Movie Review

Pearl Harbor

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sustained intense war sequences, images of wounded, brief sensuality and some language

Reviewed by: Ken James
STAFF WRITER

Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
Genre:
Action, Drama
Length:
3 hr. 3 min.
Year of Release:
2001
USA Release:
_____
Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor

Relevant Issues
Scene from “Pearl Harbor”

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Featuring: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alec Baldwin
Director: Michael Bay
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

“Pearl Harbor” makes big news. It did then, and it does now. Since I’m no history buff, my take on Bay and Bruckheimer’s expensive blockbuster will remain strictly with the film (despite the slight revisionist history I’ve heard critics cry out about). And so, we begin a long, and I do mean long, tale…

Let’s go back to post-WWI. The enemy of choice for young boys is the Germans. Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) grow up as best buds in the fields of Tennessee. Fast forward to 1940-41 and we find them together in the U.S. Army undergoing fighter pilot training. Naturally, a good pilot has to get a physical. What good would the Army be without nurses? One of them is Lt. Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckensale), a witty and pretty brunette that finds herself smitten with Lt. McCawley who himself has fallen head over heals for her. They have a whirlwind romance of a month plus before he volunteers for an assignment with the Royal Air Force in England, the forefront of the war that the Americans have not yet committed to. He leaves and, after being shot down, is believed dead. She hangs on for a while, heartbroken at the loss of her love, then decides to move on where best-friend Danny steps in. Unexpectedly they are drawn to each other. For them, things happen quickly (as they often do in war) and “between the sheets” of the hanging parachutes the two consummate their relationship. And this is just the first hour.

Ben Affleck as pilot Rafe McCawley in “Pearl Harbor” At this point I found myself liking Rafe a lot better. As a mainly moral guy he chose to not spend his last night in America entangled in the bare arms of his love. He took the higher moral ground, and I found myself thinking how often does that happen in today’s cinema? But Danny is a likable guy too, a bit quiet and withdrawn, and so when the three find themselves in the midst of a love triangle it really does kinda pull at your heartstrings. It may have a bit more if the characters had a bit more chemistry.

Scene from “Pearl Harbor” Up to this point things are building up to the attack we all know is coming. It is made clear how easily America is blindsided by thinking they are impenetrable. While relationships are building among the main and sub characters, the Japanese are setting in motion plans for their future. By the time the bombing actually happens, we’re all more then ready for it. After all, isn’t that what we’ve all seen on the trailers? And yes, this scene is worth it all. Amazing special effects and plenty of time spent on this really make it work. And oh, the tragedy that war brings. Up close and personal we see hundreds of charred and shattered bodies, some in the water and others on land. Evelyn and the other nurses work to the point of exhaustion bravely trying to help somehow with the massive influx of wounded. Once the attack is over and we survey the damage, the sadness is gripping. War really is hell.

Scene from “Pearl Harbor” Christians sensitive to language should note that there is plenty of language in this PG-13 film: over a dozen instances of God’s name in vain as well as other crude comments and profanities. There is not much nudity, but some when a male G.I. is rubbing his buttock after an injection. There is also a quick side-shot of a soldier getting treated for a bad case of sunburn. The “sensual” (read sex) scene doesn’t show much nudity, but there is movement and some sounds that leave little to the imagination. At least this was no “Titanic” scene.

Note to Alec Baldwin: you are the weakest link. I wish you weren’t chosen for the part of Doolittle, but you were and it was a poor choice. Perhaps retirement should be in order. Sappy lines and unconvincing acting don’t fit well with the rest of this quality pic.

Being reminded of the true story behind “Pearl Harbor” I can’t help but think about the spiritual parallels. While the majority of people live their lives in relative peace, thinking everything is just fine, how many of us will be blindsided when death comes? And yes, I’m talking to churchgoers too. What have you done to ensure you are ready when the end comes? There’s a statistic that says death is 100% fatal. Sooner or later it’ll happen. I hope you have put your trust in Jesus Christ. he’s the only way to a bright eternity. Trusting in your own good works will get you nowhere. The U.S.S. Arizona and other members of the fleet at Pearl Harbor weren’t ready, and they sadly found that out too late. The rest is history.


