May 30, 2001

Pearl Harbor

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a movie that set out to copy Titanic should be so embarrassing. I felt like the guy in A Clockwork Orange who had to watch violence and pornography with his eyes pried open.

The structural gimmick of the love triangle between the boyhood friends and the nurse was so full of contrivance and cliche that I kept being amazed that the actors didn't break out laughing. Since this personal line was so silly, the duty line of the men going off to war, which the personal line was supposed to offset, became a joke as well. Not that it wouldn't have been a joke on its own. This stuff was Top Gun warmed over, and Top Gun was already a cliche of a cliche. Especially when Alec Baldwin, as Colonel Dolittle, was on, it literally felt like they were doing a Saturday Night Live skit, but they kept right on doing one bad scene after another with no one breaking for laughs.

Of course it didn't help matters that the subject of this film was the biggest screwup in American military history. This wasn't a battle, it was a firing squad. Watching massive stupidity that results in thousands of Americans slaughtered is not my idea of a pleasant way to spend my time at the movies.

Since they didn't want to end the film with a massive defeat, the creators figured they would tag on another movie, the Dolittle raid on Tokyo. While this raid was considered a real morale boost for the American people, it was militarily useless and a bungle from start to finish. So this movie kept right on beating the cliches to death, rubbing our noses in our own incompetence, long after the big battle scene was over. The result was a three hour marathon of self-abuse.

The only thing that saves this movie is that the attack on Pearl Harbor, as painful as it is, is spectacular. Even now, seeing all those men slaughtered brings strong feelings of anger and pity.

One lesson to take from this movie is that James Cameron's strategy of starting with a love story and turning it into a disaster picture can still bring a load of people into the theaters. Spending a ton of money on marketing hype helps too. But boy was this movie hard to sit through. As I left the theater, all I could think of was, "They shoot audiences, don't they?"