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review added: 6/13/02



Pearl Harbor
Vista Series Director's Cut - 2001 (2002) - Touchstone (Buena Vista)

review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround
THX-certified

Pearl Harbor: Vista Series Director's Cut Program Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/A+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: Pearl Harbor, Part One
130 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), custom cardboard foldout packaging with slipcase, audio commentary (with director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger), audio commentary (with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and actors Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Alec Baldwin), audio commentary (with cinematographer John Schwartzman, production designer Nigel Phelps, costume designer Michael Kaplan, art director Martin Laing and composer Hans Zimmer), THX Optimode test signals, widescreen explanation Easter egg, liner notes booklet, 4 postcards with teaser poster art, letter insert with text from President Roosevelt's speech to Congress, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 & Dolby Headphone 2.0) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired) and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Pearl Harbor, Part Two
55 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), audio commentary (with director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger), audio commentary (with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and actors Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Alec Baldwin), audio commentary (with cinematographer John Schwartzman, production designer Nigel Phelps, costume designer Michael Kaplan, art director Martin Laing and composer Hans Zimmer), Journey to the Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor documentary (47 min), Faith Hill There You'll Be music video, National Geographic Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor preview, THX Optimode test signals, gag reel Easter egg, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (13 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 & Dolby Headphone 2.0) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired) and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Three: Supplement, Part One
9 Production Diary featurettes (including Airfield Attack, Arizona Dive, Baja Gimbal, Battleship Row, Doolittle Raid, Dorie Miller, Dud Bomb, Mechanics Row, Nurse Strafing and Sandbag Stunt - most with optional director's commentary, approx. 3-7 mins each), Soldier's Boot Camp with Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Ewan Brewer featurette (16 mins), Officer's Boot Camp with Alec Baldwin featurette (6 mins), Super-8 "newsreel" montage (5 mins), teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, 2 History Channel documentaries (One Hour Over Tokyo and Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor - approx. 50 mins each), Oral History: The Recollections of a Pearl Harbor Nurse featurette (4 mins), animated film-themed menus with sound and music, languages: English (DD 2.0)

Disc Four: Supplement, Part Two
Interactive Attack Sequence multi-angle featurette (approx. 28 mins), Deconstructing Destruction: A Conversation on Visual Effects with Michael Bay and Eric Brevig featurette (approx. 21 mins with 28 mins of branching footage), Animatic Attack featurette (6 mins), When Cultures Collide: From Perry to Pearl interactive timeline, production art & photo gallery (segmented into production design, publicity, historical, storyboards, ILM and Stan Winston makeup), DVD-ROM features (including the Pearl Harbor Definitive Biography), DVD credits, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, languages: English (DD 2.0)


Editor's Note: the 4-disc Vista Series release includes a $10 rebate for those of you who have already purchased the 2-disc version of this film - a gesture from the studio we appreciate and something we feel is worth noting.


What can I say about this film that hasn't already been said? Bill Hunt covered most people's opinion of the movie in his first review, so there's no reason to repeat it. Suffice it to say, at its heart, Pearl Harbor is an over-long attempt to cash in on the success of Titanic. Filming an hour and a half of draggy love story is the only way Michael Bay could get anyone to pay for him to shoot the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And that's where Bay enters the element that he's a master of: blowing things up.

If you can enjoy Pearl Harbor on that level, fantastic. If not, you're not going to find much of an improvement in the director's cut. Only a few minutes of footage has been added to this release, mostly consisting of blood and gore, which would have qualified the film for an R rating. While this does provide an edge that the movie was lacking in PG-13 form, most viewers won't even notice the additions.

