Bombs Away: "Pearl Harbor" Strikes!
Plus: MAGNIFICENT SEVEN Ride on DVD
An Aisle Seat Entry by Andy Dursin
The Memorial Day weekend means big summer movie openings -- and we saw
it happen again to no one's surprise with the opening of PEARL HARBOR this
past weekend (though its projected box-office take was nowhere near the
record-breaker the studio was anticipating).
One thing struck me in particular while watching the film: in this day
and age of longer "Director's Cuts," why not release on video a Special
Edition/Director's Cut that's actually SHORTER than its original version?
(I believe Blake Edwards was the last to attempt such a feat with a recutting
of his ballyhooed "Darling Lili" from the early '70s). Whatever you happen
to think of the new Michael Bay-Jerry Bruckheimer epic, I don't think anyone
will argue that the movie needed some cutting. Will we see it? Likely not,
but it's a noble idea just the same when it seems like every film these
days is extending itself on video and DVD.
As far as the movie goes, my review follows below, along with another
round-up of recent and noteworthy new DVD releases, from "The Magnificent
Seven" to "The Emperor's New Groove"÷
PEARL HARBOR (**1/2 of four): There were many conflicting emotions
running through me while watching Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer's big-budget
recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, supported by a romantic tale
of two WWII pilots -- and childhood buddies -- both in love with the same
nurse stationed in Hawaii.
And yet, despite all of the flaws -- and there are a multitude -- I
still enjoyed PEARL HARBOR as an epic throwback to a '40s B-movie, complete
with a stilted romance, laughable dialogue, but also some rousing action
scenes that finally sharpen the movie's focus during the second half. TITANIC
this movie isn't, but while James Cameron was attempting to make a serious
drama in addition to a meticulous reconstruction of that actual event,
director Michael Bay is more concerned with creating a summer-time, popcorn-munching
blockbuster, and along those lines, he's succeeded in crafting a better
epic than his previous work showed he was capable of doing.
Not that you would necessarily sense that, however, from the movie's
monotonous, poorly-written first half.
Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett play two pals thrust first into conflict
of a personal nature when pilot Affleck agrees to join the Royal Air Force
in England, leaving behind his new girlfriend -- nurse Kate Beckinsale
-- in Hawaii months prior to Pearl Harbor's attack. When the inaccurate
word gets out that Affleck has been killed in combat, a distraught Beckinsale
seeks to move on with her life, and improbably hooks up with her love's
friend, Hartnett, in a sequence that brings to mind all the poetry of a
It's safe to say that the love story in PEARL HARBOR is a total bomb.
Affleck gives a believable-enough performance here, but he has no chemistry
with the bland Beckinsale, who seems lost amongst the movie's dizzying
cinematography and cross-cutting with secondary characters, ranging from
her fellow nurses to brief interludes with historical figures (including
Mako's Admiral Yamamoto and Jon Voight's saintly FDR).
The script, credited to Randall Wallace but reportedly rewritten by
Dick Clement and Ian Lafrenias (read below for more information), is laughably
simplistic through this entire section of the movie, and fails to illustrate
why either Hartnett or Affleck would care about Beckinsale other than to
fulfill the script's pre- requisite tragic love story. If anything, Harnett's
scenes with her are even worse than the ones that preceded them, meaning
the entire romantic element never once engages the emotions or carries
any resonance at the pre-ordained conclusion.
But all, however, is not lost. If Bay seems ill at ease with the movie's
preponderance of characters and development of the love story, he feels
far more comfortable with PEARL HARBOR's formulaic but entertaining second
half, benefiting from bombastic, scenery-chewing overacting from Alec Baldwin
(as Jimmy Doolittle), flashes of rousing patriotism, and fantastic special
effects. Here, Bay is able to take full advantage of the improvements in
the medium since the days of "Tora! Tora! Tora!" -- instead of that picture's
handful of Japanese planes which attack the American naval fleet, here
we see the hundreds that truly did. ILM's effects look realistic, detailed,
and together with John Schwartzman's cinematography, produce a truly spectacular
set-piece that brings home the promised goods that the movie, up that point,
had failed to deliver.
