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.