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Touchstone Home Video presents
Pearl Harbor: Vista Series (2001)

"Why are they doing exercises this early on a Sunday?"`
- Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: July 08, 2002

Stars: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale
Other Stars: Alec Baldwin, Cuba Gooding Jr, William Lee Scott, Jon Voight, Dan Aykroyd, Mako, Tom Sizemore
Director: Michael Bay

MPAA Rating: R for Strong War Violence and Some Language
Run Time: 03h:04m
Release Date: July 02, 2002
UPC: 786936168532
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

One can see the cynical pitch sessions now: "Think Titanic! An ill-fated romantic triangle set against a tragedy of epic proportions! Boats sinking! Explosions!" Benefiting from rampant nationalism in the wake of subsequent events, Pearl Harbor certainly has more resonance now than last summer, when it was just another big blow-em-up effects extravaganza. Director Michael Bay has gone back and done some surgery to his film, providing here, stretched over two discs, a director's cut that reduces the romance a bit while upping the gore quotient significantly.

Friends from boyhood, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck and his chin) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) have joined the US army air corps in 1940. Just before Rafe volunteers for a squadron of American flyers for the RAF, he meets and falls in love with nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). Promising that he'll return to her, he fights bravely but is shot down. He returns to Hawaii where both Danny and Evelyn are now stationed, only to discover that they, believing him dead, have fallen in love. His timing is impeccable, arriving in Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941. The rest of the film depicts the raid and its horrific consequences, as well as America's strike back in the form of the 1942 raid of Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) on Tokyo.

Although the romance is still too big a part of the story (and frankly incredible in any event), it is less prominent here and this helps get us to the meat of the action faster. Director Bay is certainly right in wanting to put a human face on the events of Pearl Harbor (one of the few failings of Tora! Tora! Tora!), but he lathers it on a bit thick here. The faces are pretty, but it's hard to believe that there is any real affection between Beckinsale and the male leads. More credible is the friendship of Affleck and Hartnett, to the point one half expects them to embrace and say, "Who needs those darn girls, anyway?"

But it's the attack that's the raison d'etre for this film, and Bay carries this off in spectacular fashion. Using a blend of real navy ships and CGI, the effect is seamless and tremendously effective. While his music-video cutting style isn't usually my cup of tea, it's note-perfect for depicting the chaos of the attack. Briskly paced, its length is daunting but it never allows its energy to flag. Most moving of all are some difficult hospital and triage sequences where Evelyn gets to be quite a bit more than a pretty face.

The supporting cast is fine, even if the leads don't quite work right. Particularly notable are Cuba Gooding Jr as Dorie Miller, a cook who took an anti-aircraft gun in his own hands; Jon Voight in a memorable turn as FDR, and most notably Alec Baldwin. Though Baldwin is completely wrong physically for the stocky and swarthy Doolittle, Baldwin provides a stellar performance that will have you believing that he could without trying get 79 men to follow him on a suicide mission. I've never much cared for Baldwin's acting before, but he definitely made me take notice here.

Other than the somewhat cumbersome romantic elements, Pearl Harbor is a much better picture than is generally recognized. Even in its weakest moments, it's still watchable, and at its best it's truly gripping and moving.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen picture for the most part looks excellent. Colors are vivid and rich, blacks are deep and the spacing over two discs means that an ample bit rate is possible. The one drawback is a tremendous amount of edge enhancement on horizontal lines—and in a picture that features lots of plane wings and ship decks, that's a problem. I found this to be highly distracting throughout much of the early part of the film. It's a shame that this was added, since otherwise the picture is so beautiful.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The sound is first-rate all the way. Not a bit of hiss or noise is present, and everything from the quietest whisper to the loudest explosion is perfectly rendered in both DD 5.1 and DTS. I couldn't tell much of any difference in selective A/B, but the option's there for those that are DTS devotees. As expected, there's plenty of room-shaking bass. Directionality is superb as planes whiz over your head and torpedoes whine past your ear.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 44 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
7 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger; 2) producer Jerry Bruckheimer, actors Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett; 3) technicians John Schwartzman, Michael Kaplan, Nigel Phelps, composer Hans Zimmer
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Interactive attack effects sequence
  2. animatic attack sequence
  3. Interactive timeline
  4. Still galleries
Extras Review: Touchstone pulled out all the stops on this gigantic four-disc set, raising the bar for a single movie DVD set (at least until the five-disc expanded Fellowship of the Ring hits the street in November).

