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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Pearl Harbor sinks fast
Kate Beckinsale
Kate Beckinsale stars as an American nurse
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters

Pearl Harbor opened amid a blaze of publicity in the US this week with a première on board an aircraft carrier in Hawaii.

The fact Disney chose to screen the film just yards from where thousands of sailors lost their lives and where the bodies of many lie still reflects the gross insensitivity running through this film.

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck provides the jutting jaw
Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale star as the three main characters caught in a love triangle during the tumultuous time when America was propelled into World War II.

But this film is not about Pearl Harbor and the deaths of thousands of men.


The producers are keen to point out that the movie is to be treated as purely entertainment and not historical drama - but it is neither.

As a spectacle it can take your breath away, but as a film it can be so painful it forces a sharp intake of breath. This is not a film for those with breathing difficulties.

The producer Jerry Bruckheimer co-created the notion of the high concept movie and Pearl Harbor appears a cynical attempt to simply copy the success of Titanic, which also sets a love story amidst a symbolic event.

There is even a scene involving the cruise ship Queen Mary which is a direct nod to James Cameron's film.

The backdrop may be historical but it is little more than a convenient hanging cloth with which to give the film an epic feel which it never achieves.

The attack on Pearl Harbor is the meat between the love story of the film, which fails because it is so badly conceived and employed.

Brutal clichés

The dialogue is at times so bad you wish the film was a silent movie.

It is impossible to take any interest in the emotional lives of characters who speak in such brutal clichés.

Josh Hartnett
Josh Hartnett stars as a fighter pilot
"We lost this battle but we will win this war," is uttered by one of the soldiers, prompting chuckles in the audience.

"There's nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer" and "Not anxious to die, sir, just anxious to matter" are the kind of lines that thud louder than the most spectacular of explosions.

Pearl Harbour is about jutting jaw lines, not lines of dialogue.


Affleck and Hartnett sleepwalk their way through the film while Beckinsale gives a winsome performance as the nurse caught between two friends.

The film is distinctly fractured - the first third is a limp imitation of From Here to Eternity, the middle third is a Saving Private Ryan-esque battle epic and the last third is simply Armageddon -director Michael Bay's last film - repackaged.

Much has been said about the film's historical accuracy, but there is more to that than simply ensuring the correct number of computer generated battleships fill the harbour and Japanese planes in the skies.

It is damning that, in recreating the 30 minutes in which thousands of Americans died in appalling circumstances, the film makes no emotional impact whatsoever.

Ham fisted

We may gasp at the visual pyrotechnics and the sheer spectacle of the battle scene but not one single moment is more than just a fleeting firework.

At times Michael Bay aims for something more - a bullet-torn American flag sinks to the sea bed - but his efforts are ham fisted, awkward and jarring.

The writer Randall Wallace does make a few tentative stabs at saying something about America and how Pearl Harbor altered the psyche of the country but they feel mis-judged and misplaced.

President Roosevelt is used as an awkward metaphor for the country as a whole - the wheelchair-bound statesman's body becomes a symbol for the blows suffered by America at the hands of Japan.

The film is little more than a colour-by-numbers approach to film making. But it will undoubtedly do well at the box office.

After more than three hours Pearl Harbor limps to a conclusion, with America bloodied but unbowed.

But frankly, this film is one pearl that should have been left on the sea bed.

See also:

25 May 01 | Reviews
Pearl Harbor: Your views
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