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Script Review: PEARL HARBOR (SHOOTING SCRIPT) - by Randall Wallace

Reviewed by Christopher Wehner

"The script by Randall Wallace is forced and foolish, an epic soap opera." -- David Germain, Associated Press (5/25/01).


NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.


Screenwriter Randall Wallaces first draft for the movie PEARL HARBOR was titled "Tennessee." Why do you title a movie about Pearl Harbor in such a way? Was the first question I asked myself months ago before reading it. Right away I got the feeling Wallace had no idea how to properly tell this story. At first I thought it was in honor of the sunken ship during the attack, but by the third paragraph of page one I was alarmed to read:

Up into a crystalline blue sky where sunshine pours like honey over family farms stretching to the horizon. Maybe it's not heaven, maybe it's just Tennessee. But as long as there's been an America, men have fought and died for this place -- as volunteers

Exposition as its very Wallace-esk best. Were going to witness the story of volunteer seaman I had hoped, but alas it was not meant to be. Wallace had written a movie about hotshot fly boys. The only thing that makes this movie about Pearl Harbor is the 40-page presentation of the battle. Wallace skimmed over the true heart of such a story by placing us in the air with characters we literally could care less about. I wanted to go inside the ships and be a witness to the heroics of men fighting for their lives. I wanted to get to know some of these men. Instead we get Danny and Rafe, a couple of big mouthed, macho, and obtuse characters. I really could end this review here, but that would be obtuse now wouldnt it?

Just a few days ago I finished reading what Ive been told is the "Shooting script" for PEARL HARBOR, and no the script doesnt change its focus. Frankly, I didnt have any expectations for this script based on the previous draft I reviewed.

According to, Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement (EXCESS BAGGAGE) should be credited for rewrites though they will not receive any screen credit.

The first thing that I noticed was a new page inserted between the cover and the opening scene, on it was one paragraph, and it reads:

As in every dramatic reconstruction, actual characters and events have been combined and shaped for clarity; but the events are factual, and we have made every effort to capture the truth of what happened, drawing not only from the best historical works, but from the personal; accounts of many who saw these events through their own eyes, and shaped them with their courage.

Gone is the "Tennessee" title and the bit about the volunteers, as if taking that out will someone provide a focus for the story.


PEARL HARBOR has been called a "love story" (between Rafe played by Ben Affleck and Evelyn played by Kate Beckinsale) and a "coming of age" story about America losing its innocence at Pearl Harbor. But there is another theme that runs much deeper and is much more important to this story.

Its 1926 and Danny and Rafe are childhood friends growing up in Tennessee. Rafe's father owns a farm and a cropduster. The opening scene shows the boys playing. They are pretending to be flying in a makeshift fighter built from toys and a bicycle.

The scene opens beautifully actually. Rafe's dad lands his plane and when he leaves the boys jump into the real plane. They accidentally start it and head down the runway. Luckily Rafe is able to bring the plane to a stop and kill then engine. Panicked they run back to their make believe plane to continue playing.

Just then Danny's father shows up, he's very angry, almost crazed. He drags Danny across the field straggling him as he goes. The entire time berating him for not completing a job he was hired to do. Just then Rafe strikes him down with a board. A standoff ensues with Danny's father giving ground, but not before we learn that he was a World War I veteran. After a verbal jab on the part of Rafe, Danny's father tells the boys, "I pray to God no ever has to see the things I saw" This line made me stop and take notice of this scene. On the one hand we have Danny's father, broken from fighting a bloody and painful war (a time of innocence lost for him), and on the other we have the two young boys who shout, "Land of the free... Home of the brave" while playing. They dream of being heroes. Innocence at play.

Danny has had the more difficult upbringing. An angry and habitually drunk father who takes out his aggression on him almost daily. Innocence was lost on Danny long before his experiences at Pearl Harbor.

This opening sequence establishes the boy's "brotherly love" for each other, and their passion for flying.

Then the script moves to 1941 where we find Rafe and Danny as full-blown pilots doing an extremely dangerous stunt during training. They are established as two cocky and confident pilots not afraid to play a little chicken. I still feel this part was over the top, but an improvement over the first draft which was obscenely top-heavy. The whole sequence reminded me of TOP GUN, right down to the scene where the boys are standing at attention as their Training Captain is ripped by the Base Commander.