Of course, none of this matters to fans of supplemental material. In NO OTHER DVD on the market will you find such an in-depth, step-by-step dissection of the filmmaking process. Created by DVD producer David Prior (Fight Club, Big Trouble in Little China, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, etc...), this 4-disc set is THE REFERENCE DVD of 2002 for extras. Studios will be hard-pressed to top it for a very long time to come. Special note should be given to the menus. For once, those Gladiator menus haven't been ripped off, but actually improved upon. Each disc is located in a different "place", and menu choices bring you to different areas like a radio or a desk. Each menu is also set to immersive audio, like period music or actual radio news broadcast clips the attack on Pearl Harbor. The menus are so subtle and elegant, it's positively stunning.

Let's talk about the film. Spread across the first two discs, the video is sourced from the same transfer as the first DVD release, but has had some obvious work done on the compression. This transfer exhibits very few of the halos that Bill mentioned in the first review, while color and definition remain spot-on. I'm guessing work was done on the MPEG-2 video compression to make it even more efficient. Mostly shot in the sort of olive/drab pastel scheme that so many associate with the 40's, Pearl Harbor's bright oranges of fiery explosions really stand out, as do the stark whites of the Japanese torpedo bombers. The shadow delineation is exceptional and blacks are deep and true. This is reference worthy video.

The sound continues that level of quality. Whether you choose the DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, your entire sound system will rumble and resound with deep bass and constant surround activity. Bullets bounce around your head like popcorn, fighters whiz over your shoulder and bombs exploding from every direction. Pretty quickly into the battle, your subwoofer alone has rattled any boredom from the first 90 minutes of the film right out of your skull. As with the first DVD release, you also get a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, as well as a Dolby Headphone track for those of you who view this film on your laptop or portable player. The inclusion of Dolby Headphone is something I hope other studios take note of and emulate on future releases.

Before I begin examining the extras, I just want to once again give a nod to producer David Prior and every other single member of the production team on this DVD. There are so many other movies I would like to see receive this level of supplemental attention to detail. In many minds, probably hundreds of films are more deserving than Pearl Harbor. People can say Michael Bay is a hack, but no one has EVER complained about the quality of his special editions.

Kicking off this virtual encyclopedia are a trio of feature-length audio commentary tracks spanning the two movie discs. The first features director Michael Bay and film historian Jeanine Basinger. Bay is always fairly serious when he does commentaries, and he sticks pretty close to the task at hand here. Occasionally, Basinger chimes in with tidbits on various elements of the film as they relate to historical events. On the second commentary, we have producer Jerry Bruckheimer, along with actors Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Alec Baldwin. As usual, Affleck takes the Kevin Smith School approach, and he and Hartnett (recorded together) ham it up for the entire three hours of the film. Affleck does many voice impressions of his castmates - all we need is a couple of robot puppets for this to be virtual Mystery Science Theater 3000. Of course, there are moments where both actors are serious and reflective, as events on screen warrant, and many mentions are made of the September 11th attacks (which were quite recent when these commentaries were recorded) and the parallels between those events and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Bruckheimer and Baldwin, on the other hand, lean toward the more serious side of filmmaking, with Baldwin probably being the stiffer of the two. He comments often that he believes the film was never given a fair shake by critics, and had it been released after 9/11, reaction might have been quite different. Bruckheimer splits his time evenly between humorous stories and serious reflection and production issues, and is probably the most balanced commentator here. The final audio commentary features cinematographer John Schwartzman, production designer Nigel Phelps, costume designer Michael Kaplan, art director Martin Laing and composer Hans Zimmer. As expected, it's the more technical of the three.

In addition to the commentaries, there's literally hours of material here on these discs. The only supplement on Disc One is a comparison of the widescreen and pan & scan versions of the film, unfortunately hidden as an Easter egg (this is the kind of thing that should be much easier to find). Press right on "main menu" on the disc's audio setup menu. Disc Two features the Journey to the Screen: The Making of Pearl Harbor documentary, recycled from the original release. This 50-minute piece is a little more EPK in style than I'd like, but it does contain some valuable information, along with tidbits of what you'll see later in much more detail. You also get Faith Hill's There You'll Be music video and a preview trailer for the National Geographic Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor DVD, available separately. You'll find another Easter egg here as well - the Pearl Harbor gag reel. In my opinion, every film should have a gag reel - I really appreciate the fact that Michael Bay includes them in his special editions.

