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Pearl Harbor (2001) – DVD Review

Pearl Harbor DVD set


Written by: Randall Wallace
Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight and Dan Aykroyd


  • Intro and Letterbox Explanation by Michael Bay
  • Three running audio commentaries with filmmakers:
    • With director Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger
    • With producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Affleck, Hartnett and Baldwin
    • With cinematographer John Schwartzman, production designer Nigel Phelps, costume designer Michael Kaplan, supervising art director Martin Laing, and composer Hans Zimmer
  • Journey To The Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor
  • “There You’ll Be” Music Video
  • Trailer/promo for Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor by National Geographic
  • Two fifty minute documentaries from The History Channel:
    • Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor
    • One Hour Over Tokyo
  • Oral History snippet
  • Soldier’s Boot Camp featurette
  • Three production mini-featurettes, two with optional commentary by director Bay
  • Pre-production footage
  • Theatrical trailer and teaser
  • Deconstructing Destruction effects sequence featurette
  • Interactive Attack Sequence
    • Four angles to view from, four audio mixes to choose from
    • Commentary by effects supervisor Eric Brevig
    • Commentary by storyboard artist Robert Consing
    • Commentary by survivors of the actual Pearl Harbor attack
  • When Cultures Collide: From Perry to Pearl Harbor history featurette
  • Still gallery
  • 24-page companion booklet
  • Four Collectible Postcards

Released by: Buena Vista
Region: 1
Rating: R
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Own it, but only for the special features

[ad#longpost]Rafe McCawley (Affleck) and Danny Walker (Hartnett) have been
best buddies since they could walk, but they were both always dreaming of flying. The two of them answer the call to World War II, but they don’t get to fight together. McCawley flies for the British Royal Air Force and Walker flies for the U.S. Army Air Corps. Through a strange turn of events, they both wind up in love with the same nurse, Evelyn Johnson (Beckinsale) and just happen to both be present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

It’s been said a thousand times by more eloquent critics than I, but I’m gonna say it again: If they had just trusted the history of this event to be entertaining and provocative, this would have been a much better film. I wouldn’t have minded if they had spent five hours on building up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, if they had simply focused on the actual history of the event, it would have been a better job of honoring those men and women who lost their lives that day. Instead, what we get is a overly sentimental piece of drivel that just happens to be taking place around the same time as the Japanese attack.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m going to jump ahead just a bit and say that this DVD set is a great example of how a special edition should be put together. Everything about it screams America circa 1941. The packaging is very clever (although I found it hard to get to the actual DVDs without tearing the packaging just a little). And the quality, as well as the quantity, of supplemental material is simply outstanding. First, there are three commentary tracks; each of them with a different group of filmmakers as listed above. With each commentary track you get a different insight into all it took to get this movie made. Granted, some of it leaves you screaming, “All that, and you couldn’t find a better script?!”, but it’s still a wealth of information. The first two discs of this four disc set contain the film (which spans across both discs) and the commentary tracks, but the third and fourth discs are where the real golden treasures reside.

Ben Affleck from Pearl Harbor
Ben Affleck

Disc 3 is broken up in to two sections: “The Film” and “The History”. In “The Film”s ection, first you have the Production Notes. You get to see how they put the shot together with various scenes narrated by Bay himself. Then, they show the various raw bits of special effects footage shots on a split screen with the actual shots from the film. It really doesn’t get much better than this. There are about seven of these segments, each one covering one of the bigger special effects shots of the film.

Next comes a segment called Boot Camp. What we are treated to here is video footage of the abbreviated training that the cast went through to prepare for their roles. Affleck, Hartnett, and Ewan Brenner went to infantry boot camp, while Baldwin went to officer’s boot camp. It’s an interesting look into the preparation they went through. Then, you can move on to the Super 8 Montage, which is a look at some of the unused footage that Creative Advisor Mark Palansky shot during the filming. This footage was to be used to re-create the look and feel of vintage Navy newsreel footage. They wound up not using much of it in the film. The stuff of the actual battle scenes doesn’t look very realistic, in my opinion. Here’s why: the attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise. I just don’t buy into the fact that someone on one of the ships would pick up a camera instead of a gun. The shots of the aftermath of the attack and the the preparation for Doolittle’s Raid look absolutely stunning and they are a very nice addition to this set. Oh yeah, they also put the trailers for the movie in this section of the disc, too.

