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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/6/01

Pearl Harbor
60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition - 2001 (2001) - Touchstone (Buena Vista)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Pearl Harbor: 60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/B-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: Pearl Harbor, Part I
129 mins, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, custom dual-disc book packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 67:48, in chapter 17), THX-Optimizer test signals, animated film-themed menus with music, scene selection (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 & Dolby Headphone 2.0) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English & Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Pearl Harbor, Part II
54 mins, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, custom dual-disc book packaging, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), THX-Optimizer test signals, Journey to the Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor documentary, The Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor History Channel documentary, theatrical trailer, teaser trailer, preview trailer for National Geographic Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor, There You'll Be music video by Faith Hill, DVD-ROM features (including the Pearl Harbor Definitive Biography), animated film-themed menus with music, scene selection (13 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 & Dolby Headphone 2.0) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English & Spanish, Closed Captioned

"Let's get this Jap sucker!"

Oh… to live in a world envisioned by director Michael Bay. Every image looks like it fell off a Norman Rockwell canvas. All the men are brash, red-blooded, handsome and strong (except that one awkward kid with the red hair and the big Adam's apple), and all the women are perky-sweet and rosy-cheeked - the type you'd take home to Mom (one look at her will have dear old Ma dreaming of freckle-faced grandchildren). The sun is always smiling on this America. Somewhere down the street, there's a baseball game going. Old Glory's waving in the breeze and the heady smell of apple pie hangs in the air. That is… until the asteroids start falling. Or, in this case, 500-pound bombs from those Jap suckers' Zeros.

Pearl Harbor is a film that very much aspires to follow the pattern of success of James Cameron's Titanic. The structure of the film itself is even the same, featuring a two-dimensional love triangle that dominates the first half of the story, with an action-packed second half that's super-charged by the best special effects Hollywood can offer. But while this pattern mostly worked for Titanic, it falls flat here. This feels like two completely different films, tacked together rather uncomfortably. The attack on Pearl Harbor itself is visually amazing… more realistic than the real thing. But I start getting a little uncomfortable when any filmmaker makes history look like a video game. And after sitting through the painfully long 80 minutes that lead up to the attack, I was practically asleep anyway.

Most of the actors in this film seem like they're walking through their roles, just reacting to what's happening around them. That's not to say that they're necessarily bad - just that this script is extremely contrived. Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett play Rafe and Danny, a pair of boyhood friends who aspire to be fighter pilots and eventually get their wish as World War II looms across the Atlantic. Rafe falls in love with a pretty nurse named Evelyn (played by Kate Beckinsale), just before he volunteers for an assignment with the RAF defending England from the Nazis. Meanwhile, Danny and Evelyn find themselves shipped off to balmy Hawaii, about as far from the war as they can get. When they get word that Rafe's been killed in action, the two soon find themselves inexorably drawn together, first to ease their sorrows and then romantically. But surprise - Rafe's alive and well, and returns to complicate things on December 6th, 1941… just in time for all three to find themselves caught up in the surprise ILM - I mean, Japanese - attack.

When I first saw Pearl Harbor in the theater, the movie was pretty much a wash for me as a piece of entertainment. The good stuff here is so weighed down by the bad that it pretty much breaks even - like matter and anti-matter annihilating each other… just without the bright flash and all the energy. Still, there is a certain amount of guilty pleasure to be found here. Filling out the film's variously thin subplots are Jon Voight (in a great supporting turn as President Roosevelt), Alec Baldwin (in a cheesy but fun performance as Colonel James Doolittle) and Cuba Gooding, Jr. (good but barely used as a cook on board the doomed U.S.S. Arizona). These are all real historical characters (unlike the leads), and they're far more interesting to me that the story of Rafe, Danny and Evelyn. Unfortunately, they're largely used as filler in an already bloated film. I can't help but think that an opportunity to tell their stories has been lost here. All in all though, if you lower your expectations, there are far worse ways to spend three hours of your life than watching this sort of gung-ho, premasterbatory stroking of our collective American egos. Armageddon comes to mind.

