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Recreated Attack in Pearl Harbor Comes Under Attack

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As a visual effects supervisor, Eric Brevig has overseen the creation of some of Hollywood’s most fantastical creations — the Martian landscape in Total Recall, the underwater alien in The Abyss, pretty much everything in Men in Black. And through those efforts he’s learned one simple lesson: “If I can construct something that looks like it was really there on the day that we were filming,” he says, “to me that’s a successful creation.”

An obvious observation, sure; but one, Brevig says, with two important implications: One, “Sometimes the most difficult and complex shots in a film are not the most dramatic,” he says, “they’re the establishing shots that give you a great looking image with amazing scope.” And two, “If you do it well enough, you never get credit for it.” Take, for example, Brevig’s tour of duty on Michael Bay’s 2001 World War II epic Pearl Harbor. Though he received an Academy Award nomination for his 40-minute long attack sequence, he says, “It’s somewhat less satisfying. When you’re doing fantasy or scifi, audiences know that you’ve manufactured whatever is on the screen out of an imagination. But when I added 40 realistic looking planes to an airfield, they just assumed we rented 40 airplanes.”

The other difficulty encountered when recreating history with special effects is that it has a tendency to bring the cynics out. When Pearl Harbor was released, one of Roger Ebert’s criticisms was that in real life, bombs don’t fall in the way Brevig depicted. In the DVD commentary for the film, however, Bay retorted, “Does he actually think we didn’t research every nook and cranny of how armor-piercing bombs fell? He’s watched too many movies.”

The finished product of the bombing of Pearl Harbor required the blending of visual effects technology in a way that had never been conceived before to create a final, believable product. “For me the magic of movies is illusion,” Brevig says. “And visual effects are the tip of that sphere. If the scene then has dramatic weight and importance like in Pearl Harbor, that’s the best of both worlds.”

For a complete schedule of Pearl Harbor on AMC, click here.

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