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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • THX
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 88.11)
  • Turkish: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX
    English, English - Hearing Impaired, Turkish
  • Theatrical trailer
  • 1 Featurette
  • Animated menus
  • 1 Music video - Faith Hill - "There You'll Be"
  • 1 Awards/Nominations

Pearl Harbor

Touchstone/Buena Vista . R4 . COLOR . 175 mins . M15+ . PAL


Just how DO you review Pearl Harbor? Its reputation precedes it - a reputation as a big, stinking turkey of a dud of a misfired overblown big-budget politically-flawed pile of pretension that had critics all over America vomiting onto their collective keyboards as though it was the death of civilisation and you'd only be saved if you came to the hanging party. The outrage! The mangling of history! The flag-waving patriotism! The over-use in reviews of the word "offensive"! It was all more entertaining than any mere movie could hope to be, as many long knives came out with blades glinting in the harsh light of a critical sun that was about to go supernova on Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. How DARE they spend US$135 million making a film called Pearl Harbor and have the gall to make it a cornball romance rather than a historical document! What do they think the movie business is about? Entertainment?

There's really no point going on and on about artistic worthiness (or lack thereof) when it comes to this film. It's all been said, and said ad nauseum. Suffice to say that if you're expecting a kick-ass action spectacle in Pearl Harbor, then show up for the half hour section about an hour and a half in, and then leave. It won't make any sense, but you can console yourself with the fact that this section doesn't make any sense even if you watch the rest of the movie - it just looks and sounds seriously cool, like an immersive video game that you keep winning but can't for the life of you figure out why. It's the ultimate ILM showreel, as well as a perfect-length section of material to show off your home theatre system with.

The rest of Pearl Harbor - and when we say "the rest", we're talking about two and a quarter hours - is a big obnoxious cheesy romance that's styled after the dumb-ass wartime soapies but which is so perilously corny it makes An Officer And A Gentleman seem like Schindler's List by comparison. Reportedly, Randall Wallace's screenplay was originally titled Tennessee, which makes a lot more sense - this is not a film about the Pearl Harbor attack, after all, but rather a soapy romantic triangle between a porcelain-beautiful nurse and two guys from Tennessee that gets impolitely put on hold due to unexpected military defeat. The dialogue is hilarious (and apparently it's supposed to be like this) but the plot is even better.

Whiz-bang pilot Rafe McCawley (a man who knows that when you call yourself "Rafe" you don't go spelling it "Ralph") is a stereotypical fly-boy - dumb, goofy and apparently deadly in the air (and you should see him in a plane! Boom boom. Err, sorry.) In an accent that changes by the scene, varying between a mild Kevin Costner drawl and Cletus The Slack-Jawed Yokel, he stalks nurse Evelyn Johnson into goin' steady with him, and then promptly volunteers to be shot out of the sky by the Nazis over Europe. Enter Rafe's childhood best friend (we know he is, 'cos he tells us so) Danny Walker. Danny mourns the loss of his friend for five minutes, then sets about getting the inadvertently-single Evelyn into bed (or into parachute, to be accurate). She gets pregnant. Rafe comes back, having not been dead after all, but rather stuck in occupied France (which is arguably the next best thing). Rafe senses a rival, punches the crap out of his best friend, and much pouting, bonding, shouting and dying follows. Oh, and the Japanese blow up an entire US naval base in an event that Evelyn dismissively refers to as "all this", a body-strewn blip on her romantic radar.

What, you think we're being dismissive and disrespectful? Damn right we are, but not to the veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack or any other war tragedy. No, we're being dismissive at all those people who actually believed the hype and expected Pearl Harbor to be some kind of Great Cinema Milestone when it's directed by the guy that did Armageddon and The Rock, and produced by a man known for turning the cinematic volume up to eleven while screaming at the top of his lungs "bring me all the TNT you can find!!!!!" Of course this is a silly film. Of course it's historically inaccurate. Of course it's overblown and self-important. It's a big dumb loud Mills And Boon romance for big dumb loud boys who'd love to think World War 2 was all about video-game victories and chasing skirt.

