> Volume 3 > Number 21

Volume 3, Number 21

This Week's Reviews:  Pearl Harbor.

This Week's Omissions:  NONE.

Retrospective Review:  From Here to Eternity.

Pearl Harbor

(Dir: Michael Bay, Starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Ewen Bremner, Alec Baldwin, James King, William Lee Scott, Greg Zola, Catherine Kellner, Jennifer Garner, Michael Shannon, Jon Voight, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Matthew Davis, Mako, John Fujioka, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Colm Feore, Dan Aykroyd, Reiley McClendon, Jesse James, Tom Sizemore, and William Fichtner)



In what must have been a fete beyond any expectations, director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer turn their film Pearl Harbor into a glossy excuse to use age-old melodrama with huge special effects. $145 million was spent on this film, and every penny can be felt in the roaring and exciting attack on Pearl Harbor, leaving nothing for a couple needed rewrites on the script by Randall Wallace.

Few films of such an auspicious guise have been so annoyingly bad. 3,500 American soldiers died on the 7th of December 1941, and there is no doubt that Bay and Bruckheimer have a reverence to their deaths, but nothing in the film conveys this. When the attack on the harbor finally comes, the audience is introduced to hundreds of secondary actors whose stories were unimportant compared to the film's leads. Even the one subplot of any substance, that of the first African American to receive the Navy Cross Dorie Miller (played here by Gooding, Jr.), reeks of political correctness.

Bay and Bruckheimer seem quite content in their historical accuracy, or lack thereof. Beyond the mere fact that they completely disregard the time and geographical implications of the bombing -- according to this film, children were playing softball directly before the bombing (at 6:00am on a Sunday morning) and an airplane hanger owner is unaware of the bombing though he is just a few miles away -- the real effort must have been spent on the film's "all hail America" anthem. Like The Patriot, Pearl Harbor becomes lost in the effort of making Americans seem like saints. The Japanese are stereotyped as emotionless thugs that bombed the U.S. simply because they needed oil (because, you know, war always conserves oil). One memorable moment in the film is when its only Asian-descended Hawaiian is portrayed as an inadvertent aide to the Japanese attack. If I'm not mistaken, it's this same idea that lead to the Japanese-American internment that would later follow.

Yet, I must digress for a moment. There are so many little problems like the tokenism of Miller's saga that nitpicking would take forever to tell in one review. To tell the truth, there are so many big problems, that these little ones actually seem acceptable by comparison.

Though the trailer is perfect in its minute-long depiction of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in the wee hours of that Sunday morning, the presence of this attack in the movie is merely 40 minutes of the 183-minute movie. The rest is jammed with the expository melodrama and another, less satisfying action sequence (am I the only person that thinks the double standard of showing the bombing of Pearl Harbor through the victims and the raiding Tokyo through the aggressors feels immensely subjective -- and let's not even get into the fact that everything must be tied into a bow without making Americans seem bad for a moment, meaning no note of the bombing of Hiroshima).

Thinking it through, the film might not have been near as overbearing had the melodrama not been so grating. Every step of the story can be traced from the first twenty minutes. The only time that a surprise occurs is when it is so leftfield that you'd think no one in their right mind would actually attempt it. I mean, love triangles never really work in films anyway, but this one, with two people fighting that are meant to remain sympathetic, creates such lack of caring for the audience that even the slightest deviance from expectations feels tedious.

Michael Bay has gone a step further than his work on Armageddon (aka, "the bane of my existence") and you can really feel that he means to do something more than what is done on screen. Even the most lackluster of directorial choices seem fine in comparison to the damning that is going on meanwhile with the screenplay. He and his four editors were definite Attention Deficit Disorder children -- no shot lasts longer than five seconds, no scene lasts longer than two minutes. This is not necessarily a bad thing when the director knows how to convey the story within the quick edits (as Darren Aronofsky did with Requiem for a Dream), but Bay has not yet mastered this. All he really can do is throw images at the audience quickly and hope that, perhaps, they are taking in everything. Considering the fast pace of the editing, I can only wonder how long the film would have been had it been made by a more serene filmmaker like Hirokazu Kore-eda, Atom Egoyan, or Anthony Minghella (of course, that is also under the belief that any of those fine directors would have anything to do with this story).

