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With its heartdrenching romance interweaved in its heartpounding action, movie critics have hailed Pearl Harbor as the summer blockbuster of the year and the second coming of Titanic. Pearl Harbor, a movie about the 1941 surprise aerial attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet, is seen as movie which is less of a history lesson, and more of a love story. However, despite booming box office sales and rave reviews, some say the movie distorts reality and is not a World War Two role model movie. This is an issue which is debatable. Indeed, many are dismayed to see the attack that provoked the U.S. entry into the second world war serving as a backdrop to a Hollywood-style love triangle. Some even wonder why the film – one which spans from the war in Europe to James Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo in 1942 – is even named “Pearl Harbor.”
World War Two veterans are dying by the thousands every month. For the four to five million veterans that are still alive, this may be the last time they witness Hollywood trying to tell their story, and that may partly account for why the film is being held to a high standard of accuracy. While nobody claimed colossal misrepresentations in Pearl Harbor, critics of the film, mainly historians, say the movie’s battle scenes contain many inaccuracies. The scene which Japanese torpedo bombers are attacking the American airfields, is especially reaping criticism since a war zone like that was never recorded into history. The most obvious Hollywood versus history conflict comes about in actor Jon Voight’s shiniest moment, when he portrays Franklin D. Roosevelt struggling out of his wheelchair in order to show his cabinet that the impossible can happen. Historians claim that they have never read of any incident remotely close. The movie also suggests that Japan had a chance of winning the war, and that if the empire has pressed its advantage, it could have invaded the United States all the way from California to Chicago. Once again, historians abroad and local alike claim that the Japanese had no such ambition. Some criticism originating from the Japanese-American community reveals complaints about not reflecting the Japanese side to the full extent and ignoring the long, pained debates and calculations that preceded the decision to attack the US fleet.
While the film generates many complaints from off-the-mark portrayals mentioned above, there are some very poignant moments where it may bring war veterans close to home. In a tragic scene following the Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet, Evelyn, leading female nurse played by Kate Beckinsale, marks soldiers with lipstick at the hospital to indicate who should be treated and who was beyond help, something nurses were forced to do during the war. Another scene in which one sailor tells another he can’t swim as the USS Oklahoma capsizes is based on a real event.
Another issue which brings the movie to attention for some Asian-Americans, is the anti-Asian sentiment being stirred up as a result of the film. After sitting in a movie theater for nearly three hours watching Americans getting bombed by Japanese warplanes, what kind of reaction will filmgoers have to the first Asian- Americans they see when they come out of the theater? Will viewers understand that the men who bombed Pearl Harbor are either dead or old men living in Japan, and not the Asian Americans living here? Will Asian-Americans again be subjected to the “Jap” slur? And will Asian-Americans become anti- Japanese because they are victims of racial slurs? However, concerns for the psychological consequences of the film cannot be logically blamed on filmmakers, or else the Germans would protest every time a Nazi movie came out.
Many also see much redeeming value in the film, particularly in its balanced portrayal of war and its ability to reach across the generations. In preparation for the film, Pearl Harbor director/producer Michael Bay, interviewed some eighty survivors. He remains vocal about his goal: give a feeling of what it was like to be at Pearl Harbor, not a historical play-by-play. “Pearl Harbor makes no claim to absolute accuracy,” said senior vice president of Walt Disney Studios, Andrea Marozas, in an interview with the Boston Globe, said, “We tried to make the film as historically accurate as possible, but it’s entertainment. We employed a lot of historical consultants. But still, it’s a movie.” Many fans identify with Bay and Marozas’ comments. While the film does not have a firm grip on reality, it brings the war back to attention. Younger audiences may not sit still for a World War Two documentary, but squeeze in Disney and Ben Affleck somewhere and they’re ready for their history lesson.
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