It is then revealed that Rafe is going to England to fight with the RAF, as a volunteer. This is a leftover from the "volunteer" theme of the previous draft. Why it still remains is evident as hes shot down and presumed dead. But this whole storyline could have been left out and a more meaningful backstory could have been presented instead.

Rafe convinces Danny that he was assigned so he wouldn't try and follow him. All his life Rafe has been looking out for Danny. He always saw him as someone who needed his help, and indeed, early on he did.

That night the boys meet up with the other pilots and go out on the town with the nurses. Most of whom become important characters once the story moves to Pearl Harbor. At this point there is a lot of exposition establishing Danny's need to go with Rafe, and most importantly Rafe's involvement with Evelyn. They met while he was doing a physical to get into the academy. He has dyslexia and struggled with the eye exam, she fudged it and let him slide. After all, he was the highest rated flyer.

Now a note on the future relationship between Danny and Evelyn in this absurd storyline. In the first draft they did not meet until they are assigned to Hawaii together, which really hurt the story in the Second Act. The reason being, Rafe goes to war and is shot down, presumed dead. Danny seeks out Evelyn while at Pearl Harbor to tell her. As Danny and Evelyn struggle with their mutual loss they somehow fall in love in a matter of days, and it hurt the credibility of the story. In this draft that problem is resolved. They establish the relationship early on, though of course its not intimate, so its a little more believable they could fall in love later.


This draft is a lot leaner coming in at 119 pages. The "Tennessee" draft was 142 pages. I was disappointed that several scenes showing the Japanese at work planning the attack were gone, however some good scenes still remained from this storyline. But we only get to know the Japanese as nameless attackers who almost seem saddened by the whole affair. They are presented about as sympathetic as they could be while killing thousands of Americans. Very politically correct.

One of the main problems with the script is how sweeping it is in terms of what it is trying to cover. We go from Rafe and Danny as children to 1941 and the war over England and Europe. At this point Wallace starts giving us glimpses of what Yamamoto and the Japanese are doing along with President Roosevelt (Jon Voight). These scenes are important because we learn that Europe desperately needs us in the fight, and we understand Roosevelt's frustration over the situation. He wants to help, but in order to send troops a declaration of war has to happen. Still, were not getting enough on the political climate and world conditions. I dont see how it would have been possible within the script. Wallace is covering too much and as a result doesnt communicate enough to the audience.

On top of trying to get his audience up to speed on all of the political and military issues that caused Japan to attack, Wallace struggles to fully capture characters like Earl (Tom Sizemore) Joe (Matt Davis), and Gooz (Michael Shannon). Its a meandering story loses its focus and its narrative thrust. But what of the human side? Where are the sailors? They are represented by Dorie Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr.) an African-american cook who wanted to be sailor, but because of his race was never allowed to handle weapons. Some of the more heroic and emotional scenes involve Dorie as he shoots down planes, helps fallen sailors, and rescues his ships flag after the battle.

Some other important characters are the pilot's: Anothony (Greg Zola), Billy (William Lee Scott), and Red (Ewen Bremner). There are also several nurses (Barbara, Betty and Sandra) who play very important roles in the attack as well. As a matter of fact, the Japanese attack the hospitals and kill one of the nurses. And there's more. The point is, though Wallace (or whoever) pruned down the script it is still juggling a lot of storylines that have no real focus, and as a result there really is no story.

The Roosevelt storyline is still fairly strong in this draft. Through these scenes we get a sense of what was at stake for our nation. Roosevelt represents Americas consciousness. Are we to remain isolated and permissive or do we get involved? And then once the disaster occurs, Roosevelt represents our strength. These scenes represent some of Wallaces best writing.

The attack on Pearl Harbor is just as intense as it was in the first draft I reviewed, and Wallace's writing shines here as well. Though in rereading it, page after page of ships blowing up, flipping over, sinking, and men being "blown" up and overboard. I wondered when enough was enough? I think its safe to say the director Michael Bay (ARMEGEDDON) wont know either.