And in its own way, it's all entertaining enough. It's basically Star Wars - the Empire is Japan, the Rebels are the American military forces, Ben Affleck is Han Solo, Josh Hartnett is Luke Skywalker, Kate Beckinsale is Princess Leia with a better hairstyle and a lipstick overdose, Tokyo is the Death Star; you can cast the rest yourself, and we're taking nominations for who gets to be Yoda. But suffice to say that the scenes involving Japanese Admiral Yamamoto (played by Mako) and his cohorts have a tendency to come across like those Star Wars moments where you expect Darth Vader's good old Imperial March to come blaring out of the speakers.

This is the sort of film that only Americans can make, because they pioneered this particular brand of Silly Cinema and now know how to do it with gusto. There is some restraint - it takes a whole 41 and a half minutes for anyone to yell "I'm hit!!!" or "Mayday Mayday!!!" and there's only one occurrence of the dreaded "That Syndrome" (often encountered in soap operas, the syndrome involves the try-hard use of the word "that" for meaningful emphasis - for example, "when I was in THAT water, I knew I loved you because you're wet too.")

At the 140 minute mark, President Roosevelt asks in a tremulous voice about the attack on Pearl Harbor. "How... bad?" he nervously inquires.

"It's still not over, sir," comes the response.

And they say Hollywood can't be self-critical.


Visually, Pearl Harbor is magnificent. Itís loaded with eyeball-caressing Panavision shots bathed in a diffuse orange glow, something which seems to be a trademark of former TV-ad directors (remember Tony Scott's penchant for, err, exactly the same look?) There's no faulting the production in terms of what it tries to do visually - namely, to evoke emotion and nostalgia for the 1940s and this historically turbulent time - but it must be said that big chunks of the attack sequence are direct steals from Januscz Kaminski's work on Saving Private Ryan - the bullets whizzing past underwater and the point-of-view surfacing shots, the documentary-feel camerawork, and the use of high shutter speeds for maximum debris detail. But the most blatant steal is the vertical "streaks of light" effect that appears frequently during this sequence; the very same effect got a lot of attention in Spielberg's D-Day epic, and it's hard not to get the impression that's a connection the filmmakers want you to make.

Derivative moments aside, though, Pearl Harbor was always going to be a visual feast on DVD, and the video transfer doesn't disappoint except in the area of grain, of which there's a considerable amount visible throughout; interestingly, reviews of NTSC versions of this film on DVD suggest that this may be a problem specific to the PAL transfer.

The aspect ratio is 2.35:1, spot-on correct for this anamorphically-shot film; naturally the video is 16:9 enhanced.

Colour saturation, all-important here, is superb, and true to Buena Vista form there are absolutely no problems with the video compression for DVD at all. Shadow detail - indeed, detail in general - is excellent, and is not lost even in the more hyperactive sections of the film.

The layer change on this dual-layered DVD comes at exactly the same point as it did on the rental-only version that was released some time ago - in fact, this movie disc of this 2-disc set is almost certainly pressed from exactly the same master used for the rental edition; it's identical.


Crank up that subwoofer, put your ears in the line of fire of those surround speakers, and wait in anticipation. And wait. And wait. Because if you're in this for the audio demo, then aside from a brief early sequence of reasonably in-your-face sound you'll find yourself wondering what the hell you bought those surround speakers for. Those with expensive sound systems and no interest in plot should therefore head directly for chapter 22 and crank the volume on this Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack up to "ear-bleed".

