Pearl Harbor: Wasn't THAT bad.

I settled down to watch it on AMC just now. Given all the hate this movie (and Ben Affleck) has received in the 5? 6? years since it’s release, I expected much worse. I wasn’t all that impressed with Jon Voight’s FDR or Alec Baldwin’s Commander Dudeface, but otherwise the movie was perfectly passable, I thought. Separated by 60 years of history and distance, we forget how horrifying and shocking the attack on Pearl Harbor actually was, and I thought the movie actually got that across remarkably. The scene in which Ben Affleck is forced to sit helplessly while the trapped guy drowned had me near tears. (That may be more due to my intense fear of drowning, being trapped, and foreseeing your impending death. All these things upset me in movies and this scene had elements of all three)

Ok, granted, there were odd plot points. (“Dude, I’m dying and can’t screw the hot chick anymore so could you screw her for me? Kthnxbye”) However, they didn’t bother me all that badly, and I actually thought Ben Affleck was pretty good. So in the end, I found it watchable. Which was a freakin’ masterpiece compared to what I was expecting. So, am I just too easy to please? Why all the Pearl Harbor hate?

Ben Affleck wasn’t the problem with that movie, surprisingly. Trying to outrun the Japanese fighter in a Jeep was. Seriously, they made a fixed wing aircraft vs. jeep car chase scene that lasted 15 minutes! Come on, now…

I think it’s more about the fact that the movie is barely about Pearl Harbor. It’s a love story that the event takes a back seat to (just like Titanic wasn’t about a boat sinking . . . in fact, if I had to guess where they got the idea from . . . ) Hence,

*I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark, when he made Pearl Harbor . . . *

I did say that to my friend. Why did they call it Pearl Harbor, when the movie was really about two friends during WWII and Pearl Harbor just kinda happens in the middle?

This movie needs a “Phantom Edit” where the romantic subplot is jettisoned and the movie opens with the attack of Pearl Harbor and ends with Doolittle’s Raid.

The trailer was enough to keep me from paying to see the movie (paying in either money or my precious time). But I know sometimes a trailer has scenes that aren’t in the final cut. So, tell me – did they actually have the Japanese attack in the middle of the day, instead of at dawn, so they could show Zeroes flying past innocent apple-cheeked all-American kids playing baseball?

Apparently in this movie apple cheeked all American kids play baseball at quarter to seven on a Sunday morning. Also, women hang out laundry, people attend Christmas parties and other All American adorable kids are hiking on mountain ridges. Oahu is the land of extreme morning people, I guess.

I only note because because this detail irked me too.

In the movie it’s actually at dawn or sometime early in the morning. The two main characters wake up from a drunken stupor in their jeep to the sound of the planes flying over. They assume it’s a drill of some sort, but then all the stuff got blowed up, so they get in their planes and blow some Japanese planes up. I was only half watching that particular part because I was feeding the baby, but that’s the general deal.

And given the “apple-cheeked all American” description, there were apparently no, y’know, Asians or South Pacific or native people anywhere around in 1942. Nope, none at all.

Well, since you ask… (I should warn you, this film is something of a sore point for me.)
I hate the film for a number of reasons.

[ul][li]First off, I’m a Naval history geek. [/li]
I was hoping to see some neat models of WWII era ships. And I was hugely disappointed. They had most of the ship explosions happening on the foredecks on Spruance-class destroyers!

Then there was all the talk about how good the CGI was for the film. And I remember, distinctly, seeing the Zeros flying through the billowing smoke without ever making the smoke move a millimeter. That was hugely jarring to me.
[li]Secondly, I like my plots to keep the plot holes to a minimum. [/li]
And the film failed that on almost every test. The biggest one is that much of the dramatic tension with the romantic triangle depends on the guy who went to the UK for the Battle of Britain to disappear and be presumed dead. And then to come back unannounced. In order for him to disappear, he gets rescued within sight of the White Cliffs of Dover by French fishermen. Who take him to the underground. I just cannot say this without rolling my eyes. It does not make sense.