Viewer Comments
I’m not so much offended by the on-screen action here as by the horrific liberties that have been taken with historical fact by this film. It feels like an attempt to cash in on the success of Titanic, and cashing in on a major tragedy leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The Japanese are presented as sly and scheming, with almost no characterization. The Americans are all amazing heroes. The Brits are wet and useless, sitting around waiting for the Yanks to come and save them. What is this? The featured “heroic” US fighter squadron in the Battle of Britain historically lost almost as many planes as it shot down. The Japanese at Pearl Harbor took minimal casualties, so I am not sure where all the planes that were shot down were coming from. Maybe it was a dream sequence. Most offensive is the inclusion of a strike back against the Japanese at the end of the film. This is just pure revenge, and the film should have ended with the Day Of Infamy speech. I wasn’t far wrong when I predicted this film would end with a shot of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs going off with the legend “Gotcha!” flashing on the screen. This is morally bankrupt, and I can see no justification for its making. If you want to see the REAL story of what happened, watch Tora! Tora! Tora! which shows events from both sides of the fence.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 2½]
—Paul Bird, age 28
This movie can best be understood as Hollywood historical fiction. “Historical fiction” is a literary genre in which fictitious characters are placed in an actual historic setting. “Hollywood” means that the main characters become the heroes. Unfortunately, the screen writers decided to make the story more interesting by throwing in a soap opera-esque plot to it. Otherwise, there are some commendable aspects to the film. For one thing, the gore was extremely tamed down from what it could have been (i.e. you see men flying from the bombs and NOT body parts, men are obviously shot, but there is little blood). Rafe proves to be a true man of honor and valor (not only for resisting the temptation to take Evelyn to bed so as not to leave her with any regrets, but also in how he forgives her and Danny later on). Also, the unpleasant consequences of the premarital sex are shown in more ways than one. It may not be perfect, but it’s a step up from the normal fare.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Deanna Marquart, age 30
I recommend this film for adults and teens since it contains some sensuality and approximately 25 profanities. Beyond this, Pearl Harbor does an exceptional job depicting the sacrifices made by a generation of Americans in confronting the aggression of Imperial Japan and Fascist Germany. Sadly, the bulk of Americans are ignorant of the cost of our freedom and the manifold blessings of God, which have allowed us to endure to this point in history. “Pearl Harbor” will help in breaking down part of this historical ignorance that our citizens embrace.

I was pleasantly surprised that the movie managed to not only do an outstanding job in depicting the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, but also managed to include the 1940 Battle of Britain and the 1942 Doolittle Raid (Jake Deshazer (www2.gasou.edu/facstaff/etmcmull/DESHAZER.htm) was one of the Doolittle Raiders, captured by the Japanese and became a born again Christian while in prison. He still preaches the word and resides in Washington). This put the Pearl Harbor sequence in better perspective and portrayed the contemporary “Zeitgeist” (setting). Naturally, the special effects are superb and bring to life the scenes of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

Although not as graphic as “Saving Private Ryan,” the movie does depict the aftermath of the Japanese attack. This includes a very sobering look at the casualties along battleship row, with sailors trapped below decks in the capsized USS Oklahoma, and masses of casualties swamping the hospitals (all necessary to show the results of underestimating your adversary). I only wish that there would have been a more notable role of Japanese Commander Mitsuo Fuchida (www2.gasou.edu/facstaff/etmcmull/FUCHIDA.htm), who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. Incidentally he became a Christian (via the ministry of Jacob Deshazer) after the war and was a minister of the Gospel in Japan until his death in the 1970s.