Everyone else, though, will probably be watching the entire movie. And surprisingly, there's very little subtlety in what was undoubtedly an expensive audio mix. It's either all-stops-out and damn the neighbours, or it's a front-channel-fest that often sounds purely pedestrian. For much of the run time, it's the latter. While most of the film is dialogue-centric (believe it or not!) there's a remarkable lack of atmospheric audio effects - the surrounds are virtually silent save for the odd bit of reverb from the music, and with the dialogue (well-recorded and crystal-clear) mostly centre-channel-focussed the front speakers only really leap into life for Hans Zimmer's decidedly Zimmeresque music score. It's surprising - the re-recording mixers on this film are well known for their skill at creating realistic and immersive 5.1-channel sound-fields and rarely deliver anything this pedestrian.

Maybe they spent all their studio time finessing the attack sequence. Because it's a cracker for those of you who like their audio large.

During this section of the film the soundtrack springs to life, with the split surrounds given a thorough workout as planes dive down to attack, bullets rush past your ears, the steel hulls of giant ships creak as they start sinking, and things go fzzt into the sea. Meanwhile, the things that go boom a lot keep your subwoofer well employed; if you live near an explosives factory you'll have the added bonus of being able to blame it all on the neighbours rather than the other way around.

Those equipped with EX (or 6.1) audio decoding should take note of bit of an authoring screw-up on this disc (one which also affected the rental version, pretty much confirming they're one and the same). The EX flag is set for the main movie audio, meaning that suitably-equipped receivers will automatically switch into Dolby Digital Surround EX decoding mode and will extract a rear surround channel from the left and right rear signals. Unfortunately, for nearly a minute and a half (starting at 2:21.41 and ending at 2.23.02) this EX flag is turned off, which will immediately trigger any receiver that understands the flag into switching modes to standard 5.1 - and in the process muting the audio briefly, very much like a layer change. This loss of the EX flag happens right at the top of a scene, too accurately to be coincidental. For a disc supposedly "certified" by THX, this is a remarkable error to have gotten out not once, but twice (first the rental version, now the retail one) and it only serves to further muddy the value of the THX stamp of approval. Note that though Dolby has asked authoring companies not to use the EX flag at all for the time being (a suggestion obviously ignored here), this is due to a problem between the flag and decoders that DON'T support EX. Those that do should not experience any such mode change during the feature; the fact that they do with this disc means that this was almost certainly an avoidable authoring error.

But here's the interesting thing; according to all available information from Dolby and THX as well as the movie's own end credits, Pearl Harbor was not actually mixed in Dolby Digital Surround EX to begin with, and neither was the home video version. If that's the case, that would mean that the big error here isn't the disappearance for 79 seconds of the EX-encoded flag, but the fact that the flag was set to "on" in the first place.

Ultimately none of that will matter to 99% of the people who watch this disc; however, if you have an EX-capable system we'd recommend you decide before you start watching the movie whether you want to turn EX on or off, and set your decoder accordingly to avoid the interruption. Either way, you'll get a surround sound thrill ride for the movie's most expensive section.

Missing in action on the Australian DVD are the DTS and Dolby Headphone soundtracks of the R1 version (which split the movie into two parts to accommodate the former). Ironically, Lake Technology, which developed Dolby Headphone, is an Australian company (with Paul Keating one of its major shareholders) - yet the first pre-encoded Dolby Headphone track to be supplied on a DVD is left off the version that's made available here!


If you've been eagerly awaiting the release of the two-disc retail edition of Pearl Harbor (never minding the fact that pretty much everyone else in the world has been able to buy it for months now) then prepare to be disappointed; the second DVD supplied here is not the extras-fest you'd hope it might be. A single-layered DVD, it offers sumptuous animated opening menus (as does the movie disc) but very few actual items within. The main movie disc, by the way, includes the "THX Optimizer", a kind of "calibration for dummies" for audio and video that's of limited use.

This is the rough equivalent of the "60th Anniversary Edition" of the film released in the US (a multi-disc "director's cut" arrives there next month with heaps of extras, and rumour has it that we'll see that version in PAL territories in the future as well). But both that version's discs were dual-layered, and despite having to store the final act of the film on disc two there were still more extras on offer than there are here. Disc two's contents won't take you long to peruse:

Theatrical Trailer: Only a single trailer, this is not quite up to the state of the art - it offers only Dolby 2.0 audio and letterboxed 4:3 video. The US disc offers a pair of 16:9-enhanced trailers with 5.1 sound.