And using as its climax an actual 1942 attack on Japan that Doolittle
spearheaded the following spring, Bay is able to craft a satisfying, action-oriented
conclusion to his film -- one that still could have been improved simply
with tighter editing and more attention to detail.
For starters, the movie is needlessly overlong, padded with superfluous
supporting characters and a handful of scenes which feel as if they belong
in a Deleted Scenes supplement on DVD. All of Beckinsale's friends could
have hit the cutting room floor without any negative impact to the film;
similar scenes which feature buddies of Affleck and Hartnett also could
have bit the dust and helped to tighten the film's rambling opening act.
While I'm also aware that the movie is not a documentary, it wouldn't
have been all that difficult to delineate more rationale behind the two
nations' involvement in WWII (the film would have you think it's all about
the U.S. cutting off Japan's oil supply), or simply get more of its facts
straight. Voight's FDR and other American leaders (played by Colm Feore
and even old friend Peter Firth from "Lifeforce") don't receive enough
screen time to make an impact, much less explain to younger viewers why
what happened did. Beckinsale's epilogue speech borders on insulting to
one's intelligence, with its simple-minded interpretation of the war's
resolution coming off as completely Hollywood in the most traditional definition
of the word (that said, it's still no worse than the godawful ending Steven
Spielberg tacked onto the end of "Saving Private Ryan").
Hans Zimmer's score proves also to be a mixed bag. There are times when
his John Barry-esque love theme is poignantly utilized, and others when
its wallpaper-like misuse prove overbearing. His propulsive war music,
however, often comes off as maddeningly inappropriate -- somehow it doesn't
seem right that driving drum machines are used when the Japanese take off
on their fateful dawn raid. Other anthems sound more like Randy Edelman's
work on "Gettysburg" than typical Zimmer, and I couldn't help but wonder
what a more consistent, orchestral approach -- by the likes of John Williams
or even Ennio Morricone (who Zimmer seems to be imitating with his wordless
female vocals) -- wouldn't have brought to the entire film.
But all of that said, PEARL HARBOR is not trying to be "Titanic" or
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" It is, for lack of a better term, what it is -- a summer-time
entertainment, a throwback to an old WWII movie where the good guys were
truly good and righteous and noble, much like many Americans who fought
(and died) in "the last great war." The flaccid love story and pacing issues
aside, it's well-mounted, technically proficient, and near-flawless in
its depiction of the actual attack, and for many viewers, that alone will
be satisfying enough. (PG-13, 183 mins)
PEARL HARBOR Mutiny?
As a side note to the movie's opening this past weekend, writer Randall
Wallace ("Braveheart") came out and made sure that critics were aware --
despite his sole writing credit on PEARL HARBOR -- that his script was
NOT completely used by Michael Bay.
Said Wallace in a New
York Daily News column, "the script I wrote wasn't fully the script
that Michael shot."
Wallace added, "if you look at 'Armageddon' or 'The Rock' and if you
think there is any superficiality [in "Pearl Harbor"], where do you think
it came from?"
Although he stopped short of saying he's disappointed in the finished
film, Wallace concluded by saying "I'm proud of the script that I wrote.
That's why I took the time to write the ["Pearl Harbor"] novel, which is
not a novelization. But the reviewers won't read that."
Sounds like we might hear more on this topic as months go by÷
New On DVD
MGM WESTERNS: Elmer Bernstein's magnificent score remains a highlight
of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (****, MGM, $24.98), a John Sturges film
that turned Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" into an American western legacy
spanning four feature films and a later, recent CBS television series.
The original, newly resurrected on DVD from MGM, stars Yul Brynner as
a gunslinger who recruits a band of six others (Steve McQueen, Charles
Bronson, and James Coburn among them) to help defend a small Mexican town
against villain Eli Wallach and his gang of mercenaries. A bona-fide film
classic, MGM's DVD is newly remastered though the 2.35 transfer often appears
in ragged shape (particularly during reel changes) and offers a Dolby Digital
5.1 remixed soundtrack that offers more stereophonic music but not much
in the way of high-quality home-theater fidelity.
