Movie "Pearl Harbor": Spectacular Release And Its Aftermath

The birth of "Pearl Harbor" with $135 million, the biggest budget approved in Hollywood history.

The first idea for the movie "Pearl Harbor" came in 1999 from Todd Garner, at that time a senior Disney production executive. Garner, "who visited the Arizona Memorial as a kid, had been toying with a concept: two U.S. pilots who are brothers, in love with the same woman, all set against a backdrop of the surprise attack" (Newsweek, May 14). Garner approached Jerry Bruckheimer, well-known for producing movies that were "big, fast, loud, expensive and more often than not a hit" (The New York Times. May 20).
It's a love story, stupid.
As the Times described recently, Bruckheimer is the producer who, in the 1980s, along with his late partner, Don Simpson, "changed the movie business forever with a highly comic, highly charged formula of music, muscles and mayhem. Through sales of movie tickets, videocassettes and sound tracks, he has generated an estimated $11 billion" (The Times, June 4). Bruckheimer was intrigued by "'Pearl Harbor,' a period that had a lot of innocence and brutality at the same time." (ibid.)

Since Bay's first film "Bad Boys" in 1995 Bruckheimer has produced all of his works ("The Rock" and "Armageddon.") which together have already grossed more than $1 billion worldwide Bay debuted in the world of commercials in 1984 with "a visually stunning mock ad he shot -- it was a Coke commercial, based on the famous Eisenstaedt VJ Day photograph of the soldier kissing the gal in Times Square -- while a graduate student at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design." (The Rolling Stone, June 21) . He directed " flashy, splashy Clio-winning commercials for companies such as Coca-Cola, Nike, Budweiser, Bugle Boy Jeans and the Milk Board (the Got Milk? Campaign was his brainstorm.), as well as equally flashy, splashy music videos," (ibid. ) prior to directing his first film. Critics have always knocked Bay and Bruckheimer around like rag dolls. They "complain of dizziness after watching Bay's staccato editing, wince at the ear-shattering noise, and guffaw at the cliche dialogue that often accompanies the images on screen.."( Los Angeles Times, May 20). They "see him as a great Satan and symbol of what Newsweek magazine once said was "Hollywood capitulation to mindless, meaningless, razzle-dazzleÅ\a poster boy for the death of cinema," (ibid.) . For Bay, the historical epic "Pearl Harbor" is an ambitious attempt to, at last, be seen as a more mature type of filmmaker.

Screenwriter Randall Wallace (who was Oscar-nominated for "Braveheart" ) joined in and switched the relationship between the main characters from brothers to best buddies. He also added Maj. James Doolittle's April 1942 Tokyo raid "to give the story a rah-rah finale."(Newsweek, May 14). Like James Cameron's phenomenal blockbuster "Titanic", 'Pearl Harbor' has been promoted as a love story (starring by Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale) set against a dramatic historical event. Janet Maslin mentioned in her sarcastic article for the New York Times: "Number of 'Pearl Harbor' interviews in which Michael Bay, the director, is not known to have mentioned 'Titanic': 0 "(The New York Times. June 3)
"The Rolling Stone" magazine
featured Michael Bay
For the Walt Disney Co., "Pearl Harbor" was a chance to break out with a summer blockbuster in the midst of a worrying year economically. For nearly a year and a half "the studio has seemed to many to be in a receding mood -- producing fewer movies, generating less impact and battling internal problems caused by corporate downsizing and the widespread impression that its core animation division has lost some of its creative fire." (The New York Times. May 21, 2001). In March, the studio announced that it would cut 4,000 full-time jobs, or 3% of its work force, by the end of the yearÅ\the biggest single staff reduction in Disney's history. The studio has become more serious about cost controls.
Can Josh Hartnett,
become the next DiCaprio?
Proposed "Pearl Harbor" budgets of $208 million, $186 million and $176 million were quickly nixed. Finally the Disney executives green-lighted' the project at $135 million with wiggle room for an additional $5 million. Anything over that would come directly out of Bruckheimer's and Bay's pockets. $135 million was the biggest budget approved in Hollywood history (the industry average is around $60 million,). "There are probably 30 movies that cost more than this one because they go over budget," says Dick Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group.(Entertainment Weekly. June 1, 2001). For example, the production cost of "Titanic" approached $200 million. Bay ended up a mere $210,000 over." To lower the budget Bay and Bruckheimer gave up their own upfront salaries. Instead they will take a percentage of the box office on the back end. A lack of cash made casting the film difficult."Ben Affleck who can command as much as $10 million per picture, was paid $250,000 and stands to make a good bit more, depending on how well the movie does. Beckinsale made$200,000, and Hartnett took home a modest $150,000." (Premiere, May 01, 2001). However, the real appeal of the film may be the spectacular battle scenes rather than human stars. Industrial Light and Magic earned over $30 million for its brand of computer generated mayhem.

Disney needs "Pearl Harbor" to take in more than $400 million globally to break even.(The Times, June 4).



  • "Marshalling All of His Forces; Some wondered if Michael Bay was the right person to make the $140-million epic 'Pearl Harbor,' but he never had any doubt." By Robert W. Welkos. Los Angeles Times. May 20, 2001

  • "Newsweek lies Turn a Cold Shoulder to Hard News." By Alex Kuczynski. The New York Times. May 14, 2001

  • "Watching Movies: Michael Bay; A Connoisseur Of Illusions." By Rick Lyman. The New York Times. May 18, 2001

  • "A Showman Turns to War To Knock 'Em Dead" By Todd S, Purdum. The New York Times.May 20, 2001

  • "Suddenly, High Stakes for Disney's Film and TV Businesses." By Rick Lyman and GeraldineFabrikant. The New York Times. May 21, 2001

  • "Ideas & Trends; Pearls, From the $135 Million Film" By Janet Maslin. The New York Times. June 3, 2001


  • "The Last Epic? Randall Wallace on Pearl Harbor." By David Konow. Creative Screenwriting, May/June 2001

  • "The War Machine." By Chris Nashawaty Entertainment Weekly. June 1, 2001

  • "The Road to 'Pearl Harbor'". By John Horn, Newsweek, May 14, 2001

  • "In Love and War" By Christine Spines. Premiere, May 01, 2001

  • "Pearl Harbor Director. Michael Bay. Daredevil Ace." By Erik Hedegaard. The Rolling Stone, Issue 871, June 21, 2001

  • "Pearl Harbor's Top Gun". By Jess Cagle, The Time, June 4, 2001

  • "The Making of Josh Hartnett." By Bruce Handy. Vanity Fair: July 2001

  • The birth of "Pearl Harbor" with $135 million, the biggest budget approved in Hollywood history.
  • $5 million premiere and US Navy's help for the studio
  • Film reviews by major U.S. newspapers and magazines
  • Feedback from Japanese Americans and Pearl Harbor veterans
  • Box office in U.S. and foreign countries
  • Movie "Pearl Harbor": history and fiction
  • How is Japan portrayed in the movie?
  • TV and website flooded with "Pearl Harbor"
  • In the toy land GI Joe goes to Pearl Harbor
  • participated in Pearl Harbor promotion
  • "Pearl Harbor" lands in Japan
  • Japanese media reacts to "Pearl Harbor"
  • In US and Japan people are talking frankly about Pearl Harbor online