Commentaries: What special edition is complete without commentaries? Considering this is a three hour-plus movie, and there are three separate commentaries with hardly a moment of dead silence, there's a ton of content here. Director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger take the first track. There's plenty of useful comment about the difficulties of making the film, and the historian adds some occasionally cogent observations. But it's definitely Bay's show. He's articulate and knowledgeable, though occasionally defensive about his movie. The second track features the actors and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Most of them are edited together, except Hartnett and Affleck were recorded at once and their track is highly entertaining. Baldwin has some interesting remarks, and he more than anyone seems to resent the critical lambasting that the film took. As you can tell from the above, though, he's rightfully resentful since the movie's really not that bad and he's definitely one of the best things about it. The third commentary is from the technical folks, including the production designer and special effects artists; uncredited on the package are a few comments by composer Hans Zimmer as well. These are also interesting, though the ample content on the effects tends to duplicate a fair amount of this track. What's really missing here is an actual historian commenting on the accuracy or lack thereof to the picture, possibly interacting with Bay. Now that would have gotten us into A+ territory. To some extent, supposed historical inaccuracies are addressed in the comments as being stories provided by survivors that they spoke to. Bay also gives Roeper a hard time about some remarks that he made about the movie's accuracy, giving a talkback of sorts from the filmmakers that's fairly unusual.

After you've absorbed the NINE HOURS of commentaries, you still have more than two discs to go! Also on Disc Two is a 47-minute "making of" that is essentially a studio puff piece and disposable, at least in comparison to the substance of everything else that's here.

A set of Production Diaries, some of which include optional commentary, provides behind-the-scenes looks at the incredible work that went into bringing this epic story to the screen. It definitely lends an appreciation for the organization that went into realizing this picture. These total 59m:11s.

The cast went through an abbrieviated boot camp, and a 21m:58s shows some of the difficulties and misadventures that they went through. Their drill instructor seems rather mild, but by the end they're saluting smartly and making their beds snappily. Enjoyable primarily from a "better you than me" standpoint, it's fun to see these Hollywood stars getting chewed out like schoolboys.

A montage of the super 8 film that was shot to simulate newsreel footage is also included, as is a DVD-ROM supplement of indeterminate contents.

Three History Channel presentations help bring to life the truth behind the story of the picture. The first, Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor, provides some details behind Dorie Miller and the two fliers that are the loose basis for Rafe and Danny. One Hour Over Tokyo provides an in-depth look at Doolittle and the raid on Tokyo. Both feature plenty of interviews with survivors, as well as vintage footage and photos. The last, much more brief, is an oral history vignette of the recollections of a nurse at Pearl Harbor. Running only a few minutes, it seems to stop just when it's getting started. Considering the number of military veterans, surely there are still some surviving medical personnel from December 7?

The final disc is devoted largely to the effects work. An Interactive Attack Sequence is a 27-minute segment from the film that allows one, through multi-angle capabilities to view the finished film, behind-the-scenes footage from the same segments, actual nitrate footage of the attack shot by the Japanese covering some of the same segments, and the storyboards for the film and concept art. Alternatively, for those capable of multi-tasking, all of these can be on your screen at once. And there are certainly audio options! You can switch between eight tracks: the film audio, the on-set sound, music only, effects only, commentary by Michael Bay, commentary by the effects crew, commentary by the storyboard artist and comments from veterans (both American and Japanese) of Pearl Harbor. Needless to say, this will keep you busy for much more than just 27-minute.

A conversation between Bay and Eric Brevig of ILM takes a look at how some of the more spectacular shots were accomplished from animatic to final shot. A hyperlink feature allows one to see certain of the shots in more detail. Between the two segments, this runs about 49 minutes and is required viewing for anyone interested in special effects.

An abbreviated animatic version of the attack wraps up the effects portion of the extras. While it might have been interesting on its own, this is territory already pretty well covered elsewhere. Nevertheless, this is the only place to see the animatics uninterrupted, so if computer graphics are a point of interest this will be valuable.

Next is an Interactive Timeline that is nothing less than a history of USA-Japanese relations from 1846 to 1941, running nearly an hour in length. There's a ton of important historical background here that the film largely disregards or assumes, and most of it isn't common knowledge. This segment is highly recommended for anyone wanting an understanding of why there was an attack on Pearl Harbor.

Finally, there are still galleries covering production designs, historical, ILM, behind-the-scenes and publicity materials. These are surprisingly thin, with only a handful of pictures under several categories. But frankly, after spending three full days with this set, I was relieved to finally be at the end.

A massive and impressive package, in an elaborate foldout case that has buckles, foldouts, a booklet, postcards of some of the publicity art and an artificially distressed paper with the incipit of Roosevelt's December 8th "Day of Infamy" address to Congress. Jaw-dropping in its inclusiveness and presentation, this is a frankly incredible set that not only delivers just about anything you'd want to know about this picture, but instills a tremendous respect for the effort of making it as well.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

The revised picture works better, and the extras will keep you busy for days on end. A first-rate package for a picture that doesn't deserve its poor reputation.


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