Magazine article The Spectator

Who Cares?

Magazine article The Spectator

Who Cares?

Article excerpt

Pearl Harbor

(12, selected cinemas)

Those Krauts and Japs have all the luck. They may have lost the war, but they're getting a shorter print of Pearl Harbor: Disney execs have been busy snipping out bits of dialogue in order to avoid giving offence to German and Japanese audiences. To avoid giving offence to English-- speaking audiences, they should have cut all the dialogue.

Connoisseurs will have their favourite moments. I greatly enjoyed the scene between Danny and Evelyn. It begins with a subtitle: `Three months later.' Then Danny says, 'I can't believe it's been three months since I saw you.' But Evelyn also loves Rafe (and no, it's not pronounced 'Ralph'). She enters his room and sees him packing. `Packing?' she says. Michael Bay then cuts to a close-up of the suitcase, with folded clothes inside. In its exquisite laboriousness, this encapsulates the picture's style more than any of the explosions. Bay's last blockbuster, Armageddon, was criticised for being fast-moving but shallow. So he's now made a film that's slow-moving but even shallower.

We begin in lyrical, cornpone Tennessee, where two little boys have two little toys. Gaily they'd play each summer's day, warriors both, of course. One boy is Rafe (Ben Affleck), who as the male lead has been given the designated trait: he's dyslexic, which may well be an advantage with a screenplay by Randall Wallace. Danny (Josh Hartnett) is The Buddy, so he has no trait. The years roll by to 1940 and Rafe and Danny are now flyboys playing chicken during training sessions on Long Island. Those nitpicky historians hung up on obscure facts and stuff will be reassured to know that Hollywood has an equally shaky grip on East Coast topography: this Long Island has spectacular mountains, presumably bulldozed when they built Alec Baldwin's place in the Hamptons.

Speaking of which, here's Alec himself as Colonel Doolittle handing Rafe his official papers immediately ordering him to England to fly with the RAF. Between 1939 and 1941, many brave Yank airmen volunteered as individuals for the RAF and RCAF but they weren't assigned to foreign air forces by their American commanders as that would have been in breach of US neutrality. Still, it does give Rafe's sweetheart, Evelyn, the opportunity to see him off at Grand Central Station: apparently, in those days, to get from New York to England, you took the train.

When it pulls in at Victoria, Rafe discovers that England is hell. Not only is it damp but, unlike back home, where the pilots have the healthy glow of a 1950s gay body-- building magazine, the local air aces are weedy, pasty, thin-lipped anti-hunks whose feeble Battle of Britain is sorely in need of a bit of Yankee derring-do. `The German Luftwaffe relentlessly bombards downtown London,' intones the newsreel announcer, the authentic period flavour of his script matched only by the bass reverb of his Kiss-FM delivery, `while Churchill's Royal Air Force struggles to maintain control of the British skies.' Fortunately, Rafe is there to save downtown London.

But half a world away Imperial Japan is preparing to attack Pearl Harbor to protest about the US oil embargo. Hmm. If you're doing a GCSE essay on root causes of the second world war, don't quote me on that one. Soon, Admiral Yamamoto (Mako) is going full steam ahead and cabling Tokyo with his own subtitles, translated from the original gibberish: "The rise and fall of our empire is at stake! …

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