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Your Love of Pearl Harbor Depends on You’re Being an Essentialist


It’s not easy making a movie based on a real event. After all, not every filmmaker can be Steven Spielberg (widely priased for getting the gory details right in 1998’s Saving Private Ryan.) Most of the time, the critics nitpick. Just ask Michael Bay, the director of Pearl Harbor (2001). The movie “has as little interest in character as it does, ultimately, in history,” the New York Times review read. The publication was not alone as historians too took
issue with several particulars…

Colm Feore’s Admiral Kimmel did not receive news of the attack while on the golf course, a wheelchair bound FDR didn’t stand up in a cabinet meeting, and Admiral Yamamoto did not look at a calendar that said December 7 since the attack actually occurred on December 8 in Japan because of
the time difference. Never mind all the apparent aircraft and battleship anachronisms. “They’re using history as wallpaper,” the park historian at Hawaii’s USS Arizona Memorial, Daniel Martinez said… even though, according to Bay, Martinez (a script consultant for the movie) wrote later, “you got the essence of what happened right.”

How fair is it to criticize a movie for not being a
History Channel documentary? Oliver Stone also got a lot of flack for JFK
(1991), especially from skeptics who felt that his conspiracy theory
was a little too theoretical. Despite that, critic Roger
Ebert gave the movie a good review, and afterward Walter Cronkite (who
famously announced the death of JFK on CBS in 1963) gave Ebert a
“tongue-lashing” since the film had not “a shred
of truth in it.” Ebert defended his review, writing, “I believe films
are the wrong medium for fact. Fact belongs in print. Films are about
emotions. My notion is that JFK is no more, or less, factual than Stone’s Nixon or Gandhi, Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Amistad, Out of Africa, My Dog Skip or any other movie based on ‘real life.'”

Ironically, although Ebert was quick to defend Stone, he was also one of the critics who took issue with Bay’s Pearl Harbor. Talk about inconsistent! Loosen up a little.

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

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