Sunday, 3 August 2014
Was Pearl Harbor Michael Bay's shot at legitimacy? Or a calculated attempt to transform James Cameron's insanely successful Titanic into a template? Bay's film moves in a similar way. Make the audience sit through a feature-length build-up, spiced with threadbare romance, before rewarding them with some exceptionally violent special effects. Bay and co take it further still, staging a heavily fictionalised revenge attack in which our fighter pilot heroes end up as crew on a Tokyo bombing raid.
Cameron's film is far from a masterpiece, but Bay's effort still wilts in comparison. Cameron is a stickler for detail, even using digital re-issues as an opportunity to correct star mappings. Bay doesn't give a shit. Who cares if something's anachronistic, does it look or sound good? Japanese admirals act like Martians drifting between meeting places copped from Akira Kurosawa's Ran and brutalist concrete dug-outs. Distinctively shaped, one-off prototype planes fly alongside Mitsubishi Zeroes and 1911 pistols ring with the distinctive rapport of a M1 Garand emptying.
Even basic history is put through the wringer. As well as chopping up and rewriting President Roosevelt's national address, the concluding aerial raid is contextualised as a decisive blow against Japan that forced a complete withdrawal. I suppose in this chocolate box universe the Pacific Theatre was oddly uneventful? Watching Pearl Harbor there's a sense that Bay isn't even particularly interested in mise-en-scene as a way to tell an overarching story. Shots aren't detailed in such a way that they inform the viewer of time or space, instead each successive image is composed with an eye to placing as much money on screen as possible.
I'm starting to think there's an economic consideration at play with Michael Bay's popularity. He may be emotionally tone deaf, but all of his films are obviously, relentlessly, expensive. That's what people are buying into, the opportunity to see the latest example of the most costly movie yet realised. Bleeding edge visuals married to an easily digestible human story with interchangeable attractive people. After enjoying the explosions they even get to laugh at it and pick the movie apart. Everybody likes to feel superior and Bay's work is often low-hanging fruit.