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A sneak attack on the viewer...
on August 25, 2002
This has to be one of the saddest attempts to bring the Pearl Harbor attack to the screen that I have ever witnessed. Part of that sadness comes from so many good actors trying their best, but ultimately in vain, to save this turkey.
The names just leap out at you; Robert Wagner, Dennis Weaver, Angie Dickinson, Lesley Ann Warren, Brian Dennehy, Richard Anderson, Adam Arkin, Marion Ross, and others. You'd think with a cast like that, the project would be a real winner. Apparently, that's what the producers thought as well, which is why the entire enterprise is practically on auto-pilot, left to direct itself.
Large chunks of footage from the classic film "Tora! Tora! Tora!" are inserted ham-fistedly in a precursor to the near-criminal lifting of an entire action segment of "Clear and Present Danger" in an episode of "JAG". Even worse, the producers were too lazy to add subtitles for the Japanese sequences, opting instead to use some very weak voice-over translations. The effect adds even more to the cheap feel of the production.
Time is oddly relative here, expanded to a point that a given part of the attack that in reality lasted a few hours becomes a day-long event, yet the dialogue, position of the sun throughout, and other strange anomalies all point to a short lapse of time. Once the attack is finally over, there is little or no activity in the hospital, and so Dr. Carol Lang can simply wander out the door as if it had just been another day at the office.
Other glaring errors pop up again and again. For example, we see the same shot of an ambulance pulling up in front of the hospital, and a man in a white suit exit his car and run over to the ambulance... three times, all in the space of twenty minutes.
Angie Dickinson's character spends the entire second half of the film wandering around Pearl Harbor in a daze, visiting Hickam Field, and winding up in a final confrontation with her husband that strains credibility well past the breaking point, and wastes time for everyone; character, actor, and viewer alike.
Sadly, there are some good moments here, but they are so buried beneath the tripe of melodrama and soap opera antics that they can't salvage the project.
The big names do their best, of course. Robert Wagner is the main hero, and Dennis Weaver plays the uptight, bureaucratic, bigoted and power-hungry Colonel who Wagner works for. Both are great. A young Adam Arkin is just fine in his role, and when she isn't being a soap opera diva and spouting such tripe as (in answer to the question of what's going to happen when she confronts her husband the Colonel), "Pearl Harbor... MY version!" The final resolution for Lesley Ann Warren's Dr. Carol Lang will also make you want to cringe, as it is equally poorly written.
Some of the particularly stand-out performances are mostly among the supporting players, probably because they were left to their own devices to portray their characters their own way. Audra Lindley (forever famous as Mrs. Roper on "Three's Company"), does worlds with what little screen time she has as the General's wife. Marion Ross (another TV favorite, Mrs. Cunningham of "Happy Days"), is absolutely stellar as the wife of Commander North, who in turn is played brilliantly by Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman of "Six Million Dollar Man" fame). Yet all three are but bit players throughout the proceedings.
The real tragedy is not that this miniseries is melodrama, or that there are one or two weak performances, or even that we must endure a wealth poorly-written dialog. The tragedy here is that the producers thought they could take one of the major historical events of the Twentieth Century and of American History, turn it into a soap opera, and get by with splicing in action scenes from a classic war film. Even worse, they made little or no effort to make the project actually work.