Film / Pearl Harbor

The diabolical Japanese plan to sneak in under cover of Ben Affleck is set in motion.

"Pearl Harbor is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how, on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle."

Pearl Harbor is a 2001 film. Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett play two childhood friends, Rafe and Danny, both US Army Air Corps pilots in the months before the US enters World War II. Once Rafe manages a date with army nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), they fall in love. He goes off to fight with the RAF, and gets shot down. Danny comforts Evelyn after they are transferred to Hawaii, and it then turns into a torrid affair.

When it turns out Rafe is alive, he's not too pleased his friend took his gal, and tries to beat him up. The next day, Japanese planes come and attack Pearl Harbor.

The two pilots bravely scramble to their planes, and manage to down a few enemy fighters. After the attack, they get ready to take part in the Doolittle Raid, but still sort of fight over the girl. It turns out she's pregnant. The father doesn't make it. Which one was the father? It doesn't matter, they're all cardboard people anyway.

Okay, the film doesn't entirely focus on this love triangle — the Japanese preparations for the attack and the Americans' attempts to figure out what they're planning are depicted in parallel, as is the attack's aftermath — but it did get a lot of critical flak for focusing more on it than the actual historical events. It also got criticism for loads of historical inaccuracies, which The Other Wiki gives a fairly lengthy segment on.

Since this was Michael Bay's first film disappointment — it was expected to be the big blockbuster of that summer, but was ultimately upstaged by Shrek — he gets a lot of the blame, which isn't really justified. Several factors point to writer Randall Wallace, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the studio, just as much, if not more, than Bay.

For an actually good film adaptation, see Tora! Tora! Tora!.