Given that Pearl Harbor runs some 183 minutes, the film has been broken up into two parts (over two discs) for this DVD release, to maximize image quality. On the whole, the anamorphic widescreen video is excellent. The source print used for the transfer occasionally exhibits moderate grain, but that is no doubt intended - an artistic choice. I noticed little digital artifacting, and the transfer features extraordinarily vibrant and accurate color. Contrast is also excellent, with very deep blacks and yet good detail throughout the image. My biggest complaint, however, is unnecessary edge enhancement visible through the entire film. This is most noticeable during the battle scenes. Look at the fighter planes' wings and you'll almost always notice a thin, ghostly edge around them. It's a shame, because this is otherwise a pretty great transfer.

On the audio side, the discs feature both English Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, along with an additional French Dolby Digital 5.1 track. All are excellent, featuring active surround sound fields, a wide front stage and deep low frequency support. Dialogue is almost always clear, which is an achievement given the energetic nature of these mixes. The DTS soundtrack is just a hair better than the others, sounding slightly more smooth and natural, but it's a very minor improvement that will probably only be appreciated by those with high-end home theater systems. This is good audio all around, whichever option you choose.

There's one other audio feature on these discs that represents a first on a major studio DVD - a 2.0 Dolby Headphone track. Dolby Headphone is basically a process that simulates the effect of listening to full, multi-channel surround sound, using ANY pair of average, stereo headphones. It's designed for those who watch their discs on the go, using portable DVD players and laptops with DVD-ROM drives. We first saw this process demonstrated at CES a few years ago, and we were totally blown away by it. When we saw the demonstration, it required that a special chip be installed in the device, which then processed any existing Dolby Digital 5.1 track. We couldn't wait to see portable players hit the market with this feature. When few did (we assume because manufacturers didn't wish to bear the added cost of the chip), Dolby changed tactics. What they've done for this DVD, is to take the film's 5.1 soundtrack and pre-process it into a 2.0 Dolby Headphone track, that is then encoded onto the disc. That means that no additional hardware processing is necessary - just plug in your headphones and go. The effect is amazing. It's not true 5.1 of course, but the process adds tremendous depth and realism to the listening experience. Dolby Headphone is one of the coolest DVD features we've seen yet, and those of us here at The Digital Bits would like to see it used more often by all the studios. Hell, we'd like to see it become as standard a feature on DVDs as DTS, particularly on major releases. It takes up little room on a disc and adds a lot of value for those who use it.

On to the bonus material. It's not quite fair to call this DVD release a movie-only version, because what you do get would be enough to give most average discs the "special edition" moniker. All of the extras are included on Disc Two. To start with, you get a glossy (but fairly substantial) documentary on the making of the film. I say glossy, because it has that studio/promotional feel. But if you stick with it, the piece features good interviews with the cast and crew, along with many of those who actually experienced the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 (and who were consulted during the making of the film). There's also a good History Channel documentary on some of those same individuals, with excellent background on the attack itself. It features actual archived footage and photographs of the attack. In addition to this, you get the film's theatrical trailer and teaser trailer (sadly, neither in anamorphic widescreen), the Faith Hill music video from the film's soundtrack, a preview of the National Geographic documentary companion to the film (available separately on disc) and a DVD-ROM "definitive biography" of the history and events depicted in the film. These DVDs also possess some of the most gorgeous looking animated menu screens we've seen in a long time. They're simple, stylish and classy looking, actually managing to make the film seem worth viewing. Add to that the nifty, book-like packaging (styled to look like a leather-bound captain's log book) and you've got a decent little package.

If you liked Pearl Harbor casually, this edition is well worth a look. But if you're a more serious fan (don't be ashamed... it's okay to admit it), you'll probably want to wait until May of next year, when Buena Vista expects to release their 4-disc (at last count) Vista Series Director's Cut version of the film. That DVD release will include a massive assortment of supplemental materials (including a director's commentary track), in addition to a slightly longer version of the film (gulp!). It's being produced by David Prior (the creative talent behind Fox's terrific Fight Club, Planet of the Apes (2001) and Die Hard: Five Star Edition DVDs), so you can reasonably expect the release will be worth the wait, the film itself not withstanding. And in the meantime, you can give this two-disc edition a rental spin for a taste of what's to come.

Bill Hunt

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