|A big summer blockbuster, Pearl Harbor is pitched as a romantic epic, but the story is essentially a frame for an impressive depiction of the Japanese attack on that "day of infamy", deploying all the modelwork, CGI, stunts and special effects necessary to trump previous screen re-enactments in Tora! Tora! Tora! and From Here to Eternity. At heart, it's another Top Gun-style exercise in heroically sublimated homosexuality as Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Dan (Josh Hartnett), lifelong buddies, fall out over a ridiculous contrivance that allows both decently to fallin love with a nurse (Kate Beckinsale) but forget all their differences when the fighting starts--as expected, their big climax comes in each other's arms, with Kate left behind as one wounded buddy extracts a promise from the other to look after his unborn child.
Historical snippets are interleaved, with Mako and Jon Voigt stiff under the prosthetics asAdmiral Yamamoto and Franklin Roosevelt, and a lot of detail is given about things like the wooden rudders on the new Japanese torpedoes, the chaos in the understaffed hospital as the heroine is forced to make lipstick triage marks on wounded men's foreheads and the terrible effects of strafing. A surprisingly bright little performance from Dan Aykroyd (a sole reminder of 1941) as an intelligence analyst is balanced by an insufferably smug one from Cuba Gooding Jr as a token black supporting hero. It's the first film of the George W Bush era: aggressive and dumb as a rock, utterly uninterested in period--no one in this WWII-era army smokes, swears or uses racial abuse (Gooding's boxing opponent sneers at him because he's a cook)--and awkwardly straddles a dignified treatment of the Japanese and America's actual spasm of hatred after the attack (one soldier refuses to be treated by a Japanese doctor, but that's it). When Pearl Harbour is bombed, we see endangered dogs, drowning men and dead women, but when Tokyo gets blasted in payback only buildings are destroyed and in long-shot. Michael Bay (Armageddon) remains a jittery director, a great second-unit man who can't deal with people or stories. It borrows from Titanic and Saving Private Ryan, but tidies the war of the latter up so it can still haul in a broad audience and therefore misses the real tragic sense of the former.--Kim Newman
On the DVD: Considering there are two discs in the special edition of this special effects homage, the second DVD is woefully short of extras. There is a 45-minute featurette on the highs and lows of bringing Michael Bay's magnum opus to the screen which, along with the usual interviews with cast and crew, features the more compelling eyewitness testimony bringing the events of December 7, 1941 to life. The irony of the second disc focussing on the research and quest for historical accuracy is a little difficult to swallow, considering that the film is little more than a paper thin, overly romanticised muddle of history and fantasy, but for those wanting to experience the real events on that fateful day rather than the Hollywood version, this is an excellent antidote. The movie has been THX digitally mastered for superior sound and picture quality improving those big-bang special effects and is presented in anamorphic widescreen with 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Unlike the Region 1 release, there's no DTS track but the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is more than up to the challenge of the effects laden assault, with different elements of the Japanese attack rumbling between the speakers and making you feel you're in the thick of things. -- Kristen Bowditch