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Pearl Harbor Sinks

By Jeremy Mathews

“Pearl Harbor”Directed by Michael BayProduced by Michael Bay and Jerry BruckheimerWritten by Randall WallaceStarring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate BeckinsdaleRated: PG-132 (out of four)

Before anyone had seen it, “Pearl Harbor” was deemed the biggest box-office success in history and the winner of this year?s Academy Award for Best Picture.

The new film about the bombing that started World War II may very well achieve such success, but does it deserve to?

Well, as far as the epics since 1999 go, it fares well in comparison to last year?s Best Picture winner, “Gladiator.” Its special effects aren?t laughable and characters aren?t made grumpy in the hopes that no one notices they are dull.

Unfortunately, that doesn?t mean that the characters are interesting. They seem to be part of a formula to recreate “Titanic?s? success: Make a three hour-long epic with the biggest budget in history, base it on a famous historical event and play the heartstrings.

In this case, it seems the filmmakers thought that playing the heartstrings with fingers wasn?t loud enough, so they tried it with an axe. The film seems to have a limitless supply of dribble.

There?s a childhood scene with an abusive father who was scarred in World War I, a love triangle involving two childhood friends and even racial issues with no connection to the rest of the film.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay, the team behind “Armageddon,” wisely decided not to have nonstop action in their latest effort. Next, they should try filling in the spaces between the action with something other than trite nothingness.

The story starts in the 1920s with Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) as young farmboys dreaming of flying a plane. They?re so mischievous that they even take McCawley?s father?s crop duster for a roll.

Flash forward to 1940. McCawley is an ambitious pilot who volunteers to go to Britain to fly in the war with the Eagles. He tells Walker?still his faithful friend?he was assigned to fly there so Walker doesn?t volunteer too.

First, however, McCawley has to pass his physical. Although his eyesight is good, he has an unidentified reading disorder that might cause him to fail his eye exam. Luckily, the nurse, Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsdale), understands him and takes pity on him.

McCawley still has more than a month before he leaves, and that?s plenty of time to fall in love.

As soon as McCawley realizes he and Johnson make a perfect match, he heads out to Britian to fight the Germans. He writes to Johnson?recently stationed in Pearl Harbor?and dreams of seeing her again.

Then we see McCawley?s plane plunge into the water. Word comes to Pearl Harbor that he?s dead and Walker breaks the news to Johnson.

He keeps her company and, after three months or so, it looks like the time is ripe for falling in love again.

There?s no need for further plot description, as the next two hours of the film are completely obvious.

Everyone knows that Pearl Harbor is going to be bombed, but Bay makes sure the audience isn?t too involved in the story to forget and momentarily be surprised when it happens. We see a bunch of historical scenes intercut with the main story which explain why Japan is going to bomb and why the United States isn?t quite prepared.

Even stranger are the scenes with Cuba Gooding Jr. He plays Dorie Miller, a Marine who wants to do his country proud but is assigned to kitchen duty because he is an African American.

Walker bets on him in a boxing scene, Johnson treats him for injuries, and then we see him being a hero half an hour later. At the end, they finally mention his historical significance. It?s as if the screenwriter had to make the three-hour mark and picked a Pearl Harbor story at random.

When the actual bombing of Pearl Harbor comes, the sequence?s success is mixed. The special effects are mighty expensive and look great. The 3 strip Technicolor film is nice throughout the film, although Bay?s fast and awkward editing makes it less remarkable.

There is a shot that follows a bomb dropping all the way from its plane to the U.S.S. Arizona. The problem with the shot is that it doesn?t follow an important bomb. It has as much of an effect on the main characters as all the other bombs.

Don?t get up when the Harbor is bombed, though. There?s still another hour on this monster.

It?s basically a series of saccharine incidents leading to another battle, then some more fluff.

The final scene of the film contains a voiceover discussing America?s great victory in World War II. It was so obnoxious that it was changed for the releases in Germany and Japan. The people in those countries missed out on the best part of the film.

The speech is a sharp satire of the kind of voiceover you might hear from a film that was convinced it had won the Best Picture Oscar when it was still in production. Any other explanation for the speech?s presence would be farfetched.

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