This series focuses on the one and only Michael Bay. Attempting to deconstruct his filmography, one film at a time. The ideas explored here may or may not end up in my Dissertation about Michael Bay and Post-Cinema.
And to answer the question: Does it ever rain in a Michael Bay movie?
In 1997 the biggest film of all-time was released, James Cameron’s TITANIC. A grand epic, a love story centred around a tragedy. In 2001, Michael Bay released his grand epic, tragic love story, PEARL HARBOR.
The results were, interesting.
When discussing PEARL HARBOR, TITANIC has to be mentioned in the same breath. Both films have a monumental tragedy to tackle. Both films have a love story. But the difference between the two is the directors responsible.
James Cameron comes from a horror background. THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS are pretty much horror films with other elements attached. He understands that whilst there is spectacle to be had by a ship sinking, it is a terrifying concept.
Michael Bay on the otherhand is from the whole of commercials, for marketing an image and making it look as impressive as possible. The spectacle of PEARL HARBOR should be impressive to look at, but it also should be tragic. Real people died, but the setpiece of the attack is bombastic, showy. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in showing the tragedy for what it is.
Before that is the love story, and it just isn’t interesting for us and I can sort of tell that is because it isn’t interesting to him. I can tell that he is itching to get to the action, which may explain the pre-emptive scenes set in Japan, Washington DC, and Britain. To be honest, the dogfight when Affleck is ‘killed’ is perhaps the closest Bay gets to Cameron.
The actual attack itself, as an action setpiece, is incredible. There are multiple narrative strands through the attack. We have Cuba Gooding Jr. with his heroics, Kate Beckinsale and the nurses, and finally Josh Hartnett and Ben Affleck flying up and fighting back. All of these threads are very well coordinated, as the audience we are able to follow it all very coherently (which will become an anomaly for Bay films).
In the previous post about ARMAGEDDON, I mentioned the tangibility of the explosions and effects. This is present moreso in PEARL HARBOR.
The 40-45 minute sequence consistently has elements that feel ‘real’, the torpedoes, the explosions, the gunshots and ricocheting debris. However, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN this is not. The human cost isn’t lingered on in a meaningful way, there needs to be a documentarian touch to these sequences if they are to work as they should. However the nature of Bay’s filmmaking style means that his commercial tendencies and overpowering need to showcase the spectacle, means that the human cost isn’t deemed as tragic.
The plane sequence with Hartnett and Affleck (Danny and Rafe…?) fighting back is extravagent and fist-pumping. This is shot as though America is fighting back, and winning, when its anything but (there were actual pilots that did that though). The Operation Doolittle, whilst historically true, is the narrative need of Michael Bay to have America ‘win’. This again is Michael Bay as triumphant as he gets. To be honest, I don’t think the score helps.
TITANIC is 3 hours long, but is as lean as it gets. All of the hard work done in the first half of the movie pays off. PEARL HARBOR is also 3 hours long. But there was no heavy lifting, the narrative threads between the leads isn’t lean screenwriting, its bad screenwriting. Because of the lack of interest in the leads, there is no payoff. The film feels long, and it doesn’t feel like the epic, grand story that Bay set out to make.
Does it rain? Nope.
Next up: BAD BOYS II