Pearl Harbor set to bomb box office

Michael Goller

Pearl Harbor

Directed by Michael Bay

(Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr.)

Rated: PG13

Director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have a powerful record behind them. Currently with four films to the duo’s credit, the past three features have amassed popularity worldwide, resulting in the definition of a blockbuster. The pair’s feature projects include Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon and most recently, Pearl Harbor.

And in each case the results tend to add up, with nine-figure numbers doing all the talking.

The domestic and international grosses for each of these films follow a trend of substantial ascent. Respectively, the previous three projects drew in revenues of $160 million, $300 million and $550 million worldwide.

Pearl Harbor is indeed in a strong position to eclipse these trends. Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer’s most recent project is no doubt a summer blockbuster and will have the masses lining up to placate the Hollywood machine, unfortunately for none of the right reasons.

Perhaps because there are so few.

Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) grew up in farmland Tennessee with dreams of becoming pilots. The year is 1941 and both are showoff pilots in the U. S. Army’s Air Corps. During a routine examination, Rafe meets Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), a lieutenant nurse in the service, and they fall in love.

Soon after, Rafe is sent to Britain to fly with the Eagle Squadron of the Royal Air Force. While he is away, Danny and Evelyn become close and thus begins the love triangle. Somewhere in between the tears and the heartbreak, the bombing at Pearl Harbor takes place and heroes are made as well as lost.

Pearl Harbor’s highlights fall few and far between. The central focus of the film, the actual attack on Pearl Harbor, is the most engagement the film has to offer to the audience. The filmmakers use our knowledge to the film’s advantage, and fueled by strategically placed cuts to Japanese preparations, not only succeeds in building a mild tension, but is able to maintain that suspense by playing off what we already know. The special effects-heavy attack sequence is pure emotional energy, driven by some of the most exceptional sound editing your delighted ears will experience. However, as tolerable as the bombing sequence is in regards to the whole of the film, it remains merely entertainment, offering nothing more on life, death or war.

Unfortunately, Pearl Harbor’s main faults lie along the inability to move the audience. The film’s chances at striking a chord with viewers are lost due to an emotional staleness. The three-sided love story provided by the narrative falls flat and the chemistry between cast members fails to provide a spark. Bound to an unoriginal screenplay, the lack of connection between characters provokes a severe predictability (aside from the predictability of Pearl Harbor being bombed, you smart-asses). However, this is the least of Pearl Harbor’s emotional inaccessibility to the audience.

The majority of Pearl Harbor’s screenplay is borrowed from classical Hollywood cinema. Each line of dialogue feels unoriginal, a not-so-surreal sense of déjà vu comparable to a “new” production of Shakespeare. No matter how modern the production, you’ve heard the lines once, and you will hear them a thousand more times.

As Rafe is sent to Britain to fly with the RAF, the letter writing exchange between him and Evelyn does justice to the majority of the dialogue of the film. “It is cold here. So cold it gets to the bone. But I have a place to go for warmth. I think of you.” Even without the aid of the cheddar cheese dialogue, Ben Affleck still fails to shed his cheeseball character, playing Ben Affleck in a pilot’s jacket rather than Rafe McCawley.

Coupled with the not-so-superior screenplay, the stiffness of the cast makes it difficult to associate with the characters. The film’s three hour run time is best compared to auditions for a live-action Pinocchio feature – the players merely wooden marionettes bobbing across the screen with the meager hopes of one day becoming a real boy or girl. Again, emotion is a tough sell for the characters, played on the sleeves of the cast; acted, but never conveyed.

Cuba Gooding Jr. hints at a spark of life, portraying the role of the real-life Dorie Miller, an oppressed black cook who takes up arms during the attack. Though non-fictional, the role is heavily clichéd and even Gooding, Jr. cannot drudge up enough light to save the shallow performances of Pearl Harbor.

Given this Hollywood history lesson, we are led to infer two conclusions: Cuba aided in the fight to save America’s Pearl Harbor from Japan, and yet nothing can save America from Hollywood.

– Michael Goller


Pearl Harbor opens today in theaters across America.