Journey To The Screen - The Making Of Pearl Harbor: A 47-minute doco presented with letterboxed non-anamorphic video, this borders on the nauseating on more than one occasion - it's loaded with "meaningful" statements and "stirring" music as the producers make the stupid mistake of trying to claim that it's all for a higher purpose as well as for entertainment (and amusingly, a newspaper headline seen on screen at one point has the filmmakers claiming that their masterwork is supposed to "educate as well as entertain"!). As the music swells, the over-serious narrator intones that the movie includes "fact-based historical figures... to provide the story with a sense of reality" (!!), while director Michael Bay deadpans the shocking revelation that "there's a period feel to Pearl Harbor" (yes, we expected the Concorde too, and now we know why we never saw it). By the time you see the footage from the "tribute/premiere" at the end you'll be reaching for the stop button faster than an unsuspecting Hawaii-based seagull in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, there's also a wealth of good behind-the-scenes footage on offer here, offering a small insight into the mammoth physical undertaking that this film must have been. It's a pity a documentary with less hype and more detail couldn't have been offered, but as far as sugar-coated Hollywood self-congratulation goes this is better than most.

Faith Hill Music Video - There You'll Be: Every single one of this type of movie seems to have to have a crap adult-contemporary ballad cooked up especially for the end credits. Everyone - and we mean everyone - hates them, but Bruckheimer, Bay and team appear to think that people are into this sort of stuff, and so Faith Hill bleats her way through the aural equivalent of ipecac syrup, with a title that sounds like a pirate playing hide-and-seek ("Arrrr, aye, there ye beeeee!") Yes, you guessed it, it was written by Diane Warren (and produced by the once-groundbreaking Trevor Horn!) This is the nauseating music video (more so than usual, actually) for this ever-so-crap song, inexplicably offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 just to ensure that the evil surrounds you instead of merely confronting you.

Pearl Harbor - The Japanese Perspective: "There's no way I would do a propaganda piece" says Ben Affleck. "There are no evil Japanese people in the movie at all," says Mako. "We care" says Michael Bay. 110 seconds of your life better spent making a coffee rather than listening to well-paid Hollywood types salve their apparently guilty consciences.

And that's all. Left off the region 4 release from the US "60th Anniversary" version are a 45-minute History Channel documentary on the real Pearl Harbor veterans that sounds fascinating, an ad for another doco, a teaser trailer and some apparently useless DVD-ROM material. The extra doco is a major loss, but the bulk of the really good behind-the-scenes material and a few commentaries are being saved for version 2 (or "vista series" as they pretentiously call 'em in the US) Prepare to be marketed at again sometime in the future.


Unless you've been spending the past year under a rock, in space or in the back corner of the world's best brewery, you'll have already formed your own opinion of Pearl Harbor whether or not you've actually seen it. It's nowhere near as bad as some critics have made out; quite the opposite, in fact, if gushy romances are your bag or you happen to have a thing for Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale In Siren Mode or Josh Hartnett. Effects-and-explosions fans will get a kick out of the film's "money section" but will otherwise be yawning into their popcorn - 'cos this one is three hours long (though take away the ten-minute end credits, account for PAL video speedup and the run time is a more manageable 165 minutes).

Buena Vista's sell-through DVD of the film is the very same one you've already been able to rent for months, but with an extra disc thrown in at a $5 price premium. Excellent video and audio quality (with a technical flub in the audio department that will affect a small number of people) makes this a terrific experience for those who love the film, while those who hate it will still find much to enjoy during the attack sequences. The meagre extras provided are a big disappointment, but this is one occasion when we're not far behind the US in the "is that all there is" stakes.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1431
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      And I quote...
    "Excellent video and audio quality... the meagre extras provided are a big disappointment"
    - Anthony Horan
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