The movie provides an allegory for our society today. As the Americans on Hawaii were caught up in their private lives, and feeding their fleshly desires, just prior to the attack, so we are today. A complacent, worldly and hedonistic people who do not count the cost of freedom and have no idea that vigilant Americans stationed in Kosovo, Macedonia, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. provide the security needed to guarantee our freedom. Although “Pearl Harbor” is not pure history in telling the story, it is worth a see and helps remind us of the cost of freedom. Anyway, it is 100 times more valuable and redeemable than the bulk of Hollywood movies that have no point and serve only to entertain.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Doug Mastriano, age 37
I saw this movie today, Memorial Day weekend. I thought that was fitting. We had veterans of Pearl Harbor at the theater. It was great to see these old warriors stand tall has people hugged them and gave them warm hand shakes of appreciation. It reminded me that all those folks in the Black and White newsreels were real people. Sometimes imperfect but folks who rose to the threat of their day and made a difference in the process. The story line wasn’t helped any by the sex scene, but all in all I found this a stirring reminder of the greatest generation.
My Ratings: [Average]
—B.Hale, age 37
The critics again have blown it with the review of this fine film. There was more military moments than just the Pearl Harbor attack itself. We saw the Japanese plan the attack, the Americans acting naive prior to it, and the horrific aftermath. It intertwines quite well with the love story/love triangle. And it gives Americans another element to war—the loss of loved ones. We see how precious life is. Yes, its gory. Yes, its got some language. And, yes, there is some sensuality. But nothing more than most movies. Another great thing… some very accurate history. …Soda bottles were used to collect blood for transfusions. And, we even see another true event when a black man shoots down enemy planes (even though he’s a cook, forbidden from fighting). I loved this movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Brian, age 26
Pearl Harbor was overall a good movie, however it wasn’t everything I expected it to be. It could have been called A Love Triangle At Pearl Harbor. It seems more like a love story with the attack on Pearl Harbor thrown in as an afterthought. I was disappointed that the movie spent more time on the relationship between the beautiful nurse and two combat fighters than on the attack and its aftermath.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—David Luttrell, age 36
I thought this was a great movie! I am amazed that people are blasting any of it. People seem to have a personal vendetta with Alec Baldwin—but I thought he did a great job as an idealist who at 45 years old wanted to inspire a nation. I thought all the acting was great, although I agree there could have been more chemistry in the main romance between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale. And the war scenes were incredible. This movie is exciting to watch, has many sub-plots about relationships and dreamers and honor, and has some great quotes. I highly recommend it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Chris Simmons, age 30
It is a Disney flick, riding the fence politically and lack of any moral values. The soap opera type intro and typical Hollywood language/sex were uncalled for. The special effects and impact of the attack were unparalleled. Alec Baldwin was a real miss on depicting Dolittle. My recommendation—go rent Tora Tora Tora on DVD—this is a more accurate depiction of what lead up to the attack and America’s ignorance of what was known.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4]
—LK, age 42
Yes, it’s a long movie, but the story is a huge one. During the first hour+ of the movie I thought, “Why are we going here? Let’s get to Pearl Harbor!” But by the end of the movie I understood where the director was taking us. Pearl Harbor is about more than just the bombing of the Hawaiian military base. It is also a love story and a story of deep friendship. OK, it DOES have a scattering of profanities. But in the midst of full-scale bombing attack can we expect a sailor to utter a “shoot”? Regarding offensive language I always ask myself if the dialogue is realistic and necessary to the dramatic moment, not simply if the word is on my “no-no” list. My wife couldn’t believe the film was 3 hours, it went by pretty fast. Pearl Harbor, IMHO, is a real winner and will surely win a handful of Oscars.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Ron Reames, age 54
Tip for any person who has a mind. Go watch it and don’t let one-sided opinions keep you from an experience which you will not soon forget. To truly understand something, like Pearl Harbor, you have to see it. It saddens me that people who are paid to give their opinions about a movie would warn people to skip most of it and just watch the spectacular attack scene. What is the point? If you listen to the critics and don’t go see all of this movie, you simply show that the critics are right. Which they are not.
—Q, age 23
When I walked into the movie I didn’t know what to expect because I had heard that the movie was overrated and all the reviews were bad. But I was in for a surprise, it was a fantastic movie, great acting, a little slow getting started but its necessary to thicken the plot, the pearl harbor scene is fantastic and intense. After watching the movie I walked out with a greater respect for the men that gave their lives for us. DO NOT LISTEN TO THE CRITICS, I rank it up their with the patriot and some of the other great war movies. Take the time and watch this movie, its worth every bit of the three hours… as far as morality… language was used quite often but there were no “f” words used… and there is a short sex scene but there isn’t any nudity.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—David, age 15
I excitedly rushed to see Pearl Harbor after days of anticipation. The first half hour was good, the middle part (except for the bombing) had extremely unnecessary parts in it and the last 45 minutes was good. All in all, it was such a LONG MOVIE that my contacts threatened to stick to my eyes.

