Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor (2001)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jon Voight, Kate Beckinsdale
Extras: Documentaries, Music Video, Trailers, DVD-ROM Content

I realize that I’m a little late to the party as just about every film and DVD reviewer out there has already taken their whacks at the latest Michael Bay mega-movie, "Pearl Harbor." I’m a bigtime history geek and my primary area of interest is World War II aviation so I could certainly list the numerous historical inaccuracies rampant in the film but really, what’s the point? I disliked "Pearl Harbor" not because it didn’t hew to the historical record but because it was flat-out bad with a cringe-inducing script that a class of 4th graders could have done one better. But that’s all I’m going to say about that so fans of the film can now relax in the knowledge that "Pearl Harbor" will receive no more lashings here while those who despise the movie really don’t need to read a review about the DVD, now do they?

Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) are childhood chums who join the U.S. Army Air Corps (renamed the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1941) together. During a routine set of physicals, Rafe meets and falls in love with nurse Evelyn Stewart (Kate Beckinsale). But fate intervenes as Rafe had earlier applied to join the volunteer American Eagle squadrons fighting alongside the British in the Battle of Britain. When his acceptance letter arrives, Rafe sets off for England while his pal and gal set sail for sunny Hawaii.

Not too long after, Danny receives word that Rafe was killed in action over the English Channel and he wastes no time consoling Evelyn in a parachute-packing hangar. But once again fate intervenes and the couple’s idyllic love affair in a tropical land is interrupted first by the return of the not-quite-dead Rafe and then by the attacking Japanese.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launches a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor and the surrounding U.S. Army airfields. Rafe and Danny both rush to their planes and get airborne in time to join the fight. But, alas, even these two brave lads can’t save the Pacific Fleet.

Incensed by the sneak attack, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Jon Voight) orders the military to prepare a token retaliatory raid to boost American morale. Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) enlists a number of fliers — including Rafe and Danny of course — to launch land-based B-25 Mitchell bombers from the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier Hornet and attack the Japanese homeland. This mission is pretty clearly a suicide run but our boys are only too eager to give Japan some of their own medicine.

I promised that I wouldn’t dog the film anymore so I’ll bite my tongue and move on to the technical merits of the DVD.

"Pearl Harbor" is presented in 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and offers up a shockingly beautiful video transfer. The image is razor sharp (aided some by a small amount of edge enhancement) with nary a speck or blemish marring the print. Colors are amazingly vibrant and fully saturated and black levels are among the best I’ve seen. It’s obvious that the palette was carefully selected as everything from the nurses’ lipstick to the unit markings on the aircraft fairly jump off the screen. The film itself is spread across two discs so there are no compression artifacts to be seen. Michael Bay sure can make a pretty movie and I dare say that "Pearl Harbor" might actually play better with the sound off and nothing but the sumptuous visuals to pull the viewer in.

Audio comes in English <$DD,Dolby Digital> and <$DTS,DTS> <$5.1,5.1 mix>es, a French DD 5.1 track, and a surprisingly good Dolby Headphone Track. The 5.1 tracks all exhibit a wonderfully immersive feel. The front soundstage is very broad while surrounds are used to great effect in the many action sequences. Dynamic range is excellent with everything from the faintest sounds of the tropics to the deepest, rumbling explosions coming across clearly and with no distortion. Dialogue, music, and sound effects are all well-balanced resulting in a soundtrack that requires very little remote jockeying. The DTS track offers more robust surround usage and deeper bass but all of the 5.1 tracks are really quite good.

The real treat on this DVD is the debut of the Dolby Headphone Soundtrack. This new technology turns an ordinary two channel recording into a fair imitation of a full-blown 5.1 surround track when used with headphones. I sampled it using my very cheap wireless headphones and even with that lousy gear I could still discern some noticeable surround effects. Sure it’s a bit gimmicky but I like the thought put into this and I imagine we’ll see this technology used to bring some degree of surround sound to those using two speaker setups.

English and Spanish player-generated subtitles are also provided although the English subs turn themselves off during sections featuring Japanese dialogue so as not to overlay the burned-in subtitles that are already present on-screen. Unfortunately, these burned in subs are very small and in an odd font so they are quite difficult to read even on large monitors and screens.

"Pearl Harbor" is marketed as a 60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition and as such it offers up a few notable extras. But real fans of the film should be aware that a full-blown, 4-disc, special edition is in the works which will offer up an extended, R-rated cut of the film and a whole host of bonus features. For this current offering extras are limited to two documentaries, a music video, some DVD-ROM content and theatrical trailers.

First up is the 45-minute "Journey to the Screen: The Making of ’Pearl Harbor’." This is a typical promotion piece offering on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes action that looks and sounds good but doesn’t really offer much insight into the filmmaking process.

Next is a 45-minute documentary from the History Channel entitled "Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor." Hosted by Roger Mudd, this look at the real-life heroes of Pearl Harbor is reason enough for me to hang onto the DVD. Featuring much footage shot during and after the attack combined with good maps and diagrams, this feature packs in more information than the 3-plus hour film itself. Just seeing the present-day markers starkly signifying where the ships of the fleet were sunk gives me chills. There are many such documentaries available on numerous DVDs but for an afterthought of an add-on thrown onto a movie disc this one is top-notch.

Also included are the film’s theatrical and teaser trailers, a music video for Faith Hill’s "There You’ll Be," a preview for National Geographic’s "Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor" (available in the premium-priced gift set), as well as DVD-ROM content consisting of links to Pearl Harbor-related websites.

"Pearl Harbor" comes to DVD with a fine technical presentation and a handful of decent extras but it’s hard to recommend this DVD. The disc was obviously pushed out the door to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and to take advantage of the holiday shopping season. Fans of the film should just bite the bullet and wait for the super-duper 4-disc special edition coming sometime in 2002 while those who dislike the film probably won’t want to own it on DVD in any edition.

I found the experience of "Pearl Harbor" to be entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying and disappointing and I can’t say that this is a DVD that I will likely revisit in the future. If, like me, you’re morbidly curious about the film then a rental is certainly warranted.