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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Drama > WWII > Pearl Harbor (2001/Blu-ray)

Pearl Harbor (2001/Blu-ray)


Picture: B+     Sound: B+     Extras: C     Film: C+



Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor was also an obsession of sorts for Michael Eisner, who was determined to make this an epic that everyone would love and that meant both a huge commercial and critical success.  It was not received that well critically and a sizable block of voices called it reactionary and too militaristic in the months before the events of 9/11.  However, it was still a sizable hit and managed to benefit from a then-recent revival of the War genre.


However, time has not treated the film well, with its melodrama more obvious than before and some of its political tendencies (screenplay by Randall Wallace, but who know how much it might have been altered) more obvious and even a sense of the condescending nature to it.  The later was sometimes mistaken for being old-fashioned, but that would qualify as old-fashioned talking down.  Then there is Ben Affleck, who was being pushed in everyone’s face at the time before more awful films and media marriage overexposure caused his career to at least temporarily implode.


Affleck and Josh Hartnett are friends who become competitors for a beautiful nurse (Kate Beckinsale, who is underappreciated in general) when the Japanese Militarists go after the U.S. in a supposedly “surprise” attack (something the film oddly glosses over) and all hell breaks loose.  Terror follows, though the film picks up at its best when the little-discussed immediate U.S. response led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle (Alec Baldwin once again hitting the nail on the head) fly into Japan and return the favor by bombing them in kind.  Jon Voight is very good as FDR and when the film is true to the history it covers, it kicks in and works nicely.


It is when it gets to its fictional characters and tries to pull off what James Cameron did in Titanic (1997) in effectively telling the story through interesting fictional characters.  Too bad they are all underdeveloped.  The most telling of these characters is Cuba Gooding Jr. as a ship’s chef who gets involved in the action despite racism against African Americans to participate in anything at all.  He gives it his best, but it is a role that is token, wastes his underappreciated talents and epitomizes the kind of second-best mentality that permeates and sabotages the film throughout.


However, the money is often on the screen, including in visual effects and sound design, so its performance (bells & whistles) also saved the film at the box office and that explains why Disney would want this out as an early Blu-ray release.  So, how dies it hold up?


The 1080p digital 2.35 X 1 High Definition image was shot in real anamorphic Panavision by John Schwartzman, A.S.C., but has early digital work and stylizations that do not hold up well.  I also wonder if the source is a bit dated and one of Disney’s earlier HD masters, though it could be that and/or the space on this disc.  Otherwise, it looks very good for its age and is far better than the various disappointing DVD editions that we have been saddled with.


The film was a SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) 8-channel bonanza in its original theatrical release and the PCM 48kHz/24Bit 5.1 mix here even outdoes the DTS mixes on the better DTS DVD editions, offering the kind of audio impact that previous mixes could not.  It is so good in fact that I think the PCM is limiting the performance and I bet better results yet would come from a Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio track would deliver even more amazing results with their up to 192/24 capacity, though many titles released since may not be using the capacity fully.  However, this is a long film and any version like that would require a double Blu-ray set.  Still, the money was put into this sound mix and it shows holding up with some character 5+ years later against many a showy 5.1 mix that soon implodes as the film goes along.


Extras are not as much as the deluxe DVD editions, but you get the Blu-ray’s advanced access to the film, teaser & final theatrical trailer, Faith Hill Music Video, making of featurette Journey To The Screen and interviews with Unsung Heroes of WWII.  No bad fitting all on one disc.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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