Disc Three brings you right into the heart of the supplements package, with extras split into two sections: The Film and The History. Included in The Film are some nine featurette breakdowns of the production of various key aspects of the film. You'll see ADs shouting directions, extras prepping, set dressers dressing, pyro techs exploding... EVERYTHING. You also get occasional comparisons of the production with the final film here. For example, when action is called and a helicopter swoops in for an aerial shot, you see the final footage in the corner of the screen as everything unfolds. And the majority of these featurettes have optional audio commentary by Bay. The Soldier's Boot Camp and Officer's Boot Camp featurettes take you behind-the-scenes on the elaborate, four-day training the actors received in military procedures and daily life. Next up is a montage of Super-8 footage shot for use in the film as newsreel material. It's almost scary how close the footage shot only two years ago approximates actual footage from fifty years back. And the film's teaser and theatrical trailers are also available in this section.

The History section then provides a pair of excellent documentaries on the real events depicted in the film, produced for The History Channel. One Hour over Tokyo includes interviews with the surviving members of the Dolittle Raiders. Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor highlights some of the individual stories from survivors of the actual attack. Each features hordes of archival photos, vintage film and modern interviews that really put you in the shoes of the men and women who found themselves living in a world suddenly consumed by war. The last feature on Disc Three is Oral History: The Recollections of a Pearl Harbor Nurse, which is a re-enactment of the actual testament of a nurse who was stationed at Pearl at the time of the attack (accompanied by historical photos and film).

After many hours worth of documentaries, the fun continues on Disc Four. First up, you get a multi-angle version of the entire attack on Pearl Harbor sequence. From animatic to wireframe to final footage, it's all there. Complementing this is the original animatic done by Michael Bay to sell the film to the U.S. Navy and to Buena Vista. It's amazing how close this came to the final footage in terms of composition and execution. As if this wasn't enough, Michael Bay and visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig guide you through the entire process of putting the effects sequences together in the Deconstructing Destruction featurette. You also get an absolutely packed gallery of photos and artwork, broken into various subjects for easier digestion (these include production design, publicity, historical, storyboards, ILM and Stan Winston makeup). There are DVD production credits as well, along with the Pearl Harbor Definitive Biography (available via DVD-ROM). And finally, you get an "interactive timeline" documentary called When Cultures Collide: From Perry to Pearl. Over the course of 70 minutes, the entire history of American/Japanese relations, as well as many internal events that led to changes in policy on both sides, are covered in great detail. As someone with a fascination of Japanese culture, I probably enjoyed this feature a lot more than most. But if you want a huge amount of insight into the situations and Japanese mindset that brought about the attack, this is where you'll find it.

How can I sum this 4-disc set up, except to say that this is arguably the DVD of the Year thus far, with only New Line's 4-disc Lord of the Rings threatening to challenge it. Even if by some miracle Rings manages to top these supplements, the Pearl Harbor: Vista Series Director's Cut will stand in the annals of DVD-dom as one of the finest special editions ever produced. You may not like the movie, but you won't complain at all about the extras here. It's especially refreshing to see was that equal time has been given to exploring the climate in Japan at the time, as well as the reasons for the attack. Many people always want to view "the enemy" as evil, but there's always another side to the story and you'll see that here. Bravo.

If you want a more straightforward, historically precise Pearl Harbor movie, go get yourself a copy of 20th Century Fox's Tora! Tora! Tora! But if you want something that blows out your eardrums and brings your understanding of filmmaking and history to the next level, you can't go wrong with the Pearl Harbor: Vista Series Director's Cut. Highly recommended.

Jeff Kleist
kodai_kun@hotmail.com




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