‘Pearl Harbor’ delivers entertainment value, forgoes historical accuracy

Image used under fair use doctrine

Image used under fair use doctrine

Raj Satpathy

Image used under fair use doctrine
Dec. 7, 1947: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his famous address the day after to Congress, called it “a date which will live in infamy.”
The tragedy at Pearl Harbor made an enormous impact on American culture. The deaths of American soldiers on American land was not something the people would stand for, and so they went to war. But even as the infamy of the day faded, something about the attack on Pearl Harbor resonated with the people and continued to make appearances in pop culture.
Pearl Harbor, a film released in 2001, combines the gritty brutality of the attack with a torrid love triangle and adds a pinch of patriotism into the mix to create an epic war story. The film featured a star-studded cast and was directed by the accomplished director Michael Bay. It was a critical success, bringing in almost $450 million dollars at the box office as well as winning an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.
The movie has been criticized by historians and veterans as being “grossly inaccurate” because of the amount of artistic license the film takes with the event. Kenneth Taylor, one of the pilots which the movie was based upon, even went as far as to call Pearl Harbor “a piece of trash… over-sensationalized and distorted.” Reviewers further criticized the stark difference between the portrayal of Americans and Japanese, condemning the film as divisive. I was oblivious to any factual missteps, and it didn’t seem to detract from the work itself, so I ignored these scathing criticisms and watched the movie myself to develop my own conclusions.
The film begins with two boys, Rafe (Ben Affleck, Argo) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) getting up to the usual shenanigans that teenagers perform. Somehow, they end up accidentally starting and flying an airplane during their horseplay. Though they are stiffly reprimanded, it’s obvious that these two will be the star pilots of the show. And indeed, both grow up to be members of the Army Air Corps.
This stage of their life is fraught with drama and peril. Rafe meets a nurse, Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), and subsequently, the two fall in love. After the trio eventually transplant themselves into Pearl Harbor, however, Rafe is shot down in the English Channel fighting against the Nazi menace and is presumed to have been killed. The mourning that takes place begets a relationship between Evelyn and Danny, signalling the beginning of the complicated romance that is soon to come. It sounds as if this is the cheesy plot to a B-movie from the 60s, but in actuality, the characters’ depth of emotion and genuine actions make it all seem believable.
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Rafe comes back to Pearl Harbor and is devastated by the new development between his (former) best friend and (former) flame. The news that Rafe is still alive is no real surprise, but in comparison to Bay’s other attempts at plot, it is a major plot twist. The two ex-friends get into a fight during the night. But here comes the part that everyone has been waiting for: the attack.
Bay’s recent movies, like Transformers, have popularized the term “Michael Bay movie” as one which overcompensates for poor plots with flashy special effects and immense explosions. Somehow, Pearl Harbor manages to include the latter without suffering from the former. The money shot occurs during the midst of this battle — a feat that was technically incredible for its time. A camera follows a bomb from the cargo bay of a Japanese Zero all the way to the ground. This was never-before-seen camera work, and even by today’s standards, it is still a riveting scene.
After Pearl Harbor, the two reconcile and eventually move on to performing a secret mission. They are both shot down, but Danny dies after taking a bullet meant for Rafe. Rafe revealed to Danny that Evelyn was pregnant with Danny’s child and says that Danny is going to be a father. Danny then replies with one of the most heartbreaking lines in the movie: “No, Rafe,” Danny said. “You’re going to be the father.” I have to admit, that’s pretty good.
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To be honest, I had never seen the film before. I went in with low expectations, expecting a movie directed by Bay to be derivative and tacky. I expected that it would be reminiscent of the various war films that dominated the scene at the time, but I was quite pleasantly surprised. Not surprisingly, I was able to guess what would happen next for most of the movie. The actors, however, were what made the film especially enjoyable to watch, giving the work a sense of urgency and emotion that is usually lacking from typical Bay films.
All in all,  Pearl Harbor is a pretty good emotional, if not biased and factual, representation of the event. The inaccuracies within the movie were not distracting enough to a layman viewer like myself to notice, and it’s not like I’m trying to learn about Pearl Harbor from the movie anyways. I watched the movie with the intent to entertain myself, and I think it did an admirable job of doing so.
By Raj Satpathy
Did you see the film? Was it time well spent?