Friday, December 15, 2006

Pearl Harbor the Movie & Me

I finally watched Pearl Harbor a weekend or so ago, and let me just tell you I am so glad that, other than my cable bill, I did not pay to watch this.

Note: I am not going to talk much about the plot, I am more interested in speaking to the historical items and some background issues so it will not spoil much of the movie for you if you have not seen it. But, it will possibly ruin your ability to enjoy it, so you decide.

First - some background. My grandparents live (and my grandmother still does) on O'ahu. My grandfather was a policeman and my grandmother was a nurse at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. My dad was just over a year, and my aunt was just a few months old herself so my grandmother was not at the hospital the day of the attacks. My brother and I went to visit the Arizona Memorial just a few years ago (we had tried on an earlier visit and missed the last boat - literally). So it is a time, place, and event that has particular resonance for me. I also have read a ton of historical fiction about World War II, including a book called Pearl. While I - erroneously, clearly - thought since the movie was called Pearl Harbor it might start with the event, I got over that. I did appreciate the inclusion of the Hiroshima bombings to provide counterpoint that the Japanese weren't the only mean people in this story. However, there were to me gaps.

The first being that Hawaii has always been a bit of a salad bowl, and like much of the west coast there are large Asian communities (after all without them, who would we have interned during the war?). And yet, all the setting shots where we see people - not military (because I do grant that, the military in pre-war Hawaii would have been much less racially diverse) but kids playing baseball, people in restaurants and at gas stations - there would have been people who were Hawaiian, and Chinese, and Korean and Japanese and all sorts of other things. They have one character, who is a doctor, who's only purpose is to freak out a soldier he tries to treat during the attack. That's it - that's the some total of their non-military racial diversity. A movie that takes place in Hawaii and yet has no Hawaiians. And sure, some of these people could already be mixed such that they appear white (as I do) more than their other heritages. But it struck me as wallpaper Hawaii story - there are pretty beaches for the characters to fly over and make out on. But Hawaii, which at that point was a territory that had a tense relationship with the military - gets no real screen time. There was no mention that I saw of the military takeover of Hawaii that occurred after the attack, no mention of the internment of Asians - and they already had a token* Asian doctor who surely would have been affected. (I admit my attention had sagged at this point, more mention of the doctor's nationality/heritage may have been made, however if you think only Japanese people were swept up in the camps, you would be incorrect.)

Now, for those of you who have seen the movie you are likely thinking, is she crazy the movie is already three hours long, and she wants more? And I agree - I have yet to see a three hour movie ("Gone With the Wind" comes close) that couldn't lose at least thirty minutes and be the better for it. And yes, the movie tried to do too much, uniting two essentially unrelated stories such that one felt like filler and trying to spend too much (IMO) time on the politics before and after the attack. It was also interesting that it spent a lot of time with the Japanese soldiers as they approached Hawaii and then, nothing. No more time with them.

Did it make me cry - yes - but I felt silly as I did. Aware that I had been manipulated with simple story "twists". So, overall, thumbs down.

*I realize the term token is somewhat divisive and I probably shouldn't use it facetiously, but this drives me crazy. This is just like setting a show in New York and never seeing a Hispanic or black person, when any tourist would find out on the walk to the hotel that that was not realistic.