On Pearl Harbor

Directed by Michael Bay (Transformers film series), Pearl Harbor features an ensemble cast, including Ben Affleck (Dogma, Good Will Hunting), Josh Hartnett (The Faculty), Kate Beckinsale (Underworld film series), Sara Rue (Popular), Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice) William Lee Scott (Gattaca), Michael Shannon (Man of Steel), Jon Voight (Enemy of the State), and Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II).

Once I saw the ending of the film, I admit I couldn’t tell who this love story was really about: Was it between Danny and Evelyn? Rafe and Evelyn? Or, as I got the idea from the end scene, also Danny and Rafe as well?


That sure looks like some homoerotic love to me (see Point Break). There may be some credence to this, as according to Movie Fone‘s article, “Kate Beckinsale: Michael Bay Cast Me in ‘Pearl Harbor’ ‘Cause I’m Not That Hot“:

Kate Beckinsale was just on “The Graham Norton Show” recalling all the times that sad blind fool Michael Bay has told the story of why he cast her in the 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor.”

“I don’t think I fitted the type of actress Michael Bay the director had met before,” Beckinsale said. “I think he was baffled by me because my boobs weren’t bigger than my head and I wasn’t blonde.” (She probably wasn’t even joking with that.) “I’d just had my daughter and had lost weight, but was told that if I got the part, I’d have to work out,” she added. “And I just didn’t understand why a 1940s nurse would do that.” Fair point. Here’s more:

“And then, when we were promoting the film. Michael was asked why he had chosen Ben [Affleck] and Josh [Hartnett], and he said, ‘I have worked with Ben before and I love him, and Josh is so manly and a wonderful actor’. Then when he was asked about me, he’d say, ‘Kate wasn’t so attractive that she would alienate the female audience’. He kept saying it everywhere we went, and we went to a lot of places.”

UGH. That she remembers what he said so many years later just shows how much it must’ve affected her. She’s right, though, he said it all: E! News dug up a 2001 article from Movieline, where Bay mansplained that women are just too threatened by attractive women to want to watch them on screen.

Here’s that part of the Movieline Q&A:

Q: What made you choose Kate Beckinsale?

A: I didn’t want someone who was too beautiful. Women feel disturbed when they see someone’s too pretty. I’m not saying Kate’s not pretty. When you look at Titanic, Kate Winslet is pretty, but not overwhelmingly beautiful. That makes it work better for women. Our Kate is very funny, could hang with the guys. She’s not so neurotic about everything, like some actresses. She was solid, and I think the three of them had some really nice chemistry.

Yes, please tell us more about what disturbs women. The script was the most disturbing thing about “Pearl Harbor” and it would’ve gone a long way with both women and men if he had just focused more on that. Bay went on to cast actresses like Megan Fox and Scarlett Johansson, who probably even passed his test for “overwhelmingly beautiful,” and Scarlett at least went on to be an incredibly successful actress with both genders. (And are there any women who didn’tthink Kate Winslet was incredibly beautiful in “Titanic”?)

But whatever. It’s not breaking news that Michael Bay is obsessed with how women look, and cares little for any talent they may possess. He’s basically one of the frat guys from “The Bachelorette.” At least the fan response to Beckinsale’s new “Graham Norton” story is positive and on her side — reminiscent of the recent fan defense of Keira Knightley after her “Begin Again” director decided to insult the “supermodel” out of nowhere.


The film is known for not being accurate towards the real life events that actually took place, as according to the Pearl Harbor Oahu website:

The 2001 film Pearl Harbor was met with a mixed reception at the time of its release. Although it was the most expensive movie ever filmed up to then, critics considered it to be an average film at best and a poor film at worst. Audiences generally enjoyed it, with the exception of some survivors and veterans of the attacks who found the film extremely distasteful. A pilot portrayed in the film, Kenneth Taylor, described it as, “a piece of trash; over-sensationalized and completely distorted.”

The director of Pearl Harbor Michael Bay explains:

“When you see the movie you don’t get a sense of the first or second wave. You get a sense of the attack. That’s what’s important. And you need to see this through the eyes of people whom the audience connects with.”

For the audience to connect with the characters, certain parts of their lives were fictionalized. Maybe that’s why Mr. Taylor felt so strongly about the Hollywood depiction of events that unfolded that day.