Pearl Harbor DVD menu
DVD menu

“The History” section is where you find the two History Channel’s documentaries. One Hour Over Tokyo gives the background behind Doolittle’s Raiders and their famous bombing run on Tokyo only months after Pearl Harbor and Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor goes into the detail about the bombing of Pearl Harbor itself. Both of these documentaries are wonderful (lasting fifty minutes each), and are the level of quality that one should expect from the History Channel. They’re a solid addition to this DVD package. The other segment is entitled Oral History: The Recollections of a Pearl Harbor Nurse. This is a “reenactment” of the memoirs of one of the nurses at Pearl Harbor. For the most part, it’s well done. I honestly don’t know that I could have figured out that it was an actress reading the memoirs if I hadn’t been told that ahead of them. As you hear this monologue, you are treated to looking at vintage photographs of the aftermath. It goes on for a little under four minutes and it’s a very effective small bit. It’s also interesting to point out that each of these two supplemental discs has a “preview” of what you will see on the other disc.

The menu on Disc 4 gives you with three choices: “Visual Effects,” “Interactive Timeline,” and “Gallery.” “Visual Effects” shows what historical references they used to construct the shots for the actual attack sequence. It is a multi-angle feature that allows you to look at the the final product, shots from behind the scenes, the storyboards/wireframe images, or a split-screen version that shows all three of the above playing at the same time. I preferred to look at the latter. Not only do you get to select what video angle you get to watch, you also get to choose between seven audio tracks you want to listen to. They are: the full soundtrack from the film, sounds from on the set, the isolated score, the isolated sound effects, commentary by visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig, commentary by storyboard artist Robert Consing, or commentary by Pearl Harbor survivors. Each of the commentaries is wonderful and offers a completely different perspective on what you are looking at. What more can I say, this is simply elegant.

Michael Bay from Pearl Harbor
Director Michael Bay

There is also an hour long conversation on visual effects with Bay and Brevig. Actually, only about half of that time is their conversing, the other half is filled with what can best be described as “splinter” clips; clips from the movie that exemplify what it is they are talking about. It’s nicely done, mostly because of the fact that the two men are actually on camera. The animatic attack section is the full rough digital animatic fly-through of the attack sequence narrated by Bay, Brevig and company. It’s neat to see the “raw” look of the attack sequence, and it’s cool to hear them talk about it, but once you’ve seen about three minutes of it, you’ve got the idea of what the whole thing is like.

Finally, there is the Gallery, which is simply still shots from behind the scenes, storyboards, and historical photos all mixed in together, and you advance through with your remote. The Interactive Timeline is a detailed look at what world events helped to shape the fates of these two nations…beginning as far back as 1846. The interactive part of the interactive timeline means that you get to choose which chunk of time you want to focus on. Needless to say, this is as detailed a look into the how’s and why’s of Pearl Harbor as you could want…and, yes, it’s easy to see how the hostilities began that long ago.

The DVD-ROM content can be found on disc 4 and is basically weblinks, but they are billed as a bibliography. Here are the links you get: the National Archive Website (which allows you to hear sections of FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech), the NavSource Naval Photographic History website (which will allow you to look at photos taken by the Japanese pilots), Eyewitness Accounts at the Ibis Communications website (read text-only first hand accounts of the events of Pearl Harbor), Military History at (read more about the career of Admiral Yamamoto, who planned and lead the attack), the History Net website (read the story of the raid on Tokyo led by Jimmy Doolittle), and the Timeline from Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Tri-City Chapter 31 website (which gives you a chronologically detailed account of the attack). Each of these links is a great place to get started on a search of the web for anything even remotely related to WWII and lets you branch of for more reading and research if you so choose.

So, I say this is worth owning, even if you thought the film is every bit the piece of sentimental fluff that it is. This Vista Series package is outstanding and should be used as an example of how to put a proper special edition together.

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