Pearl Harbor, the Vista Series, on DVD
By Jim Bray
Buena Vista Home Video has released an all-new version of its epic Pearl
Harbor, a tour de force four disc DVD set that's a spectacular example
of the digital disc medium.
Too bad the movie doesn't deserve such royal treatment.
The film was pilloried upon release as little more than a popcorn flick,
intellectually empty eye candy - not that there's necessarily anything
wrong with that, especially in a summer flick - and unworthy of being
listed with the great historical dramas of Hollywood's history.
There's justification for this criticism. Johnny Carson once described
the Academy Awards show as (I paraphrase) "two hours of sparkling entertainment,
crammed into a four hour show," and this applies even more to Pearl Harbor:
it has maybe half an hour that's worthwhile to watch (the attack itself,
which is absolutely stunning), crammed into three hours and four minutes.
So Pearl Harbor's first problem is that It's too long. If they'd ended
the movie after the attack (which would logically have been the climactic
event in a movie that isn't titled "Pearl Harbor and After"), it wouldn't
have been as much of an ordeal. And a vacuous and derivative two hour
movie is much easier to take than a bloated and pretentious vacuous and
Then there's the all-too-common problem among movies of the script -
or lack thereof. Pearl Harbor is, if nothing, derivative in the extreme.
Now, disaster movies like Earthquake et al have never usually been known
as masterpieces (Titanic being
a notable exception), but they can at least exhibit some creativity.
But Pearl Harbor recycles shots and situations from so many other movies
I found myself remembering lines like "Great kid, don't get cocky" (Han
Solo to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode Four) when an American airman
chortles at his shooting down of a Japanese fighter. And thinking of Titanic
as the US ship raises up in the water on its way to capsizing.
And Saving Private Ryan as the handheld camera bobs and weaves, and dives
under water while bullets whiz around.
And on and on and on.
Now, paying homage is one thing, but Pearl Harbor doesn't give us a James
Cameron, Steven Spielberg or George Lucas wanting to tell a Big Story;
it's Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay wanting to make another big-budget
blockbuster, which (though my assessment may be a tad unfair, since I
don't know these gentlemen) isn't the right attitude going in if your
goal is a work of art.
The story, such as it is, is one of the most clichéd to come from
"the magic store:" the love triangle. Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh
Hartnett) are best friends. Rafe falls for beautiful nurse, Evelyn (Kate
Beckinsale) and they plan to settle down and spend their life together.
But History has other ideas and, after news comes that Rafe has been shot
down, Danny and Evelyn fall in love.
Naturally, Rafe returns in the end, and the two former best friends hate
When the attack comes, they have to put their feelings aside for the
higher cause, even though they still hate each other. Eventually, one
performs a Selfless Act to save the other's life and the love triangle
is settled without the two male protagonists resorting to a duel.
Pretty original, eh?
As mentioned, the Japanese attack on the American base in Hawaii is by
far the best thing about this movie, and if you didn't have to sit through
the rest of the flick it alone would be worth the price of admission.
This spectacular sequence (though it also includes much that's derivative)
is beautifully done, with plenty of action and visual and audio effects
that are nothing short of outstanding. Unfortunately, it's some of the
derivative stuff threatens to sink even this part.
For instance, after one of the battleships is attacked it starts flipping
over, causing people to fall from the deck and into the water. The shots
are right out of Titanic, though rather than get sued (or, to be kind,
to be more historically accurate - though I don't know if it is) the ship
tips over sideways instead of bow first.
After the attack, the movie becomes even more poorly done, with even
sloppier writing. It's actually funny at times, but since the laughter
comes at times when the movie is trying to be serious this is not a good
thing. In the end, Pearl Harbor tries so hard to come up with memorable
lines and meaningful dialogue, that it crosses the line to pathetic.
Oh, and this is the director's cut, so you get even more stuff inflicted
on you - including gross out shots of body parts that were originally
cut for reasons (I expect) of good taste.
Fortunately, thanks to the DVD's chapter stops, you can eschew sitting
through the movie itself and head straight for the attack, sparing yourself
from a true ordeal in your home theater.
And I daresay that's what many home theater retailers are going to do,
because as far as being a DVD goes, Buena Vista has done a superb job.
The picture and sound are about as good as you could want in a DVD, and
are an excellent way to showcase the quality of a home theater.
The movie itself is wonderfully presented in a THX-certified (which includes
the THX Optimizer for helping you tweak your home theater) 2.35:1 anamorphic
widescreen, and 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound (there's also
Dolby Headphone audio mix included, which is a nice touch).
The colors are rich and deep, the images are razor sharp, and the overall
picture is nothing short of superb. Ditto for the audio, which surrounds
you and envelopes you in the action in just the way it should. This disc
is a real DVD tour de force.
And so's the entire package. This Vista Series release stretches over
four discs, the first two of which contain the movie itself (and since
the attack is on disc one you'll never need to take the second disc from
its package!), with some supplemental material like three audio commentaries
featuring the filmmakers.
With two entire discs of supplementary material you'd expect a lot of
stuff, and you'd be right. Here's a list of stuff you get to make this
movie more worthwhile:
- Animatic scene concepts from Director Bay
- "Boot Camp" segments showing the actors preparing for their ordeal
(but not ours!)
- "Deconstructing Destruction," with interactive special effects sequences
- 2 History Channel Documentaries that are in some ways better than
the movie itself
- Multi angle breakdowns of action segments
- A DVD ROM "Definitive Bibliography"
- Collectible Pearl Harbor post cards
- 24 page companion booklet
- and "much, much more."
The package says there's over 12 hours of special features in this Vista
Edition, and though I didn't time them I don't doubt it (though three
audio commentaries of a three hour movie adds up to nine hours all by
Still, if this is what Buena Vista is planning with its Vista Series,
I'm excited. I look forward to similarly brilliant DVD releases of some
films that actually deserve such spectacular, loving treatment.
Pearl Harbor, from Touchstone Home Video
194 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital
and DTS 5.1 surround, Dolby Headphone audio
Starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr.,
Tom Sizemore and Alec Baldwin
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay
Written by Randall Wallace, Directed by Michael Bay
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