Mr. Taylor wasn’t the only veteran to be upset over Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. Jack Leaming was a radio operator in an attack plane that was shot down after the events of Pearl Harbor. He was imprisoned by the Japanese and held captive in Osaka, Japan. This was a man whose period of service was set to end on December 9th, 1941, but he stayed back after the outbreak of war to fight the Japanese forces.

Mr. Leaming had this to say about the film:

“’They’re not giving them the recognition that they should receive – in fact, they’re detracting from it. But that’s the movie business. It’s about money. It’s romanticized.”

Like Titanic before it, Pearl Harbor draws the audience in by creating a love story, and tries to recreate the feeling of loss experienced during those times. Although only one scene in the movie is related to them, Pearl Harbor most closely resembles the accounts of Kenneth Taylor and George Welch, second lieutenants in the U.S. Army Air Corps and two heroic pilots who bravely defended Pearl Harbor in the time of most desperate need.

The scenes leading up to and featuring the pilots’ dogfights over the harbor are accurate, but the similarities seem to end there. That is, except for the very expensive and realistic-looking explosions.

Here are some of the historical inaccuracies in the film ‘Pearl Harbor’:

  • The Arizona Memorial can be seen on-camera when nurses visit Pearl Harbor by ferry. The Memorial wasn’t built until 1962.
  • Japanese aircraft carriers depicted in the movie took advantage of jet catapults and angled flight decks – technology not implemented until the 1950s.
  • Admiral Isoroku Yamomoto was not aboard a Japanese aircraft carrier on the day of the attacks.
  • The Japanese aircraft carriers depicted in the movie were actually the same as the ones used by the U.S. Navy at the time
  • The planes are shown flying unrealistically and dangerously. Although agile for their time, the P-40s and Zeros weren’t able to perform many of the dog-fighting maneuvers shown in the movie.
  • The planes used by the United States during the attacks were model P-40, but in the film they are shown flying the later model P-40N, which was introduced in 1943.
  • On an exploding ship during the air raid sequence, a tripod mast is shown falling over when there is no recorded instance of this occurring during the actual attacks.
  • The Japanese Zeros in the film are green in color, as if they were Japanese Army aircraft. In fact, the Zeros that raided Pearl Harbor were silver, and belonged to the Japanese Imperial Navy.

There are more specific areas in which the movie was inaccurate, for example in the opening scene the biplane used wasn’t invented until years later. This is probably because it would be hard to find or build a replica model plane that was actually used in the era.

Many people feel that Pearl Harbor misses the mark. In addition to taking liberties with historical facts, the overall narrative of the film seems to downplay the efforts of the other 100 pilots in the air over the harbor that day. Many veterans and survivors were disappointed with Mr. Bay’s portrayal of the attacks on Pearl Harbor for this reason.

Additionally, according to War History Online‘s article, “The Endless Historical Errors Made in the Pearl Harbor Movie“:

Few Americans and few around the world can forget the date of December 7th. On that day in 1941, Japanese soldiers conducted an incredible air attack on the American military stationed in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, striking ships, planes, and military bases. Because of this, the United States was thrust into World War II, joining others in the fight against Germany, against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime, and against Japan. This tragic, impactful day became part of Hollywood’s moviemaking history in 2001, when the film Pearl Harbor, directed by Michael Bay, was released. It meant to depict all that took place on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, and how it forever altered the lives of those there that December morning.

Movies are often romantic in nature, but when the film Pearl Harbor burst into theaters around the world, viewers received more than an engaging, romanticized take on the terrible events of that December day. The film, as critics were quick to point out upon its release, is riddled with factual and historical errors.

Though a captivating story according to so many moviegoers, history lovers will find that it’s nearly impossible to sit through Pearl Harbor without noticing one of its many mistakes or misrepresentations. Dramatic in its nature, Pearl Harbor is certainly meant to be an artistic retelling of the events of the Pearl Harbor attack. However, despite the film’s box office success, millions of dollars in viewings, and Academy Award nominations, flaws exist that make it one of the most inaccurate portrayals of a historical event in filmmaking history.

These are among the most obvious, the most historically inaccurate facts featured in this mega-motion picture film that present inaccurate depictions of all that took place during the actual events of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Unauthorized Eagle Squadron Members

In Pearl Harbor, Ben Affleck’s character joins the Eagle Squadron. However, active-duty members of the U.S. Air Force weren’t allowed to join this squadron; civilians, though, were able to do so by becoming members of the Royal Air Force, or RAF. In an even further error, the filmmakers chose to adorn Affleck’s Spitfire plane with “RF”, the insignia of the N. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron, although he was flying a British plane.

