The highest emotional peak happens about three minutes into this movie, through master scene stealer William Fichtner who unfortunately never appears again. The rest of the feelings the film generates is excitement over a fantastic series of special effects which despite looking extremely realistic and being very successful at showing the amount of physical destruction of this horrible day, failed to open the scars of the past. Was it because this all happened more than one hour and a half into a very slow moving story? Maybe. I was a bit worn out by the time the Japanese took to the air, having had to follow the lovebirds around the screen and by the time hell broke loose, I could but thank God I wasn't there since I would most probably have dozed off at my battle station. The film has a 184 minute running time.
Having said that, the film is, without a doubt, a visual masterpiece. The attack on the Harbor itself is some of the most action-packed cinema I've seen and hats go off to the visual effects wizards who pulled off the feat and who are admirably supported by composer Hans Zimmer. The film also boasts an impressive supporting cast, with Tom Sizemore chiming in along with Cuba Gooding Jr., Jennifer Garner, Alec Baldwin, Dan Aykroyd and the incomparable Jon Voight. Nothing bad can be said about any of the performers in this one, it's simply an unfortunate matter of a great subject matter and of a pivotal moment in world history, as well as one of the more emotional events ever...getting lost in a convoluted screenplay that fails to grab the viewer.
DISCS 1 & 2
Audio commentary by director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger: Despite some very interesting anecdotes and explanations, this was more a conversation between the two since they didn't really follow what was on the screen. Interesting nonetheless, it conveyed a lot of information about the film's historical roots but be careful, the pace of this track is painfully slow. One thing to note is that this track was recorded only a few days after the September 11th terrorist attacks, an even paralleled by many to the Pearl Harbor attack.
Audio commentary by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett: Hands down the most interesting and entertaining of the three commentary tracks on the set, this features some pretty funny banter between Affleck and Hartnett, interrupted by Bruckheimer and Baldwin, who seem to be in another room (I hate when they do that). The highlight for me was when Affleck mentioned that he can't possibly imagine someone listening to all three commentary tracks in their entirety (that would be over 9 hours, something my girlfriend would surely disapprove of). It was funny because he mentioned it at exactly the same time I was asking myself the same question. Oddly enough though, the pretentious Alec Baldwin offers no explanations as to why he has not yet moved to France as he promised before the 2000 presidential elections.
Audio commentary by cinematographer John Schwartzman, costume designer Michael Kaplan, production designer Nigel Phelps, supervising art director Martin Laing and composer Hans Zimmer: This is the seemingly mandatory technical commentary, ideal for film school students the world around and utterly confusing the average dude such as yours truly. These guys obviously know the deal and they obviously enjoy talking about it.
Music Video by Faith Hill "There you'll be" (4 minutes): The song associated to the marketing campaign, performed by the very talented Faith Hill.
"Journey to the screen: the making of Pearl Harbor" (50 minutes): Very good documentary featuring cast & crew interviews, as well as on set footage and explanations on the production, the visual effects, the relationship between history and the movie and many other topics. The highlight is a series of very emotional interviews with many veterans of the actual battle.
Production diary (10 scenes, 62 minutes): Very neat feature with clips of the shooting of some of the main scenes in the film, available with optional commentary from Michael Bay. You need only watch a few of them to truly comprehend the scale of this film. It's amazing the lengths they'll go to to build things that will appear on screen for only a few seconds.
Boot camp (20 minutes): This was one of my favorite DVD features. In order to get into their characters, some of the stars of the film underwent military training at U.S. boot camps. One part of the featurette shows Affleck, Hartnett and some of the other guys at an Army Ranger boot camp. I always figured these guys got an easy ride when they did things like this but they were unfortunate enough to inherit one of those drill instructors from Hell. The guys was tearing into them and chewing them out something fierce and even made them do push ups after they screwed thing up. The second part show Baldwin at another camp, this time an officer's camp in Virginia. I don't really want to elaborate on this because I was laughing quite hard when I watched it. Alec Baldwin playing soldier...hilarious! Then again, this is the guy who once said of a U.S. Senator that he should be "stoned to death"... he may have the killer instinct after all.
Super 8 montage (4 minutes): During the shooting, someone was in charge of making some super 8 footage to be used in the newsreel sequences of the film. This is some of the leftover footage which was never used in the release. It's pretty cool and is played to Hans Zimmer's great score.
"One hour over Tokyo" (50 minutes): This is one of two History Channel documentaries to appear on the set. It chronicles the retaliatory raid on Tokyo led by Col. James Doolittle in the months following the sneak attack. Doolittle, played by Baldwin in the film was a famed pilot in World War I and his near suicidal attack on the Japanese capital has become the stuff of legend and is seen by many as one of the turning points in the American offensive in the Pacific. Excellent documentary, with the usual standards of the Learning Channel.
"Unsung heroes of Pearl Harbor" (50 minutes): The second of the History Channel features, this is a very moving collection of stories of people who survived and participated in the attack and in the events that followed it. Not only for history buffs and not only for those who know of the events, this is something great for anyone to watch and if watching the old men and women, with the knowledge that they were once young and strong and with the knowledge of what they went through doesn't touch you, the you need some serious help.
"Oral history: the recollections of a Pearl Harbor Nurse" (3 minutes): Played to a montage of period pictures and clips, this is a 3 minute narrative of the recollections of Lieutenant Ruth Erickson, a nurse stationed at Pearl Harbor the morning of the attacks.
Theatrical Trailer and Theatrical Teaser
Interactive Attack Sequence (30 minutes): This is the kind of stuff DVD was made for! As I mentioned above, the highlight of the movie is the actual attack on the harbor and this gives you the ability to view this scene from four different angles and with seven different sound options. Visual angles include the actual finished movie, on-the set-footage, storyboards & animatics and a composite of all while your audio option include the movie, on-the-set sounds, music only, sound effects only and three commentaries. The first of these is by visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig, the second by Storyboard artist Robert Consing and the last (and best) by actual veterans, both American and Japanese. Basically then, with all the combinations you could watch this scene 35 different ways! Madness! My personal favorites were for angles, on-the-set and for sound, the sound effects only option.
Deconstructing destruction: a conversation on visual effects with director Michael Bay and visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig (50 minutes): This is pretty self-explanatory and you'll know 2 minutes in whether or not it's for you. It features Bay and Brevig, sitting on a couch discussing the visual effect techniques (Brevig is from ILM) that were used for the film, as well as the difficulties they encountered making everything appear as authentic as they did. During the discussion, icons will appear that once selected, will branch out into more detailed clips of what they're speaking about. Pretty cool if you're into that stuff.
Animatic Attack (6 minutes): Another display of visual effects, this time showcasing a rough cut of the rough scheme for the attack. Very basic and blocky yet it makes it all look so easy. Worth a quick glance.
Interactive Timeline (60 minutes): As a history buff, this is the one featurette which really stood out. Going back to 1846, this timeline features a very interesting history of the chain of events that lead to the Day of Infamy by comparing the two cultures involved. With a little bit of background on Japan and on the US, the story becomes clearer and this is pretty complete. The timeline is split into 20 pretty well defined vignettes, each discussing a specific period of time on the timeline. If anyone enjoys this and if you have kids who you'd like to educate on the topic, this is a very easy way of learning about it. Kudos to the makers of this DVD for keeping the historical impact on this event in proper perspective.
Gallery: Still gallery of several different categories ranging from on-the-set stuff, to marketing pics and from actual historical pictures to special effects and more.
The set also contains some DVD-ROM features. Is that enough to keep you satisfied? I hope so.