Then when he does get repatriated by the same French Underground, the Army refuses to send any notification to his friends or family - because that would give away some vague operation security. But there’s no problem with letting him go and talk to anyone from his previous life, and tell them anything at all.

I cannot take that portion of the plot seriously. It’s not even cheesy. It’s just effing stupid.
[li]Thirdly are my artistic or philosophical objections. [/li]
As other people have said: I object to titling a movie Pearl Harbor and then spending all of 30 minutes in a three hour film on the attack and the immediate aftermath. The romance sub-plot wasn’t a sub-plot - it took over the whole film, and made what I think should have been the focus of the film into an afterthought.

Then, let’s consider the fundamental injustice of making a film about Pearl Harbor, where the only named Naval personnel was Dorey Miller*. I don’t want to take anything from Dorey Miller’s actions or completely deserved recognition. He acted courageously, and with dispatch in horrible conditions. And the recognition he got for that was one of the nails in the coffin for the segregation that the Navy had been practicing at that time. But, by the nature of his responsibilities, education, and world view, he’s not a very effective character to use to show the extent of the attack at Pearl Harbor.

As a narrative focus Dorey Miller really can only illuminate his actions at Pearl Harbor. His actions were those of a single man doing what little he could do. Which is a quite worthy story in its own right. Which the writers and Michael Bay seemed to recognize by how they put his story into the larger mosaic of their story.

To my mind, a proper dramatic telling of Pearl Harbor should focus on some naval personnel. Not have the main characters all be Army Air Corps pilots.

The thing that really burns me is that there is a real, historical figure, and event, from the attack that would have been ideal for focusing on: The run of the USS Nevada for the open sea, and the specific actions of Donald Kirby Ross. By happenstance, when the attack happened the Nevada had some steam up in her enginerooms and could get underway. She pulled away from Battleship row, and tried to get out of the harbor. Doing so attracted much of the attention of the lingering Japanese aircraft, and she took terrible punishment before she could clear the channel. Eventually, the CDO** realized that he couldn’t keep her afloat and so he beached her. But since she sank with her weather deck still above water, and because she still had power to fight back, she remained a target for the Japanese through the rest of the attack.

Warrant Officer Ross*** was on duty in one of the dynamo rooms on the Nevada at the time of the attack. Because of the damage that the ship took the dynamo room he was assigned to became uninhabitable. He ordered the rest of the watch out of the room, and shut it down himself. He then was overcome by the heat and smoke. After he recovered he went to the other dynamo room to help operate that one, until it too became uninhabitable. Because of the damage he took from the smoke inhalation he was actually blinded for a time after the attack. Because of his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

For that matter, there wouldn’t be any need to shoehorn a romantic plot onto events. It is a matter of the historical record that Warrant Officer Ross was married while he was still recovering from his injuries, on Dec. 10. Three days after the attack, and on a Wednesday. I cannot prove it, at this time, but I have the strong suspicion that Kirby Ross and Helen chose to marry because of the attack.

If one needs to make the romantic plot a triangle that could also be done easily, without bringing in any other characters. Warrant Officer Ross came up through the ranks, and it’s easy enough to guess he’d have had more ties to the Chief’s Mess than with the Wardroom. So, looking at some of the other historical persons who were aboard Nevada that day, we find Chief Boatswain’s Mate Edwin J. Hill.

Chief Hill, also earned a Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack. He was the man in charge of getting the lines cleared so the Nevada could get underway. After he got the lines cleared, and the Nevada started to get underway, he jumped into the harbor, and swam to get back aboard her, to help with the firefighting and damage control that was becoming necessary. Sadly he was killed after the Nevada was underway, by a bomb going off near him while he was direction damage control actions.

He is of an age with Warrant Officer Ross, and if one accepts my idea that Warrant Officer Ross would have closer ties with the Chief’s Mess than the Wardroom, it’s easy enough to manufacture a relationship beyond the professional between the two men. (Friends, rivals, enemies, it doesn’t much matter for the purposes of making a romantic triangle - all those roles would work well.) It would be a simple exercise to write a plot that had these two men as rivals for the affections of the future Mrs. Ross.