That said, the DVD is nevertheless still worthwhile for its supplements:
an audio commentary featuring Eli Wallach, James Coburn, producer Walter
Mirisch, and others is included, along with a terrific new documentary
featuring a thorough accounting of the production. Highly recommended!
Among the studio's other new western releases is RETURN OF THE SEVEN
(the movie's actual on-screen title, though the film is commonly known
as RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), the belated 1966 sequel with Brynner
back as Chris, here defending yet another small town with a gaggle of new
pals. Larry Cohen (!) scripted this follow-up, with western vet Burt Kennedy
handling the action, shot on-location in Spain. Elmer's music once again
graces the film (**1/2, $19.98), here featured in an okay 2.35 transfer
with standard mono sound.
From the formulaic to the strangely surreal, Robert Altman's original
cut of BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS (**, $19.98) has also turned
up from MGM. This Dino DeLaurentiis production features Paul Newman as
Bill, along with Burt Lancaster, Joel Grey, and Geraldine Chaplin, in a
comedic western based loosely on Arthur Kopit's play. The script by Altman
and Alan Rudolph, however, is a slow-moving mess, though at least MGM's
DVD features the full restoration of the 2.35 frame, along with an original
featurette and trailer.
Finally, from the surreal to the comedic comes CITY SLICKERS
(***1/2, $19.98), Billy Crystal's more-than-agreeable 1991 box-office hit
that mixes contemporary laughs in a standard western setting -- complete
with Jack Palance's Oscar-winning performance as Curly, the cantankerous
guide who teaches Crystal and pals Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby about life
on AND off the trail. MGM's DVD features a good-looking, new 1.85 transfer
and decent Dolby Surround soundtrack, spotlighting Marc Shaiman's marvelous
score. Supplements are limited to a theatrical trailer, which is a bit
surprising given the film's popularity and the studio's recent deluxe edition
of another Crystal comedy hit ("When Harry Met Sally÷").
ANTI-TRUST (***, MGM, $24.98): Unfairly dismissed
by critics as a brainless teen thriller, this slick and entertaining box-office
underachiever from last January stars Ryan Phillippe as a computer whiz
who uncovers shady dealings once he begins working for a very Bill Gates-like
multimedia tycoon (Tim Robbins) in the Pacific Northwest.
With a surprisingly clever script by Howard Franklin ("Quick Change,"
"The Public Eye") and capable direction from Peter Howitt, ANTI-TRUST is
a fast-moving teen vehicle featuring an attractive young cast (Rachael
Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani), nice work by Robbins, and a fair degree of
suspense as well. Combined with some fine use of widescreen cinematography
by John Bailey, ANTI-TRUST is good fun and a terrific DVD, capped off by
a handful of excellent supplements.
Among the goodies: commentary with the director, a promotional documentary,
several deleted scenes, alternate opening/closing sequences, a music video,
and the original trailer. The 2.35 transfer is, predictably, superb, and
the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is crisp and well-defined, containing
a nice score by Don Davis. Definitely worth a look.
THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE (***, Disney, $29.98,
2-DVD Edition): This Disney holiday entry from last Christmas was conceived
initially as an elaborate animated musical called "Kingdom of the Sun"
before being completely overhauled into a jokey, "Aladdin"-like comedy
sans musical numbers.
The result is a goofy and amiable farce with a deposed king (voiced
by David Spade) morphed into a llama by evil advisor Eartha Kitt, who takes
over his kingdom while the king valiantly tries to regain control with
the help of a family man (voiced by John Goodman).
EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE is even more of a madcap, Warner Bros.-inspired
effort than "Aladdin," rarely pausing to develop any overtly melodramatic
or saccharine passages. The directors keep the action moving (the film
runs only 77 minutes, including credits) and the animation -- intentionally
"old school" when compared to the glut of today's CGI-driven work -- should
have buffs savoring each and every frame while both kids and adults laugh
at the zany story.
Unsurprisingly, Disney's DVD is reference-quality when it comes to the
transfer (1.66) and soundtracks (DTS and Dolby Digital, with another nod
to the DTS track). Like past releases of "Dinosaur" and "Tarzan," Buena
Vista has released two packages of the movie on DVD: a single-disc edition,
and a more elaborate 2-DVD set with a handful of supplements.
