The attack of 1000ft blockbuster atrocities


I woke up this morning to the number one celebrity story in the news being Kate Beckinsale recounting how the director Michael Bay was an ass to her during and after making the movie that made her a star – the badly-remembered “Pearl Harbor”. Apparently, Bay was insisting Beckinsale needs to lose more weight and kept telling interviewers she has chosen her as the female lead because “Kate wasn’t so attractive that she would alienate the female audience.” Not a great charmer, is he, our old Michael? But then again, failing to boost your actors’ egos shouldn’t be a hanging offence either. In any case, Kate was chosen by “Esquire” in 2009 as the sexiest woman alive, so what would Bay know anyway?

By one of those sheer bizarre coincidences I’m actually watching – or re-watching – “Pearl Harbor” today. Why? you might well ask. The short answer is, I honestly have no freakin idea.

The longer answer is: a few weeks ago I saw it on Blu-ray for $5 and couldn’t help myself, as is often the case with me. I was actually going to watch it tomorrow, but the movie I started on today, the Wachowski siblings’ 2014 SF extravaganza “Jupiter Ascending” was just so damned awful I turned it off after 20 minutes of being completely unconvinced that someone as hot as Mila Kunis could be working as a cleaner. So “Pearl Harbor” got an early start, coinciding with the Beckinsale unburdening.

I still can’t exactly tell you though why I’m watching it again, after 15 long years. Actually, I forgot “Pearl Harbor” was only 15 years old. For some reason it always struck me as a 1990s movie (a 90s vibe perhaps?) but when I Googled it I found out it was released on May 21, 2001 in Hawaii and four days later throughout the continental United States. Perhaps releasing it a few months later, on the 60th anniversary of the dastardly Japanese attack itself, would have been too much of a blasphemy. Or perhaps Bay and his producer Jerry Bruckheimer were eerily prescient, as by December 2001, movies about America being attacked by foreigner from the air would have been all too topically in bad taste.

Let’s face it, “Pearl Harbor” is a pretty awful movie. Or, to be more charitable, it’s a great old-style immaculately produced epic (not even the 90s but the 50s style), ruined by an awful, cliché-ridden script and the inability of otherwise decent actors and actresses to overcome this verbal handicap. When I Googled again I discovered the film was written by Randall Wallace, the man who a few years before gave us “Braveheart”, a biopic of sorts of Randall’s namesake, William Wallace; a film so historically inaccurate it makes “The Game of Thrones” look like a standard academic text on the War of the Roses.

So it all finally made sense. Yet, despite all the clichés, banalities, corniness, and numerous inaccuracies – not to mention its 3-hour “Titanic”-style length – “Pearl Harbor” was a commercial success, earning $450 million world-wide (in 2001 dollars) and even winning two technical Oscars.

Every day of my life I struggle with the question: why can’t Hollywood make movies – or even a movie, singular – epic in scale, creatively spectacular, and yet at the same time not insulting any viewers of greater-than-average intelligence with atrocious scripts and commensurate acting? People joke that you need to spend so much money to make a blockbuster look good that there is no money left on a decent script. More likely a movie that will get the most bums on the seats at the movie theatres has to be written in a way that the barely literate mass audiences will be able to understand – or so the producers might think. This dilemma perhaps partly explains the exodus of some of the more creative people from Hollywood to television, where increasingly one is able to combine not-insignificant budgets with intelligent storytelling.

When someone finally comes along to turn “Night Trains” into a visual extravaganza I will prefer it be turned into a 10-part HBO series rather than a 150-minute Hollywood blockbuster.

Oh hell, who am I kidding; I’ll still take the blockbuster. I’ll even agree to Michael Bay directing it, and he can choose whatever new starlet he thinks won’t be so attractive so as to alienate the female audience. As long as it’s not Amy Schumer.