Even though the plot was ok (a little bit cliche-ish) and had much potential, they decided to stretch it so much that half of the movie became Disappointingly Boring. What a terrible mistake. If not for that, I would have given them a 4 for the moviemaking quality. The special effects was very good and there is practically no blood gore at all (which is great) and no terrible Titanic like nudity (although there is implied sex-it is not at all graphic but premarital sex is still not something that God would want to see.), but there was LOTS of s*** words and quite a few misuses of the Lord’s name. Another thing that this movie lacked was emotion. I always cry at movies. Always. But in this movie, despite the tangly love story and deaths everywhere, I didn’t shed any tears. It is because the movie didn’t really allow me to feel for the characters. I thought the chemistry between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale was quite good, (the first half hour) but all through the middle (1½ hours) when Josh Harnett came into the picture, there was absolutely no chemistry. It was like watching a low quality soap opera. The bombing deeply saddens people, though, naturally. But the love story is an unwanted distraction. If you really want to watch this movie, see a matinee. don’t waste more than 7 bucks on this movie. And don’t expect too much from it. You might be disappointed.
My Ratings: [Average / 3½]
—Nadia K, age 16
I went into this theatre to find it either a 3 hour dud or very offensive because of the mixed reviews I heard, and I have to say that I was surprised. I thought this movie was excellent. The only thing I felt was offensive was when the Lord’s name was taken in vain a few times. There was a short period when I went to the restroom, so unless there was something that was shown then, I didn’t feel the sex scene was explicit. No nudity, except for the guy rubbing his rear end after getting a shot. It was a heartfelt movie with lots of action, romance, and drama. I would recommend this movie, and will probably buy it when it’s available.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Heather, age 30
Few films bring out so many mixed emotions as this one did, but I am hesitant to critique this movie simply because in the end, for me, it wasn’t about the quality of this production. We are all aware of the devastation that Pearl Harbor saw, but it is something else to watch it unfold before your eyes. Even though we sat comfortably in a theatre and knew that what we were seeing was an attempt to recreate history, my husband and I felt the pain, anger, fear, and PRIDE that our great men and women, who have served this country, felt.

Some have compared Pearl Harbor to Titanic, but I see no comparison. I did not see Titanic until recently because I felt it dishonored the memory of all those who died by focusing in on an unrealistic, FICTIONAL couple who just happened to be on the Titanic. But Pearl Harbor brought to life people who lived through it all. The “love triangle” wasn’t necessary to the story, but I found it to be believable. During WWII people fell in love and married within weeks sometimes (many of those marriages have outlasted those of the last 10 years). Finding comfort in the arms of the best friend and the return of her first love, also very believable. The only disappointment I had regarding this movie was the comments I heard as we were leaving the theatre. Most only saw a film made simply for their entertainment, a beautiful romance, awesome effects, poor acting. But I saw a tribute made to those that have suffered and even died for this nation to make it possible to enjoy the freedoms that we have today, and it reminded me how much we take for granted the men and women who fight for this country by allowing those here to abuse the privileges they fight for.