Again, the extras run the gamut from storyboards to deleted scenes,
animation, filmmaker commentary, and some supplements aimed at younger
viewers. Unfortunately, while there are still many wonderfully revealing
moments here, the development of the movie's turbulent production is never
Aside from a few storyboards, little mention is made of "Kingdom of
the Sun,", likely due to studio policy. It's a shame, too, since Sting
and David Hartley had penned a handful of songs, only a pair of which were
used in the final cut -- exactly the kind of material that would have made
the DVD's extras so fascinating had they been included. Unfortunately,
the supplementary chapter on the music here includes a brief, promotional
interview with Sting while he recorded the video for "My Funny Friend and
Me," but nothing more.
Sting himself reportedly shot a documentary on his work for "Kingdom
of the Sun," in which the singer-songwriter is supposed to fully detail
his frustration with the picture's shifting tone. I'm hopeful we'll see
what "could have been" there since -- as entertaining as EMPEROR'S NEW
GROOVE is -- it's not one of the studio's "classic" films and likely won't
be looked at as such as the years go by.
FINDING FORRESTER (***, Columbia TriStar, $24.98):
Sean Connery's performance as a very J.D. Salinger-like reclusive author
whose run-in with a young African-American high school student prompts
him to regain his faith in life is the highlight of Gus Van Sant's little
sleeper from last winter.
A low-key, predictable script sometimes limits Van Sant and the actors
from crafting a more substantial piece here, but nevertheless, there's
much to savor: a great performance from Connery, a new role for F. Murray
Abraham (basically essaying his Salieri role from AMADEUS again to good
effect), and a fine debut for young Rob Brown as the student, turn between
his two talents: basketball and writing.
Van Sant's use of New York locations gives the movie a healthy dose
of atmosphere (though most of the studio work was done in Toronto), though
there are times when the Miles Davis-filled jazz soundtrack seems a bit
too obscure for its own good. Nevertheless, the performances make FINDING
FORRESTER work, even while the movie runs a bit too long past the two-hour
Columbia's DVD is another winner from the studio: the 2.35 transfer
is excellent, the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack efficient, and a handful
of supplements (HBO First Look documentary, deleted choir scenes) round
out the package.
FINDING FORRESTER was pegged as a possible Oscar contender late last
year, but when the nominations failed to materialize, so did the movie's
hopes of box-office success. Word of mouth kept the movie afloat more than
another, similar hyped-up Oscar candidate ("13 Days"), and for the performances
-- especially by Connery -- alone, FINDING FORRESTER is worth a view.
ICE CASTLES (**1/2, Columbia TriStar, $19.98): Look up the definition
of "Tragic Sports Movie" and you are likely to find this weepy, over-the-top
1979 melodrama with Lynn-Holly Johnson ("For Your Eyes Only"'s blonde bombshell)
as "Lexie," a figure skater whose quest for the Gold results in a tragic
accident that leaves her virtually blind.
Nursed back to health by boyfriend Robby Benson (back when Rob was all
the rage) and coach Colleen Dewhurst (in a great performance), Lynn-Holly
tries valiantly to stage a comeback -- provided nobody becomes aware of
her disability, of course.
Adequately performed across the board, the Donald Wrye-Gary Baim script
seems like a blueprint for this kind of film: syrupy melodrama, maudlin
speechifying, and an unbelievable climax are each on- hand in abundance.
For all of those reasons, ICE CASTLES has been a favorite of viewers over
the years, making Columbia's DVD (grainy 1.85 transfer, mono sound) an
essential pick-up for the movie's loyal fans.
While there isn't much in the way of supplements here (trailers and
talent files), the disc does its job effectively, just like the film and
-- especially -- Marvin Hamlisch's moving score, which features Melissa
Manchester's smash hit "Through the Eyes of Love," a ballad which found
its way to further fame in Hallmark Card commercials years after the fact.
Whether that song makes you or sick, or makes you well up with emotion,
will determine your patience and tolerance for ICE CASTLES.
IN TWO WEEKS: Back with MOULIN ROUGE and your comments
on PEARL HARBOR, which can be emailed to me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.