Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This came out in 2001, and I didn’t see it then. What happened was Barbara Jean went to Best Buy without me, and she came home with some great DVD movies that were on sale. One of them was Pearl Harbor. Being a movie snob, I sniffed at this, which resulted in Barbara Jean taking it right back to Best Buy and getting her money back. Which meant I wasn’t able to watch it until I caught it on Hulu in February. Here are some details from Wikipedia.

This stars Ben Affleck as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Rafe McCawley, Josh Hartnett as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Daniel “Danny” Walker, and Kate Beckinsale as Lieutenant Evelyn Johnson McCawley. What happens is Rafe and Danny grow up on neighboring farms in Tennessee, and Danny’s father is a crop duster. Both boys want to  fly. What happens next is a story about America’s entry into World War Two, as it must have happened on another planet.

So they grow up and join the Army, which is what was the United States Air Force in those days. Rafe meets good looking nurse Evelyn when she sticks him in the butt with needles. A great romance is formed, and they meet again in New York, where Rafe is due to be shipped out to England to contribute to the Battle of Britain as a volunteer. This is 1940, and America is not yet in the war. Rafe decides not to consummate their relationship before shipping out, because he doesn’t want their romance to look like a one-time fling.

The movie shows some great air battle scenes as Rafe makes a name for himself as a fighter ace, but all this ends with his plane going down in the Channel. In the meantime Danny and Evelyn get shipped off to Hawaii, about as far as you  can get from the war (heh heh). Word comes that Rafe is dead, and Danny and Evelyn get a thing going that terminates in the base parachute loft one night. Then Evelyn discovers:

  • Rafe is still alive and is coming to Hawaii.
  • She is pregnant.

This does not go well, Evelyn keeps her pregnancy secret from Danny, but Rafe is pissed his best buddy has been making time with his best girl while he was dead. It leads to fisticuffs. That’s Saturday night, 6 December 1941. The next morning the bad old Japanese attack the base.

Danny and Rafe make heroes of themselves, commandeering two fighters and annihilating six Zeroes (Zekes). The movie displays a protracted depiction of the Pearl Harbor attack. Then Rafe and Danny are summoned stateside to join up with their old boss, Jimmy Doolittle.

The two become B-25 pilots and join in on the  18 April 1942 raid on the Japanese mainland. All the planes have been forced to launch 200 miles too far from the mainland. Rafe makes a hard landing in a rice paddy, right in the midst of a detachment of occupying Japanese. With one crew member already dead, the survivors fight the Japanese to their last ammunition. Danny’s B-25 appears, and strafes the Japanese before, itself crash landing.

More Japanese come, and Danny is killed. Before Danny dies Rafe informs him that he is going to be a father. Then Rafe is repatriated and meets up with Evelyn. Then end shows the two of them married and  raising Danny’s son.

It’s about three hours of pure syrup, with some battle action thrown in. Treatment of historical events makes a mockery of a serious episode in our past. Start with the opening scene.

This is Tennessee, 1923. Danny’s dad is dusting crops from a bi-plane. Call me a stickler for facts, but commercial crop dusting from planes didn’t get under way until 1924.

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The boys want to fly when they grow up.

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About the best part of the movie is Beckinsale. Absolutely stunning. Here Affleck has his drawers down, trying to make time with her while she doubles the number of jabs, just for fun.

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The last night in New York shows Rafe and Evelyn taking an unauthorized tour of the Queen Mary. Beyond absurd. The ship was being used for troop transport during the war, and it would have been impossible to get this close without getting your ass shot off.

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Rafe, has to leave. We thought he was going on the Queen Mary, but he boards a train and watches through the window as Evelyn searches for him to say goodbye. Wait, isn’t the Queen Mary docked in New York. Where’s the train going?

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The raid on Pearl Harbor is loaded with drama, some imagined. Historically, the battleship Arizona was destroyed by a bomb that penetrated to an ammunition magazine and exploded. The movie shows the bomb barreling down from the sky toward the ship’s deck, penetrating several levels before coming to rest among some warheads. The arming propeller on  the bomb continues to spin for a while, then the bomb explodes.