Nevertheless, amongst all the problems, there are some good things to remark on, believe it or not. There are some very able actors in the film, though only two really get to enjoy any notability because their dialogue is not so straining. They are Jon Voight as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mako as Admiral Yamamoto. Of course, it should be mentioned that almost all their lines are straight from the history books and, therefore, are not the unfortunate creations of screenwriter Wallace. Also, in very small parts, Colm Feore and Tom Sizemore get to show some acting chops even in their collective five minutes of screen time.

There is also a nearly seamless visual portrayal of Kate Beckinsale, playing Evelyn, the woman caught in the love triangle between Josh Hartnett's Danny and Ben Affleck's Rafe, with an aura fitting a 40's acting legend. Bay and cinematographer John Schwartman use old Technicolor film and such a soft lens on her in the early moments of the film that she almost feels ethereal. Amongst all the problems in the film's melodrama-only driven first act this singe shining directorial touch feels tantamount.

There are many films that Pearl Harbor can be understandably compared to. Though Tora! Tora! Tora! is about the same historical moment, the follow-through is definitely different. Also, From Here to Eternity shared the time and the melodrama but worked with it in a way that made it intriguing and beautiful -- a story that bent on the Japanese decision to bomb the Hawaiian base. For me, the easiest comparisons are in two other historical films that worked with different moments but were also hurt by their dependence on love triangles. The one that will be mentioned ad nauseum is Titanic, though the comparison is only skin deep -- Titanic has far more to offer than Pearl Harbor. The only thing that really follows in the exact same shoes of Pearl Harbor is the television miniseries North and South. That film, like Pearl Harbor, took what seemed like a lifetime to lose most historical merit in the most contrived romantic story arcs imaginable.

And, like North and South, by the time Pearl Harbor finally plods its way into a finale, the feelings is that every important aspect of a historical chronicle has been lost in banality. This is definitely one movie in which the histrionic emotions of the characters take away from what could have been an otherwise engaging history lesson.


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Retrospective Review:  After Pearl Harbor finished playing, I had one thing on my mind: I must see From Here to Eternity again.  So, I broke into my old VHS collection (it's frightening how quickly DVDs have taken over my home entertainment collection), placed the tape in VCR, and enjoyed the ultimate Pearl Harbor-driven film.  Forget Pearl Harbor, Pearl, and Tora! Tora! Tora!, From Here to Eternity is definately the film to watch instead.

From Here to Eternity

(Dir: Fred Zinnemann, Starring Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Philip Ober, Mickey Shaughnessy, Harry Bellaver, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Warden, John Dennis, Merle Travis, Tim Ryan, Arthur Keegan, and Barbara Morrison)



"The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II has inspired a splendid movie, full of vivid performances and unforgettable scenes, a movie that uses the coming of war as a backdrop for individual stories of love, ambition, heroism, and betrayal. The name of that movie is From Here to Eternity."

That was the great opening paragraph to A.O. Scott's oft-scathing review of the recent film Pearl Harbor. That film, with its misrepresentation of everything that From Here to Eternity fans hold dear, made the historical moment seem more like a jumping board for a soppy romantic triangle that had less bang than a sparkler at a Fourth of July barbeque.

As an alternative, 48 years old and still potent, From Here to Eternity has everything needed to fulfill someone's yearning for a Pearl Harbor centered romance. In the 1953 Fred Zinnemann classic, a trilogy of tales about Army men stationed at nearby Schofield Barracks play as intriguing tales with a regular dependence on day-to-day-life. None of those involved know that in a couple of weeks, Japanese planes will bomb the island they live on and that their lives will be forever changed.

The film opens with Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Clift), affectionately called 'Prew,' entering the office of his new commander Captain Dana Holmes (Ober). Prew was formerly part of the bugle corps as a corporal but requested transfer to a regular company making him a private. This move is great news to Holmes, who knows that Prew is a very capable boxer and sees him as a nice addition to the "G" Company boxing squad. In Holmes' mind, winning the regiment championship would mean going from Captain Holmes to Major Holmes. But Prew is defiant in his decision to stop boxing -- a tale later told in the film gives credence to this decision -- and becomes the kicking boy for Holmes and his lackeys; they think that if they can beat him, he'll join them.

While fighting his battles on the fort, Prew finds two people to become personal with: one a female for romance, the other a male for companionship. She is Alma Burke (Reed), a prostitute at the local gentlemen's club; he is Private Angelo Maggio (Sinatra), the only person that seems to stickup for Prew when the commanders follow Holmes' order to push Prew into submission.