Early Era Crop Dusters

In one of the film’s childhood scenes, a Stearman biplane crop duster appears in what is meant to be the year 1923. However, these special aircraft weren’t in use in the U.S. until a year later in 1924, when they first operated as commercial planes for cotton-dusting. The U.S. Department of Agriculture waited even longer to put the Stearman biplane crop duster to use, marking its first historical appearance in 1926.

Incorrectly Timed Events

One of the most obvious and crucial errors in the film is seen when Admiral Kimmel is notified that an enemy submarine was under attack. During the actual events that took place at Pearl Harbor, Kimmel wasn’t notified until hours after the attack ended. He instead heard of what was taking place only once the Japanese bombs had already fallen into the harbor.

Inaccurate Hospital Attacks

Although the film depicts Japanese bombers purposely aiming for hospitals and medical professionals during the attack, the enemy aircraft, in fact, didn’t deliberately aim for crucial medical centers like the hospital.

Though the Japanese did hit the hospital, they killed only one member of the hospital’s staff – he was shot while attempting to cross the navy yard.

A Misrepresented Doolittle Raid

In the film, Jimmy Doolittle and his fellow raiders launched 624 miles off the coast of Japan from the USS Hornet; they did so after being seen by Japanese patrol boats. In reality, however, Doolittle and his team had to launch 650 miles away from Japan’s coast and were spotted by merely one patrol boat.

Additionally, these men were not responsible for just bombing Tokyo, as depicted in the movie; they bombed Tokyo and three other industrial centers of Japan.

Those Cigarettes Were Fakes

Did you notice characters smoking Marlboro Lights in the film, and Dan Aykroyd wearing rimless glasses? Neither of these items were available in the 1940s. Marlboro Lights didn’t appear in the U.S. (or anywhere else) until 1972, almost 30 years after the Pearl Harbor attack; those rimless glasses were also an impossibility, as nylon was rationed during World War II and are typically used to hold eyeglass lenses in place in frameless models.

Those were the Wrong Hawkeyes

Pay close attention during the control tower scene; you’ll spot E-2 Hawkeyes flying in the background. Though these airplanes did exist and were used in the U.S., they weren’t around in 1941. The E-2 Hawkeyes didn’t fly until the 1960s.

Advanced Radios Proved Too Effective

Captivated by the film’s Hawaiian soldiers listening to radio conversation among the Doolittle team of raiders? That entire scene was impossible in 1941, as there was no way planes on different routes, observing radio silence, would produce any noise at all.

Communication between two planes occurs via low-power, short-range radio, meaning a state halfway across the world would never be able to communicate with those raiding soldiers in Japan.

Korean War Cars Appear

Take the time to stare at the Jeep that appears on the golf course in Pearl Harbor, when the commander is notified that the base is under attack.

Though Jeeps existed during World War II, the exact Jeeps that appear in the film are not of the right time period; they’re Korean War vehicles, the M-38.

The Wrong Aircraft Weaponry

In the film version of the Pearl Harbor attacks, the planes were equipped with P-40s. However, the models seen were P-40Ks, P-40Ms, and P-40Ns – not the P-40Bs or P-40Cs that were used during the actual attack.

You can see the visible difference in the film, as the plane-mounted guns in the film feature three guns on each plane wing; the more accurate, and actually used guns were mounted two to a plane wing, with two extras attached to the engine.

War Ships Missing their War Paint

Typically, in times of war, a nation’s ships were painted gray in an effort to help them camouflage against the colors of the oceans they sailed. However, in Pearl Harbor, the Queen Mary appears in all her colored glory, decorated in red, black, and white rather than gray.

Because the Queen Mary was an English ship, arriving from Britain, who had been part of the war for two years, she should have been painted gray long before appearing in the film’s events.

A Long, Wet Voyage

When Danny and Rafe, the characters portrayed by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, leave Florida for Tokyo, they climb aboard a DC-3 to travel 2,400 miles. This, however, would prove particularly damp and difficult if it had actually occurred; the DC-3 was only able to travel 1,600 miles, almost half the distance the characters did. Instead, they would have taken a ship, a seaplane, or a stripped-down bomber plane in order to travel such a length.

