes, and one very strange product placement for Coca-Cola, so it’s a shame that its near three hour running time couldn’t have been put to better use. But hey, it’s summer and its Hollywood. If you want to know when the seasons change, than look at a calendar, and if you want history, then read a book.