It was also plain to see that a few vets were in the theatre with us. Near the back at the exit, we saw firsthand what the film meant to an older gentleman. He stood there with what seemed to be tears in his eyes as the credits were rolling across the screen. This was not just a movie to him, it is a testimonial to what he knows.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Lora and Jason Edwards, age 30
It was about as plain as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Not that I don’t like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich once in awhile. I like them just fine but it ain’t no sub sandwich if you know what I mean. Pure Hollywood shtick! Not a bad storyline just so-so. For some reason the story just didn’t move me. Great war scenes! But you know how Hollywood loves to blow things up. It wasn’t a bad movie but it just didn’t excite me as much as the trailer did.
—Don Lambirth, age 32
…a great film that everyone should see! I recommend it for ages 13 and up. It had lots of cursing, esp. G-d, and a brief sensual scene which was nothing to cover your eyes over. There was lots of violence for those of you who are concerned with that, but then again, this IS a war film. Go see it. Great movie!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Adam, age 18
…I just can’t mesh my experience watching this movie with the negative feelings I’m hearing. And there were even a ton of things I didn’t like about it. Yes, as is Disney custom, they sugar-coated things (mostly politically speaking) because they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. It was obvious, not to mention annoying. Although it is rated PG-13, there is quite a bit of bad language used. There is also a sex scene (well, they are calling it a “sensual” scene. Is there really a difference?) which doesn’t show anything but is pretty much a major part of the storyline. Too bad storylines have to revolve around pre-marital sex.

The movie is also LONG (3 hours) and it takes quite some time to get to the actual bombing of Pearl Harbor. I’ve heard people compare this movie to “Titanic”, and I even agree with that. But I still can’t feel negative about this movie. Reason? I’ve been thinking a long time about it… perhaps I was just too tired to see what other’s saw, perhaps I was in the right mindset to be emotional… or perhaps, this being Memorial Day weekend and all, I was reminded of the cost (servicemen as well as innocent lives) of my freedom as an American… and upon further thought, the cost (Jesus’ life) of my freedom as a Christian.

I thought the movie showed well the devastations of war. So what if Bruckheimer and Bay didn’t tell it like Spielberg did in “Saving Private Ryan”. I wasn’t sitting in the theatre thinking “Geez, this is really commercializing war/this event/veterans/Disney…” whatever. I really was drawn into thinking about how relationships suffered during this period in our history, how lives were lost, how survivors are haunted the rest of their lives by what they saw and did… One other thing I should mention, I thought this movie was visually stunning. Of course, what in Hawaii isn’t? But I thought the cinematography was outstanding. I plan on seeing this movie again to form an even clearer opinion about it, but my first impression is that it is a good movie. I wouldn’t suggest 13 year olds seeing it, especially without their parents, but this movie is not as big a lemon as the critics are making it out to be…
—Lori, age 27
Having been through WWII as a young girl living on the outskirts of London, I could perhaps see more in this movie than those who may not have experienced the bombs of the blitz, losing neighbors in a air raid, having a house cave in on top of my mother and I, and both being severely injured. Pearl Harbor was a very emotional movie, and I thought it told well of personal relationships, the pain of loss and of physical suffering for the sake of freedom. It touched me deeply. I had always thought, “so what” we in England had the bombs dropping on us for 4 years, but since seeing this movie I have a much greater insight and respect for the men and women who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, bringing America into WWII—we wouldn’t have won the war without help from the “Yanks”.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Jill E. Simpson, age 65
Movie Critics
…Some quick tips… Arrive one hour late. Watch the 45-minute attack sequence, then flee the minute Alec Baldwin shows up on the screen. Ignore these vital instructions and you’ll have to sit through this entire three-hour dud…
—Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic
…Moral worldview with strongly patriotic and solidly Christian, redemptive elements undermined by mild revisionist history… contains plenty of foul language and some implied sexual immorality…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…6 mild profanities, a couple of sexual references… about 30 religious profanities…
—Kids-in-Mind