A lot of artistic license was taken throughout the filming and portrayal of the December 7th Pearl Harbor attack in the movie of the same name.

Every one of these mistakes, no matter how small or how large, played a role in creating a movie environment that does not accurately reflect just what happened on that day of the Pearl Harbor attack, or in the months that followed and brought America into war.

Finally, according to Task and Purpose‘s article, “6 Reasons Why ‘Pearl Harbor’ Is A Terrible War Movie“:

The three hours you spend watching “Pearl Harbor” are three hours you can never get back.

The Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the most defining events in American history. Carried out by 408 Japanese bombers just off the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, it turned the U.S. Pacific Fleet into a watery graveyard for hundreds of unsuspecting soldiers, sailors, and Marines. The story is one that should be told because it’s one that should never be forgotten. But Michael Bay’s 2001 film about the tragic events of that day failed to do it justice. Not only did the movie neglect to provide any real historical context, but the attack itself served more or less as a backdrop for a love story that wasn’t compelling enough to make up for the fact that it was fraught with inaccuracies.

“Pearl Harbor” is about three hours long, which is three hours too long, and here are six reasons why.

It’s not actually about Pearl Harbor… at all.

Despite its name, the movie is not actually about the Pearl Harbor attacks. It’s not about World War II, or the men who died that day — the one that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would live in infamy. Pearl Harbor instead serves as a convenient backdrop for a really cheesy love story. In that regard, the film can easily be compared to James Cameron’s 1997 “Titanic,” which also attempted to create an epic romance framed by a historical tragedy. But where Titanic smashed box office records, “Pearl Harbor” (excuse the pun) crashed and burned.

Ben Affleck.

Need we say more?

It’s a little racist.

The overly simplistic way that director Michael Bay portrays the Japanese removes the complex framework of socio-economic and political circumstances that led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Essentially, the cartoonish enemies are depicted as one-dimensional entities going to war just because their oil supply has been cut off by a perceived lesser nation. In addition, Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays an actual African American Pearl Harbor hero — Doris Miller. But much of the way this character is handled in the movie does not accurately reflect how he would have been treated considering he was black in the 1940s. For example, Kate Beckinsale’s character, a white female nurse, would never have been allowed to be alone with him, tending to his injuries.

The dialogue is terrible.

“It’s a dud!” is one of the more famous lines from the movie, but it should serve as a review of this film’s dialogue. The one-liners don’t land. They do, however, bomb. Between Alec Baldwin yelling, “max power!,” and Josh Hartnett shouting, “I think World War II just started!” into a phone in the midst of the bombing, the dialogue lends little to the historical and romantic angles of the movie. And frankly, most of it is ridiculous.

The patriotism feels forced.

There is no stand-out speech, nor is there an epic battle moment that makes you beam with pride as an American citizen. The dialogue, the acts of heroism, the caskets draped in American flags, even the soundtrack — all feel like like the result of someone trying too hard. Consequently, all the attempts at patriotism come off very clichéd, as though Michael Bay just took all of the worst parts of all of the worst war movies and rolled them together into one disastrous film.

It’s historically inaccurate.

Where do we begin? In one scene, the camera pans out to show a full naval fleet, which includes nuclear submarine — a vessel that didn’t exist during the 40s. It also includes E-2 Hawkeyes, which weren’t used until the 60s. And the Jeep they drive across the golf course during the bombing is a Korean War-era M-38. And the kicker: the raid on Tokyo in retaliation for Pearl Harbor definitely didn’t go down the way it was portrayed in the movie. It was just a plot device to kill off Josh Hartnett so that Kate Beckinsale could marry Ben Affleck in the most twisted love triangle ever filmed.

Essentially, the historical accuracy of this film is similar to the historical accuracy of Doctor Who‘s The Unquiet Dead, Tooth and Claw, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Fires of Pompeii, or Victory of the Daleks. No wonder he shifted to Transformers.

According to Roger Ebert:

“Pearl Harbor” is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle. Its centerpiece is 40 minutes of redundant special effects, surrounded by a love story of stunning banality. The film has been directed without grace, vision, or originality, and although you may walk out quoting lines of dialog, it will not be because you admire them.