Pearl Harbor provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Evelyn turning to Danny after Rafe's supposed death.
  • Accidental Adultery: Rafe is presumed dead after being shot down over Nazi Germany. His Love Interest Evelyn begins a romance with his best friend Danny, which makes things awkward when Rafe returns alive. Fortunately, Danny has the good manners to get himself actually killed on their next mission, leaving both of them Someone to Remember Him By.
  • Ace Pilot: Rafe and Danny.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: As mentioned below, while it may seemed odd and even silly that a sailor crying out that he can't swim, but back then, swimming wasn't taught to decrease the number of restrictions.
  • America Won World War II: Despite being set before America even enters WWII, there is a scene where a British man states:
    "God help anyone who goes to war with America".
  • Anti-Villain: Naval Marshall General Isoroku Yamamoto (Type IV). While being charged by the Japanese Empire with the task of somehow successfully destroying the American Pacific navy at anchor in shallow waters, he is making comments such as "A brilliant man would find a way not to fight a war."
  • Artistic License Geography: Mountains in Long Island, NY indeed.
  • Artistic License History:
    • Hilariously, in a couple of establishing shots, there are more Japanese planes visible than actually participated in the attack.
    • Some shots of the attack show Japanese fighter planes firing on and killing civilians, something that (in the actual historical event) they were specifically ordered not to do. Ironically, the Doolittle raid did involve firing on and killing civilians, but there's no such depiction in the film.
    • Rafe manages to fight in the Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor, and the Doolittle Raids. Naturally, this wasn't true of any real pilots.
    • Pretty much none of the attack in the movie is historically accurate.
      • USS Oklahoma did not turn 180 degrees when she capsized. She only rolled about 120 degrees before her superstructure came to rest on the shallow harbor bottom, with only the two starboard screws out of the water.
      • The attack by Japanese midget submarines is ignored.
      • The simultaneous attacks on Wheeler Army Airfield in the center of the island and Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on the northeastern shore get no mention.
      • The entire attack is seemingly focused on Battleship Row, ignoring the damage inflicted on the drydock holding the battleship USS Pennsylvania and the destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes (both destroyers were a total loss), USS Utah on the opposite side of Ford Island (an old battleship converted to a gunnery training ship, capsized and took over 100 Navy recruits with her), the light cruiser USS Raleigh (moored near Utah, nearly capsized but was saved by the quick actions of a few harbor tugs and barges), the destroyer USS Shaw (torn in half), or the minelayer USS Oglala (capsized against the dock).
      • The most dramatic Real Life events aboard the battleships, namely USS Nevada's attempted breakout and subsequent beaching, the emergency counterflooding to save USS West Virginia from capsizing, and the firefighting effort aboard USS California (whose magazines had to be flooded to save the ship from a catastrophic explosion) are ignored. Ironically, West Virginia was Dorie Miller's ship.
      • The Doolittle Raiders did not bomb Tokyo in formation. They split up to hit targets spread all over the greater metropolitan area for maximum psychological effect. They also suffered no casualties over Japan, with only one man killed in China when his parachute failed. Four others were executed by the Japanese in 1944.
  • Artistic License Military:
    • A grand total of zero United States Army Air Forces pilots joined the Eagle Squadron. They would not have been allowed — rather than Ben Affleck's character volunteering to go, he would have had to have deserted, and then secretly joined the squadron.
    • It is ridiculous to suggest that a fighter pilot would be selected to later pilot a medium bomber in the Doolittle Raid, especially because of the unusual demands of taking such a large plane off a carrier. Rafe, Danny, and the rest are P-40 pilots. Retraining them for a different single-engine fighter would take weeks. Getting them to the point of being able to get a multi-engine bomber off the ground, much less landing it without dying, would take months. The level of proficiency needed to launch a loaded B-25 from a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier would take years to achieve. Doolittle really was qualified in every plane the Army Air Corps had, but only because he was a freaking test pilot.
    • "P-40s can't outrun Zeros, so don't try". The P-40 is, in fact, significantly faster than the Zero, but few American pilots were aware of the relative differences between the two planes in 1941 anyways.
    • The Japanese fighters and torpedo bombers in the actual attack are incorrectly painted dark green—primarily to help distinguish them from their American counterparts.
  • Artistic License Ships: Almost all the ships that aren't special effects are wrong in one way or another:
    • At one point, we see a wide shot of the US fleet prior to the Doolittle raid. No attempt is made to disguise the modern Kitty Hawk-Class supercarrier in the middle or a modern attack sub accompanying the fleet.
    • The USS Lexington museum ship was used to simulate both Japanese carrier Akagi during the Pearl Harbor attack scene, and its angled deck is clearly visible.
    • The USS Constellation stands in for the USS Hornet (during the Doolittle raid's launch scene). It's angled deck is clearly visible, as is its modern radar array, its steam catapult, and its gatling CIWS systems.
    • All the carriers in the film have steel decks instead of wooden ones. Only British carriers had armored decks in 1941.
    • Several US navy destroyers are featured being bombed in the film. 70's era Spruance-class guided missile destroyers, that is.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The USS Arizona is blown apart by an armor-piercing bomb that sets off the powder magazine.
  • Award Bait Song: The song "There You'll Be", sung by Faith Hill has something familiar about it. Perhaps a slight similarity to a song from an earlier blockbuster movie? Nah.
  • Bar Brawl
  • Billed Above the Title: Ben Affleck. This movie was supposed to be his coronation as an A-list movie star; instead it was the beginning of a very slippery slope for his career.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Considering the large number of high-caliber bullets flying down to the civilians and military dudes, there's remarkably little haemoglobin being spilled. Averted in other scenes though.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Rafe and Danny nearly get court-martialled for playing chicken with their planes. During the attack, they use the same stunt to knock down four Japanese Zeros.