A story could have been told of Pearl Harbor, focusing on some of the Naval personnel who fought back, heroically and effectively, if not triumphantly. Instead of giving center stage to a pair of Army Air Corps Pilots.

Of course, this plot wouldn’t have been able to include the Doolittle Raid. But, I’m not sure that the Doolittle Raid should have been a major part of a movie called “Pearl Harbor.”
That’s why I hate the film, and have it near the top of my “Most Infuriating Films of All Time” List. But I don’t expect everyone to share my prejudices. I think that it’s fair for me to say it’s a bad film, for all the reasons above - but I’m sure I can find other films that are far worse, if one edits out some of my own prejudices.

*The cameo where Admiral Kidd shows up to get killed just doesn’t count to my mind.

**CDO - Command Duty Officer, the person who acts as the captain of a ship when the official captain is not aboard. It’s a watch position, not a permanent title. If the Executive Officer is aboard, he’ll often have that duty, but other officers can take the duty.

*** It’s normally more proper to refer to Donald Kirby Ross by his final rank of Captain. But by using his rank at the time of the attack, I mean to emphasize I’m talking about his actions and situation specifically around the attack at Pearl Harbor.

One of my main irritations about is: they interviewed an old lady I know who was a nurse at Pearl Harbor and they interviewed several other surviving nurses from Pearl Harbor, supposedly for accuracy purposes. Not only did they disregard the interviews in terms of accuracies, but the nurses (Anna, the one I know, and another lady I saw the tape of) told them fantastic stories about the attack:

*Anna was in the hospital herself recuperating from appendicitis and knew something was wrong when the coffee cup on her metal tray started rattling at (what she soon knew) was the approach of the Zeroes-

*Pearl Harbor being a naval town had no shortage of prostitutes. The hospital was obviously not set up for an attack of this magnitude and obviously needed everyone they could get, and one of the nurses happened to see an Asian prostitute, told her in hand signals/Pidgin English to get some of the girls to help, and that prostitute told her madam who called other madams, and by day’s end there were more prostitutes in the hospital than nurses, all of them working their buns off to help the wounded

*Anna told of taking a drive with a lieutenant and chaperone a few days after the bombing and as they passed a pineapple field a damaged Zero took off just over them, evidently having been stranded during the attack and somehow repaired (though how they’d get back to a carrier is an interesting question)

*One nurse told about a wounded black soldier being brought into the hospital, one of the senior nurses observing that “the colored ward is over there…” and a doctor taking a few seconds out of his “quite busy” day to tell her to shut the hell up that today was no time for nonsense regulations

ALL of these actual eye witness accounts would have worked in the movie. Instead they filled it up with a nonsense love triangle and lots of historical inaccuracies, Cuba Gooding being kind of squeezed in as Doris Miller for no obvious reason other than Gooding’s an Oscar winner and Miller existed (“meanwhile in another movie”), and they disregarded the nurses’ stories about their relations with the pilots. (1941 was not like 1981- unmarried nurses were forbidden to date anyone other than officers, and even for officers they had chaperones, and this was strictly enforced- violation could result in your immediate shipment home.)

Most irritating inaccuracies to me were

1- the Doolittle raid over Tokyo (it did not include anyone who was in the air at Pearl Harbor)
2- FDR/Voight’s “Nothing’s impossible!” proclamation as he heroically rises on his crippled legs to the shocked admiration of his cabinet (fact: FDR’s cabinet knew he could stand, he stood when he gave the “day that shall live in infamy” speech- his braces and canes supported him. It was walking he couldn’t do without major assistance.

Not only did the romantic plot take over the movie; it was a terrible story in itself. I hated every single one of the characters involved. If you want to shift the focus of the story then don’t shift it onto something that bad.

I think if they’d shaved enough off the turgid piece of shit that it is that it might have worked alot better. When did long and dull become equated with epic? I see this in alot of films, some more editing would work wonders.

For god’s sake the last thing Michael Bay needs to do is more editing. He’s already got the average shot length in his movie down to less than four seconds. If he does any more editing his films will look like strobe lights.