The filmmakers seem to have aimed the film at an audience that may not have heard of Pearl Harbor, or perhaps even of World War Two. This is the Our Weekly Reader version. If you have the slightest knowledge of the events in the film, you will know more than it can tell you. There is no sense of history, strategy or context; according to this movie, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because America cut off its oil supply, and they were down to an 18 month reserve. Would going to war restore the fuel sources? Did they perhaps also have imperialist designs? Movie doesn’t say.

So shaky is the film’s history that at the end, when Jimmy Doolittle’s Tokyo raiders crash-land in China, they’re shot at by Japanese patrols with only a murky throwaway explanation about the Sino-Japanese war already underway. I predict some viewers will leave the theater sincerely confused about why there were Japanese in China.

As for the movie’s portrait of the Japanese themselves, it is so oblique that Japanese audiences will find little to complain about apart from the fact that they play such a small role in their own raid. There are several scenes where the Japanese high command debates military tactics, but all of their dialog is strictly expository; they state facts but do not emerge with personalities or passions. Only Admiral Yamamoto (Mako) is seen as an individual, and his dialog seems to have been singled out with the hindsight of history. Congratulated on a brilliant raid, he demurs, “A brilliant man would find a way not to fight a war.” And later, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.” Do you imagine at any point the Japanese high command engaged in the 1941 Japanese equivalent of exchanging high-fives and shouting “Yes!” while pumping their fists in the air? Not in this movie, where the Japanese seem to have been melancholy even at the time about the regrettable need to play such a negative role in such a positive Hollywood film.

The American side of the story centers on two childhood friends from Tennessee with the standard-issue screenplay names Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett). They enter the Army Air Corps and both fall in love with the same nurse, Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale)–first Rafe falls for her, and then, after he is reported dead, Danny. Their first date is subtitled “Three Months Later” and ends with Danny, having apparently read the subtitle, telling Evelyn, “Don’t let it be three months before I see you again, okay?” That gets almost as big a laugh as her line to Rafe, “I’m gonna give Danny my whole heart, but I don’t think I’ll ever look at another sunset without thinking of you.” That kind of bad laugh would have been sidestepped in a more literate screenplay, but our hopes are not high after an early newsreel report that the Germans are bombing “downtown London”–a difficult target, since although there is such a place as “central London,” at no time in 2,000 years has London ever had anything described by anybody as a “downtown.” There is not a shred of conviction or chemistry in the love triangle, which results after Rafe returns alive to Hawaii shortly before the raid on Pearl Harbor and is angry at Evelyn for falling in love with Danny, inspiring her timeless line, “I didn’t even know until the day you turned up alive–and then all this happened.” Evelyn is a hero in the aftermath of the raid, performing triage by using her lipstick to separate the wounded who should be treated from those left to die. In a pointless stylistic choice, director Michael Bay and cinematographer John Schwartzman shoot some of the hospital scenes in soft focus, some in sharp focus, some blurred. Why? I understand it’s to obscure details deemed too gory for the PG-13 rating. (Why should the carnage at Pearl Harbor be toned down to PG-13 in the first place?) In the newsreel sequences, the movie fades in and out of black and white with almost amusing haste, while the newsreel announcer sounds not like a period voice but like a Top-40 deejay in an echo chamber.

The most involving material in the film comes at the end, when Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) leads his famous raid on Tokyo, flying Army bombers off the decks of Navy carriers and hoping to crash-land in China.

He and his men were heroes, and their story would make a good movie (and indeed has: “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”). Another hero in the movie is the African-American cook Dorie Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who because of his race was not allowed to touch a gun in the racist pre-war Navy, but opens fire during the raid, shoots down two planes, and saves the life of his captain. He’s shown getting a medal. Nice to see an African-American in the movie, but the almost total absence of Asians in 1941 Hawaii is inexplicable.

As for the raid itself, a little goes a long way. What is the point, really, of more than half an hour of planes bombing ships, of explosions and fireballs, of roars on the soundtrack and bodies flying through the air and people running away from fighters that are strafing them? How can it be entertaining or moving when it’s simply about the most appalling slaughter? Why do the filmmakers think we want to see this, unrelieved by intelligence, viewpoint or insight? It was a terrible, terrible day. Three thousand died in all. This is not a movie about them.

It is an unremarkable action movie; Pearl Harbor supplies the subject, but not the inspiration.


4 thoughts on “On Pearl Harbor

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