Pearl Harbor is a 2001 American romantic war drama film directed by Michael Bay, produced by Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer and written by Randall Wallace. It stars Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Colm Feore, and Alec Baldwin. It is based on the 1941 attack on the Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii.
In 1923 Tennessee, two young boys, Rafe McCawley (Jesse James) and Danny Walker (Reiley McClendon), play together in the back of an old biplane, pretending to be soldiers fighting the Germans in World War I. After Rafe's father lands his biplane and leaves, Rafe and Danny climb into the plane and Rafe accidentally starts it, giving the boys their first experience at flight.
Eighteen years later, in January 1941, Danny (Josh Hartnett) and Rafe (Ben Affleck) are both first lieutenants under the command of Major Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin). Doolittle informs Rafe that he has been accepted into the Eagle Squadron (a RAF outfit for American pilots during the Battle of Britain). A nurse named Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) meets Rafe and passes his medical exam despite his dyslexia. That night, Rafe and Evelyn enjoy an evening of dancing at a nightclub and later a jaunt in New York harbor in a borrowed police boat. Rafe shocks Evelyn by saying that he has joined the Eagle Squadron and is leaving the next day.
Danny, Evelyn and their fellow pilots and nurses are transferred to Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, Rafe flies in numerous dogfights with the RAF against the Luftwaffe, becoming a flying ace, but is shot down over the English Channel and presumed to be killed in action. Danny gives Evelyn the news and she is devastated. Three months later, Evelyn and Danny develop feelings for each other. On the night of December 6, Evelyn is shocked to discover Rafe standing outside her door, having survived his aircraft crash. He goes to the Hula bar where he is welcomed back by his overjoyed fellow pilots. Danny finds Rafe in the bar with the intention of making things right, but the two get into a fight.
Early the next morning, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy begins its attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona is obliterated with when an armor-piercing bomb detonates the ship's forward ammunition magazine, literally lifting the bow out of the water. The USS Oklahoma capsizes after several torpedoes strikes her, trapping hundreds of men inside. The USS West Virginia suffers severe damage. One bomb mortally wounds Captain Mervyn S. Bennion (Peter Firth). Cook Dorie Miller (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), with no training with firearms, mans a .50 caliber machine gun and shoots down a Japanese plane. The USS Nevada makes a run for the sea, becoming a primary target during the second wave.
Danny and Rafe drive away in search of a still standing airfield, while Evelyn and the other nurses rush for the hospital. The nurses struggle to give emergency treatment to hundreds of injured. Rafe and Danny manage to get in the air in two P-40s. After causing four planes to crash into each other and another getting shot down by ground fire, the two shoot down seven Japanese Zeros. After landing, the two donate blood before helping rescue men out of the capsized USS Oklahoma.
The next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Jon Voight) delivers his Day of Infamy Speech to the nation and asks the US Congress to declare a state of war with the Empire of Japan. The survivors attend a memorial service to honor the numerous dead, including fellow nurses and pilots. Later, Danny and Rafe are assigned to travel stateside under newly promoted Lt. Colonel Doolittle for a secret mission. Before they leave, Evelyn reveals to Rafe that she is pregnant with Danny's child and that she will remain with Danny.
Upon their arrival in California, Danny and Rafe are both promoted to Captain and awarded the silver star. Doolittle asks them to volunteer for a top secret mission, which they both accept. During the next three months, Rafe, Danny and other pilots train with specially modified B-25 Mitchell bombers. In April, the raiders are sent towards Japan on board the USS Hornet, and are informed that their mission will involve bombing Tokyo and then landing in China. However, the Japanese discover them early, forcing the raiders to launch from a longer distance than planned. After a successful bombing run against Tokyo, the raiders crash-land on Japanese-occupied territory in China in a rice paddy. The Japanese Army pin down Rafe's plane, but Danny's crew flies over and shoots the Japanese patrol before crashing.
Danny is shot during the attack by Japanese patrols while the other pilots, Red (Ewen Bremner) and Gooz (Michael Shannon), kill off the remaining Japanese patrolmen. Before dying, Danny tells Rafe that he will have to be the father. Upon his return home, a visibly pregnant Evelyn sees Rafe getting off the aircraft, carrying Danny's coffin. Afterward, Evelyn and Miller are awarded medals, while Rafe is awarded his medal by President Roosevelt. Rafe and Evelyn, now married, visit Danny's grave with Danny and Evelyn's infant son, also named Danny. Rafe and baby Danny then fly off into the sunset in the old biplane that his father once had.
Why It Sucks
- Tora! Tora! Tora! and Midway already did it decades earlier and both films are way better.
- Executive Meddling: Allegedly, Michael Bay wanted to do something similar to the former but with more modern special effects, but the studios insisted on several historical inaccuracies and the love triangle to cash in on the surprise success of Titanic.
- False advertising: It has little to do with Pearl Harbor for the majority of the runtime (only forty-five minutes of the three-hour film are about the battle), being mostly focused on an extremely dull love triangle.
- And when the attack on Pearl Harbor actually begins, Rafe and Danny are asleep in a car parked in the country! The main characters don't even take part in the film's central event, at least, not until later in the attack...
- The film takes rather too much effort showing the U.S. forces as innocent and shocked, to the point they act more like confused children rather than trained fighting men when the attack comes.