Well cutting out most of the scenes then.

For some reason, this particular story really moved me, getting misty-eyed at the thought of people rising above their social prejudices and asking for help, and everyone pitching in. You’re right, this would have made a great sub-plot in a “Pearl Harbor” film directed by a much more talented director.

Like OtakuLoki, I have a strong interest in WW2 naval history, and it’s primarily the technical oversights of the “special effects” that prevent my immersion into the movie, as opposed to plot holes in the drama side of it.

A lot of those points have already been covered fairly well, above.

I have an especially deep loathing for the “battleship on a rotisserie spit” segment, as well as the delayed action fuse on the bomb that hit the Arizona that lasted long enough for someone to climb down below and look at the bomb long enough to go “oh shi…”.

I presume that the movie was an attempt to contrast personal stories (the love triangle) against the backdrop of world shaping events, much like Titanic did. However, getting the characters involved in every big war event was kinda implausible, and left me rolling my eyes by the end. But if the technical goofs were minimal, I would have suffered through the obligatory drama stuff better.

And certainly none in Hawaii, either.

I agree with that poster about Dorie Miller. It didn’t seem all that heroic to grab a gun and start firing. I thought the guys who climbed up that exposed tower with a heavy AA gun was far more impressive.

I’m sure the second thing never happened, so I should blame Hollywood for overshadowing Miller?

Here’s a 4 year old interview with Anna Busby, the lady I mentioned, on her inclusion in some Pearl Harbor commemoratives. She’s 96 and very frail today (rarely leaves her house) but she’s still alive and her mind is sharper than most 40 year olds.

Her interview was infuriating. All they wanted to ask her about was sex- no kidding. They weren’t quite crass enough to say the word, but they kept on asking “So, what kinds of things would you do on dates? Where would you go for some privacy? If you wanted to be alone with a young man what would you do?” etc etc, and this while she’s trying to tell them about the prostitute-nursing aids and the Zero that took off days after the attack.
She repeatedly told them “we only dated officers and we were chaperoned when we did”, that what today we’d call morals violations were very serious business for both the nurse and the officer (in other words, if they were caught screwing around she’d be sent home and he’d at very least get the ass chewing of his career). It’s paternalistic by today’s standards perhaps, but it’s historically accurate and was echoed by the other nurses interviewed- they really weren’t screwing around like bunny rabbits.
I wish I had a copy of the interview. She finally got to the point of just answering every question with a “yes” “no” or “I don’t recall” and an “eat tainted tofu and die” stare. (She wrote abook about her experiences but it was privately published and it’s hard to find a copy reasonably priced, and still gives an occasional interview.)
ETA: I just mentioned COLD MOUNTAIN in another thread. That movie and PH both have one of the most irksome cliches: the hyper fertile one shot hero sperm. I was so glad TITANIC avoided this one.

Doris Miller was a mess attendant with no training in the proper loading and firing of a machine gun.

It’s possible that, in the confusion and panic of the surprise attack, Doris could have hid in the corner, out of the way, and evacuated the ship with everyone else when ordered to. There was a distinct lack of coordination and control aboard the surprised ships that morning, especially so with the normal chain of command disrupted.

I imagine there was a lot of conflicting orders (Go here, do that! No wait, we need you here! Belay that sailor, come over here!"), fires, active enemy in sight, and wounded folks lying about. That can lead to a situation with a high potential for fear and panic to take hold of leaderless men, with no clear picture of the events going on around them.

While shooting back when someone is trying to kill you is not all that shocking, he did so with fire raging about the ship, and it does typify the “fighting spirit” that the military services would like to see held up as some kind of a personal standard or goal.

Speculation: Maybe, back in the days of the segregated services, there were negative stereotypes (wrongly) believed (by “upper echelon” officers and politicians) about black service members that Doris Miller proved wrong in some ways.

I imagine that there were thousands of tales of personal heroism that have not been officially recognised by some medal.

Doris Miller was the first African American to receive the Navy’s third highest medal, the Navy Cross.

I can sorta understand why he would get an honorable mention in any Pearl Harbor movie.