Maggio himself has something of a problem occurring. In his regular drunken visits to said gentlemen's club, he has made an enemy out of Stockade Sergeant "Fatso" Judson (Borgnine). They regularly duke it out as an intoxicated Maggio tries aimlessly to defeat the much larger and more aggressive Judson. Their continued battles lead to an ending that neither one of them really expect.

To compliment the budding romance between Prew and Alma is another, more clandestine affair. The top non-commissioned officer and right-hand-man of Captain Holmes, Sergeant Milton Warden (Lancaster), is having a tryst with Holmes' wife Karen (Kerr). She has a reputation for being promiscuous and he has made a career out of doing all of Holmes' work; in a way, making love to her is merely the next step in his job. Yet, there is something missing: she wants him to be a commissioned officer before she can leave her husband and he cannot get beyond the many men that she has already been with (that famous scene on the beach precedes him chastising her for her sloven past).

And all these stories are detailed to a point up until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Each person in the story has a dream, but none of them really can come to fruition. It is not until the attack changes them that they really can go somewhere, whether it is for the better or the worse (for some, they pay the ultimate price). There is a beautiful shot in the film, where, after the audience has become entrenched in these stories, the camera veers from the main character in the scene to a calendar showing the date: 6 December 1941.

The novel From Here to Eternity by James Jones was a tawdry little book and could not make it onto screen as a straight adaptation. This film, written for the screen by Daniel Taradesh (one of the film's many Oscar winners), tones down some of the turgid details and makes it more accessible to a wide audience. Nevertheless, the lewdness of some of the undertones is still quite visible. Never said in so many words, there are no doubts that Alma is a prostitute and Karen is a tramp. Though some might make comments about a misogynistic idea to the female characters, it is safe to point out that none of the males in the film are free of flaws themselves. And, one should note, the only characters that really seem intent on their dreams are the women of the tale.

Fred Zinnemann was in the early part of his long successful period when he made From Here to Eternity. Though he had been making films for some 23 years before Eternity, Zinnemann did not really come into his own until 1948's The Search (also starring Montgomery Clift) and would soon have a huge success with 1952's High Noon. Zinnemann's productivity may have gone down in the years after Eternity, but the value of the productions went up. Oklahoma!, The Sundowners, The Old Man and the Sea, The Nun's Story, A Man for All Seasons, The Day of the Jackal, and Julia all show some of the best genre switching that a director did, only lesser in comparison to Stanley Kubrick's.

With From Here to Eternity, Zinnemann did more with long, uncut shots than many of today's directors do in their hundreds of cuts within a single scene. Zinnemann, editor William Lyon, and cinematographer Burnett Guffey won well deserved Academy Awards for their efforts in creating one of the best portrayals of Army life in the pre-WWII Pacific. Juggling all three stories, Zinnemann et al. make everything fall into place with grace and beauty, even when the events portrayed are neither graceful nor beautiful.

However nice the visuals in the film may be, the real memorable part is the acting that is found in From Here to Eternity. While Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster give their requisite fine performances, Montgomery Clift further proved that he was much more than just another pretty face. While there's a little more introspective acting to his work in Red River, A Place in the Sun, and The Search, From Here to Eternity's Prewitt would be Clift's best performance until his post-wreck performance in Judgment at Nuremberg.

Yet none of the three leads won at the Academy Awards (Clift and Lancaster understandably lost to William Holden in Stalag 17 and Kerr lost to young ingénue Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday), while their supporting players both took home trophies. Donna Reed would, of course, later become the idealized housewife on television, but in From Here to Eternity, she showed the magnitude she could exude in a film. Though her entire career would be filled with roles more akin to her Mary in It's a Wonderful Life, the character in which she proved her acting ability (and won her Oscar) was Alma in Eternity.

Frank Sinatra won the other acting Oscar for the film in a performance that rejuvenated his waning career at the time. This was just after Sinatra's vocal cord injury that almost ended his singing career and Sinatra was in dire need for an acting role to put him back on the map. Thanks to his famous mob connections (the movie producer's meeting with the horse head in The Godfather was slightly based on what happened to get Sinatra the part), Sinatra was given the role of Maggio and would, of course, ride his way into film history with a long career unparalleled by any singer-turned actor before or since.

However, when From Here to Eternity comes to a close on my umpteenth viewing, my mind is not on what got Sinatra there or where Zinnemann or Reed would go in their future careers. Instead, I am heartened to think of what magic had just transpired on the screen in front of me. In nearly half a century, From Here to Eternity has not lost its touch.


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Reviews by:
David Perry