Not really. These propellers spin in the air stream as the bomb drops free, arming the bomb. Once the propeller rotates a defined number of times, the bomb is armed. The bomb fuse then responds to impact. Armor-piercing fuses detect the first impact, starting a timing fuse, which then detonates the bomb on the order of a few milliseconds after  the first impact. The movie over-dramatized this action twice for effect.

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The recreation  of the attack is maybe the most elaborate ever depicted. Planes fly in, drop torpedoes, strafe ships and shore facilities, drop aerial bombs. Ships blow up, capsize. Men die horrible deaths by the thousands. Some of it is true to life.

A real character is Navy Messman Third Class Doris Miller, depicted here by Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Petty Officer Second Class Dorie Miller aboard the battleship West Virginia. The movie gives him a promotion and alters his heroics only slightly. As a black man, he had limited options. Mess cook was one such. However, aboard ships at general quarters, everybody is assigned a combat or damage control position. Miller’s was ammunition handler for an anti-aircraft gun. When the ammunition locker was destroyed he was ordered first to assist the ship’s dying captain and then to help man an anti-aircraft gun. He stepped into command of a gun and engaged enemy aircraft until his ammunition ran out For his action he was awarded the Navy Cross, the first for a person of color. In 1943 he was killed when the escort carrier Liscome Bay was sunk by enemy action.

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Rafe and Danny recreate the exploits of Second Lieutenants George Welch and Kenneth M. Taylor, with emphasis on the term recreate. The two had P-40 aircraft stashed at a remote field and drove there after the attack started. They got into the air and claimed six Japanese plane between the two of them. The two were the only American air defense in the engagement.

The movie over dramatizes the action of the two pilots, shown here playing a convoluted game of cat and mouse with the six Japanese pilots. The sequence consumes several minutes of celluloid and depicts some improbable combat tactics:

Taylor, who died in November 2006, called the film adaptation “a piece of trash… over-sensationalized and distorted.

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Piled-on drama includes Japanese fighters strafing random people on the ground. Does not make sense, and never happened. Here’s a dose of reality. You mount a top secret mission. Sail 4000 miles, deep into enemy territory to strike a knockout blow against a powerful enemy. You launch two waves of aircraft to destroy the enemy fleet anchored in its harbor. At that distance from your carrier base your planes have limited time over target. And you spend some of that time and risk valuable aircraft strafing random targets? This fallacy was seen previously. In Harm’s Way stars John WayneKirk Douglas, and Patricia Neal, and it features the Pearl Harbor attack. One scene shows a Japanese fighter strafing and killing Kirk Douglas’ unfaithful wife and her lover along a beach road. Clue-deprived script writers flourish in Hollywood.

The immediate assignment of Rafe and Danny to Doolittle’s operation is highly unrealistic. When the Doolittle raid was conceived a few days after the attack, well-trained B-25 crews were already available for the job. The transition from single-engine fighters to twin-engine bombers would have required weeks of training  for Rafe and Danny. However, the show needed go on.

The raid on the Japanese mainland is completely cross ways with the actual events. The movie shows Doolittle’s raiders heading in for the attack in formation. In reality the bombers flew their missions individually, making a pass back over the flight deck after take off to get their headings. They seldom caught sight of each other after leaving the carrier Hornet.

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All 16 planes of  the Doolittle raid were lost, being shot down, abandoned or crash landed in China, or interred for the duration after landing in the Soviet Union. Doolittle and his crew bailed in the dark over China and were repatriated. Doolittle thought the debacle would result in a court martial for himself, but he was awarded the Medal of Honor and flew combat missions over Europe. Forty-five at the time of the raid, he survived past the fiftieth anniversary.

Nothing like the episode in the rice paddy happened. It was night by the time the raiders reached China, and there was no way one crew would have been able to assist another, already down. It’s pure melodrama.

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One thing accurate is Evelyn’s narration at the end. Until the Doolittle raid, America knew only defeat. Afterward, only victory. The Japanese Empire was crushed by annihilation bombing in 1945 and surrendered on 2 September 1945. Today the democratic nation of Japan is America’s strongest business and military partner in the region.

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One thought on “Bad Movie of the Week

  1. Pingback: Bad Movie of the Week | Skeptical Analysis

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