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In this 2001 film, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett play two childhood friends, Rafe and Danny, both US Army Air Corps pilots in the months before the US enters World War II. Once Rafe manages a date with army nurse Evelyn, they fall in love. He goes off to fight with the RAF, and gets shot down. Danny comforts Evelyn after they are transferred to Hawaii, and it then turns into a torrid affair.
When it turns out Rafe is alive, he's not too pleased his friend took his gal, and tries to beat him up. The next day, Japanese planes come and attack Pearl Harbor.
The two pilots bravely scramble to their planes, and manage to down a few enemy fighters. After the attack, they get ready to take part in the Doolittle Raid, but still sort of fight over the girl. It turns out she's pregnant. The father doesn't make it. Which one was the father? It doesn't matter, they're all cardboard people anyway.
Okay, the film doesn't entirely focus on this love triangle — the Japanese preparations for the attack and the Americans' attempts to figure out what they're planning are depicted in parallel, as is the attack's aftermath — but it did get a lot of critical flak for focusing more on it than the actual historical events. It also got criticism for loads of historical inaccuracies, which The Other Wiki gives a fair list of.
Since this was Michael Bay's first film disappointment — it was expected to be the big blockbuster of that summer, but was ultimately upstaged by Shrek, of all movies — he gets a lot of the blame, which isn't really justified. Several factors point to writer Randall Wallace, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the studio, just as much, if not more, than Bay.
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Evelyn turning to Danny after Rafe's supposed death.
- Ace Pilot: Rafe and Danny
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: A Japanese pilot actually did wave to the kids playing a baseball game mainly to get them to get out of there. Oddly enough, this often got more complaints than the actual mistakes.
- Anti-Villain: Naval Marshall General Isoroku Yamamoto (Type IV). While being charged by the Japanese Empire with the task of somehow successfully destroying the American Pacific navy at anchor in shallow waters, he is making comments such as "A brilliant man would find a way not to fight a war."
- Artistic License: Wallace is known for this in his work, but the criticisms of abusing it here led him to try to be more accurate with We Were Soldiers (even if not completely).
- Artistic License Military
- Artistic Licence Geography: Mountains in Long Island, NY indeed.
- Artistic Licence History
- Artistic License Ships: Almost all the ships that aren't special effects are wrong in one way or another. At one point, we see a wide shot of the US fleet prior to the Doolittle raid. No attempt is made to disguise the modern Kitty Hawk-Class supercarrier in the middle or a modern attack sub accompanying the fleet; also, the USS Lexington museum ship was used to simulate both Japanese carrier Akagi (during the Pearl Harbor attack scene) and the USS Hornet (during the Doolittle raid's launch scene), and viewers can actually see her angled deck in both cases.
- All the carriers in the film have steel decks instead of wooden ones. Only British carriers had armored decks in World War II.
- Award Bait Song: "There You'll Be".
- Bar Brawl
- Billed Above the Title: Ben Affleck. This movie was supposed to be his coronation as an A-list movie star; instead it was the beginning of a very slippery slope for his career.
- Blooper: The building in the background of one scene with "EST 1953" painted on the side.
- In one shot, the USS Arizona memorial is visible.
- Death of the Hypotenuse
- Developing Doomed Characters: An hour and fifteen minutes until the actual Pearl Harbor attack happens.
- Did Not Do the Research: In spades, combined heavily with Artistic License. Some crowning moments:
- The instant Rafe showed up at the station to leave for England in his USAAF uniform, his ass would have been hauled off to jail. An American serviceman leaving to go to England to join the RAF would have been A) AWOL, B) violating American neutrality. Rafe would have been required to resign his commission first, meaning he'd be at the station in his civvies.
- There is no way Rafe would have shown up behind Evelyn at the same time his telegram arrived. It would take him weeks to cross the Atlantic, take the train from the East to West coast, and then catch a transport to Hawaii. This is assuming he doesn't take a troop ship which has to transit the Panama Canal. A telegram would have taken at most only a few hours to reach Hawaii from England. Evelyn would have known about Rafe's survival within hours of the French Resistance helping him return to England, not reading it right as he walked up behind her.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The song "There You'll Be", sung by Faith Hill has something familiar about it. Perhaps a slight similarity to a song from an earlier blockbuster movie? Nah.
- Dramatic Irony: One of the nurses noting how few patients there are in the hospital when she shows the newcomers around.
- Dynamic Entry: Towards the end of the movie when Rafe and his bomber crew are pinned down by Japanese troops, Danny's bomber comes in and strafes them before crash landing a short distance away.
- Executive Meddling: Touchstone Pictures insisted on a PG-13 rating. This meant that even the non-bloody deaths had to be rushed, thus killing a lot of potential drama.
- Fake American: Kate Beckinsale
- Follow the Leader: Titanic in this case.
- Gorn: The Director's Cut. Oh god the Director's Cut.
- The Gump: Rafe manages to fight in the Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor, and the Doolittle Raids. Naturally, this wasn't true of any real pilots.
- Hollywood History: Just see the aforementioned list.
- Hospital Hottie: Evelyn.
- Informed Ability: A lot of characters like to talk about how much of a talented hero Rafe is. Oddly enough, in scenes where both he and Danny are flying, he doesn't show himself to be any better at flying than Danny does, as they both manage to get rid of the Japanese pilots trailing them.
- And not to mention that the reasons he lists for volunteering for the RAF entail him not wanting to get stuck training newbies and basically just wanting glory to his name. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but coupled with the fact that even real historical figures act like he is a big noble hero, it starts to grate.
- Never Trust a Title: This movie is 3 hours long — 183 minutes. Only 45 of those minutes entail the battle of Pearl Harbor. Then the movie even rambles on after Pearl Harbor.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Trailers and posters either severely downplayed the love story, or didn't mention it at all. It's telling that many commented the trailers were better than the movie.
- Politically-Correct History: While it was really nice to show that Britain was fighting the war before America even got involved, it was still inaccurate. The US Military could not send their military to fight the war when the US was neutral at the time. He would had to have been a civilian.
- Pretty in Mink: Fur trimmed coats worn by the ladies, a few more furs in the club scene, and even Faith Hill wore a fox wrap for the music video.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Many assume the Japanese pilot waving to kids playing baseball is fake. It got almost more accusations of being fake than the actual inaccuracies.
- Shout-Out: After being ordered to land after an exercise, the pilots instead decide to do a flyby. Sure the details are different, but the allusion to Top Gun is clear (and some would say very inappropriate).
- Someone to Remember Him By: Danny and Evelyn's biological son, named for his father
- Stan Winston: The injuries of the attack's victims crafted by Stan's studio were one of the film's redeeming points. Also responsible for turning Jon Voight convincingly into Franklin D Roosevelt.
- Tempting Fate: "It's a dud!" No, it's a delayed-detonation bomb.
- Widescreen Shot: The attack squadron shot is a notable one.
- World War II
- Wronski Feint: With two planes and two pursuing Japanese fighters.
- Your Other Left: Used as a Chekhov's Gun.