  • Chef of Iron: Petty Officer Doris Miller, who is a cook onboard a ship who mans the guns.
  • Comforting the Widow: A slight variation. Evelyn is in love with Rafe, who then goes off to fight the Nazis. She learns that his plane was shot down, so she immediately falls in love with his best friend, Danny. When Rafe returns it's, um, awkward. It doesn't help that she's pregnant. But it DOES help that Danny gets killed by Japanese troops after they crash in China!
  • Death of the Hypotenuse
  • Developing Doomed Characters: An hour and fifteen minutes until the actual Pearl Harbor attack happens.
  • Dramatic Irony: One of the nurses noting how few patients there are in the hospital when she shows the newcomers around.
  • Dynamic Entry: Towards the end of the movie, when Rafe and his bomber crew are pinned down by Japanese troops, Danny's bomber comes in and strafes them before crash landing a short distance away.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: When the Japanese take off to attack Pearl Harbor, and when the Americans take off to attack Tokyo.
  • Follow the Leader: Titanic (1997) in this case.
  • General Failure: Subverted with Admiral Kimmel. While he doesn't put the Pacific Fleet on full alert, he is deeply concerned with the threat that Japan poses. He even calls out an analyst who claims an attack on Pearl Harbor is impossible, saying that "A smart enemy hits you right where you think you're safe."
  • Gorn: The Director's Cut. Oh god the Director's Cut.
  • Hollywood History: Just see the aforementioned list.
  • Hollywood Tactics: At one point, Rafe advises the other pilots that the Zero is faster than the Warhawk, so they would have to try to out-turn them in a fight. In fact, the opposite was true: The Zero, while very maneuverable, was considerably slower than most American fighters. Of course, many American pilots early in the war learned that fact the hard way.
    • Also understandable as the only intelligence on the A-6M Zero was thought of as insane at the time. On top of that, the P-40s were having to get off the ground and accelerate while the Zeros were already at combat speed. So even though the P-40 was a faster plane (especially after a diving attack), the plane would have significant difficulty getting rid of a Zero that's got all the cards before the Warhawk can even leave the ground.
    • During his tour in Britain, Rafe's monopolization of the radio while in combat was a definite no-no. Radio nets were shared with the entire squadron, and during combat were only to be used in an emergency (i.e. "You've got a German on your tail") or by the commanding officer. Describing literally everything you're doing, while crowding out what others in your squadron might be doing, would get the snot beaten out of you by your squadmates back at base.
  • Hospital Hottie: Evelyn, and most of her fellow nurses.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: In several portions of the dogfight (particularly early on, after taking off), the Zeros fire over a hundred rounds at two basically straight-flying P-40s without hitting anything. Realistically, the nose-mounted machine guns on the Zero should all hit on a fixed target anywhere within their effective range — the Zeroes getting in loads of hits was what should have actually happened, but none really do more than wound the very heavily-armored American fighters.
  • Informed Ability: A lot of characters like to talk about how much of a talented hero Rafe is. Oddly enough, in scenes where both he and Danny are flying, he doesn't show himself to be any better at flying than Danny does, as they both manage to get rid of the Japanese pilots trailing them. And not to mention that the reasons he lists for volunteering for the RAF entail him not wanting to get stuck training newbies and basically just wanting glory to his name. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but coupled with the fact that even real historical figures act like he is a big noble hero, it starts to grate.
  • Jerkass: Rafe.
  • Location Theme Naming: All of the American battleships are named for US states. Arizona (the battleship that is blown up) and West Virginia (where Doris Miller mans a machine gun) both get featured during the fighting.
  • Never Trust a Title: This movie is 3 hours long — 183 minutes. Only 45 of those minutes entail the battle of Pearl Harbor. Then the movie even rambles on after Pearl Harbor.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Trailers and posters either severely downplayed the love story, or didn't mention it at all. It's telling that many commented the trailers were better than the movie.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Rafe and Danny's action at Pearl Harbor is based on that of Lieutenants Kenneth Taylor and George Welch.
  • Noble Demon: Admiral Yamamoto is portrayed as this.
  • Outside-Context Villain: After one of the heroes points out that the attacking planes are Japanese, a bystander remarks "I didn't even know the Japs were sore at us!"
  • Politically Correct History: While it was really nice to show that Britain was fighting the war before America even got involved, it was still inaccurate. The US Military could not send their military to fight the war when the US was neutral at the time. He would had to have been a civilian.
    • Japanese aircraft are shown strafing a hospital, and chasing civilian cars, which didn't happen in real life.
  • Pretty in Mink: Fur trimmed coats worn by the ladies, a few more furs in the club scene, and even Faith Hill wore a fox wrap for the music video.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The scene where a sailor cries out he can't swim was based on real events. Swimming wasn't mandatory in the US navy until after World War II.
  • Shout-Out: After being ordered to land after an exercise, the pilots instead decide to do a flyby. Sure the details are different, but the allusion to Top Gun is clear (and some would say very inappropriate).
  • Sitting Duck: The American aircraft and ships at Pearl Harbor. In Real Life, only eight American planes were able to get airborne, and only a handful of ships were able to make the run to open sea, with only one of the eight battleships, Nevada, even managing to get clear of her moorings, only to have to run aground to avoid sinking anyways.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Evelyn's biological son, named for his father.
  • Tattered Flag: Seen lying in the water during the attack.
  • This Is Not a Drill:
    West Virginia PA system: This is no shit! They just sank the Arizona!
  • Tempting Fate: "It's a dud!" No, it's a delayed-detonation bomb.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The dude with the camera. During an aerial assault with everyone running for cover, he stands exactly in the middle of the target area so he can take better footage of the incoming planes. He is, of course, cut down by the gunfire. His dropped camera ends up shooting his lifeless face.
  • Widescreen Shot: The attack squadron shot is a notable one.
  • Wronski Feint: With two planes and two pursuing Japanese fighters.
  • Your Other Left: Used as a Chekhov's Gun.