- While the film did not vilify the Japanese as much as some had expected, they are still shown doing Inscrutable Foreign Things (such as planning the attack in a giant open-air pond) rather than planning in boring normal buildings as they actually did. There is a sequence of the Japanese launching a protracted strafing run against the hospital and dropping bombs there, which is very inaccurate and did not happen: the medical station was hit by gunfire (though this may have been AA gun rounds falling out of the sky or gunfire from the handful of planes engaged in dogfights) and one medical staff member was killed, but no bombs were dropped. Especially not on a random car in the hospital's parking lot, there were much more important targets for their limited supply of bombs.
- The film commits a litany of historical errors, from relatively minor issues like incorrect variants of aircraft being present, through things they ought to have noticed like a background building with "Est. 1953" painted on it, or a glimpse of a 1990's vintage Amtrak Genesis locomotive during one of the scenes on the train, right up to to main-sequence impossibilities like Rafe joining an Eagle Squadron before any Eagle Squadrons were actually flying and at a time when he would have to have deserted from the US Army Air Forces in order to do so. It would be even more impossible for this same pilot to end up as part of the Doolittle Raid.
- The depiction of the Battle of Britain as being hopeless until an American pilot turned up did not go down well with British audiences, who were already not particularly pleased with Hollywood's tendency to write themselves into things the British did (see for example U-571).
- Some very strange contradictions such as Rafe cheating at the eye test using a note, even though his problem is that he is dyslexic and so the note would be no easier for him to read than the eye chart.
- The computer-generated imagery has aged poorly, with the computer-generated P-40s very obviously not having movable control surfaces.
- In several scenes, absolutely no effort is made to disguise the USS Constellation, a very obviously modern Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier, variously standing in for the IJN Akagi and USS Hornet. Not much more effort is made to disguise that the 8-gun, 4-turret USS West Virginia is being played by the 9-gun, 3-turret USS Missouri, or that most of the ships that appear in non-CGI shots of the harbor are mothballed modern vessels built decades after the attack.
- Extremely clumsy product placement, with Coca-Cola bottles (logos carefully pointed at the camera) being used to collect blood for transfusions.
- As usual for a movie that has the involvement of Michael Bay, there are scenes that will make even the most patriotic American roll their eyes, particularly the shot of a massive United States of America flag billowing majestically in the water as the USS Oklahoma sinks.
- The attack scene focuses on Battleship Row and the airfields and completely forgets about the sinking of the USS Utah on the other side of the harbor.
- During the attack scene Rafe and Danny are shoehorned into the role of two real-life heroes of the attack. As a result these two men, Second Lieutenants George S. Welch and Kenneth M. Taylor, are not even mentioned.
- Terrible acting, especially from Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale.
- Stiff, laughable dialogue, including the infamous "I think World War II just started!", a line so manifestly stupid it was changed in international releases.
- Lazy conclusion, with the love triangle resolved by the Japanese killing the male actor who didn't get top billing.
- Overlong runtime.
- The military are shown to look like undisciplined idiots.
- Rafe cheats on his eye exam.
- When the ship is attacked, one of the soldiers comes out of the ship while he's only wearing a towel and brushing his teeth.
- When the ship starts to sink, one of the soldiers says that he can't swim. How does a soldier in the Navy not know how to swim?!
- The credits song "There You'll Be" performed by Faith Hill was pretty great.
- The score composed by Hans Zimmer is also very good.
- The practical effects, such as the three full-scale battleship bows, are very good.
- An impressive number of real aircraft were assembled for the production, including some veteran planes modified for Tora! Tora! Tora!
- The attack itself is a good action scene, even if it's disrespectful to the event's historical importance and an extremely inaccurate depiction of the actual sequence of events.
- A very rare movie that acknowledges the Chinese front actually existed.
- Mako, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Dan Aykroyd give pretty good performances.
- Jon Voight's reading of the famous "Day That Will Live In Infamy" speech is rousing, though the following scene of him standing up from his wheelchair is cringeworthy.
- The first 45 minutes have none of Michael Bay's trademarks, like no explosions or helicopters flying in front of dramatic sunsets.
Pearl Harbor received extremely negative reviews from critics and audiences, who criticized the story, long runtime, screenplay and dialogue, pacing, performances and historical inaccuracies, although it received praise for its sound effects, musical score, visual effects, and its 40-minute action sequence. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 24% based on 194 reviews, with an average rating of 4.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Pearl Harbor tries to be the Titanic of war movies, but it's just a tedious romance filled with laughably bad dialogue. The 40-minute action sequence is spectacular, though." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 44 out of 100 based on 35 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
However, on Rotten Tomatoes, the audience score is 66%. Film critic Roger Ebert described the film as "a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how, on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle."
Pearl Harbor opened at #1 at the box office on its opening weekend with a domestic gross of $59,078,912. It later made a total domestic gross of $198,542,554. It made $250,678,391 overseas and it made a total of $449,220,945 worldwide against its $140 million budget making the film a hit.
Awards and nominations
Pearl Harbor was nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture and Worst Remake or Sequel, but lost the Worst Picture Award to Freddy Got Fingered and the Worst Remake or Sequel Award to the Planet of the Apes remake. However, it managed to win an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing as well as an MTV Movie Award for Best Action Sequence.