The attack should last about 30 to 40 minutes, and will give you some of the most memorable and emotionally draining scenes you'll ever see in a movie. The potential is there for the most tragic twenty-minutes movie audiences have ever witnessed, even more so than SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Emotionally it was hard to dissociate myself from the action. There are scenes of the Japanese planes coming in over playgrounds with children playing baseball, picnics with moms and kids everywhere, and through a valley where Boy Scouts watch on in awe. But most importantly, it happens in our backyard not some far off distant battlefield or beach. Though there are discrepancies over the time of day the attack actually occurred and what is discussed in the script, it is highly dramatic. The attack happened very early in the morning and there surely were no picnics yet, or baseball games being played. Everyone, for the most part, was in bed or just getting up. But having the Japanese fly in over a sleepy island would not have been as dramatic. And to tell you the truth, I think it works as it is written in the script and I hope it remains in the movie.

As we know, Rafe wasn't dead. He was shot down over Europe, but survived. He comes back to Evelyn and proclaims his love for her. It was her love that kept him alive. As it takes months for paperwork to get anywhere he was back before she and Danny heard, but not before they had started a torrid love affair. This obviously produces conflict between the two as Rafe feel's betrayed. But there wasn't time for grudges, as within a day the attack occurs and Rafe and Danny must come together to fight off the attack.

One action sequence in particular that was riveting involves a lone airfield where a few P-40s were left unharmed by the first wave. Rafe and Danny, along with the other pilots, get to the airfield and furiously try to fuel and ammo the planes as the second wave comes in and attacks. Up above are Japanese planes, apparently unaware of what they are flying over. The men hide in a sandbag bunker, terrified. Then they realize that the planes are high level bombers. So they jump up and run. They start to get the pilots into the cockpits when Zeros attack. One of the pilots is killed in his plane without getting it moving. Another is killed before being able to take off. Rafe and Danny of course make it out by the skin of the teeth. Once in the air it is a wild and thrilling sequence that audiences will love.

But overall the script is a colossal disappointment. Wallace is heavy handed as a writer, always has been. Here it gets the best of him. This script is full of passion, but no brains. In an effort to write an overtly dramatic story Wallace produces a soap opera of sappy proportions.

But heres the essence of the problem, which I touched on earlier. This is a movie about Pearl Harbor. Thats its center. Yet Wallace approaches it from the POV (point of view) of a couple of hotshot pilots. Where are the sailors? They are the real heroes. We get just a few glimpses of that. Wallace took the path well traveled. Pilots and planes and nurses are sexy and a hell of a lot easier to write about. We should have been inside the ships more. We should have witnessed the heroism that went on fifty feet below water where sailors were fighting for their lives. We should have gotten to know them and care about them. As it stands, theyre just faces dying on the screen in front of us. Emotionally there was no connection at all with the gratuitous violence being presented in the script and characters it was happening to.


Absolutely stupefying in its simplicity. We get an effortless attempt at character development in this script (and the previous draft as well). These cardboard creations are about as flat as a dead mans pulse. They are clich´┐Ż. Danny is honest, Rafe is tough, and Evelyn is kind. You shouldnt be able to describe characters this easily. They should have some complexity about them. I admit that my antithetic feelings for these characters could be a result of my disgust with the whole focus of the movie. But I dont think so. Lets let the movie speak for itself here.


The action in this movie should fall right in line with what were becoming used to as modern moviegoers. Were being placed right inside the action along with the characters on screen. Were experiencing it and not witnessing it. Well, Wallace ups the ante. Perhaps the defining moment of the script (I can see this scene being in the trailer) occurs on page 74 when Wallace places us piggyback on a Japanese bomb as it barrels down on the helpless Arizona. Quoting from the script:


We stay with the bomb as it falls through the sky. The small propeller on the bombs tail spins in the air, running the arming mechanism into the bombs explosive core. The bomb wobbles a bit at first, but then as it gathers speed its fin stabilize it, and it falls faster and faster at a dizzying rate toward the Arizona.

And the script goes on to describe the bomb hitting the deck, penetrating deep within the ship, coming to a stop in the powder room where tens of thousands of pounds of explosives anxiously await igniting. The script is more preoccupied with taking advantage of todays special effects capabilities than weaving a good yarn. An explosive scene, pun intended, and a heartless, thoughtless, and chilling point of view.


After the attack the story lost whatever luster it had. I understand the need to end on an "up" note. But the famous Doolittle raid was an incredible event all by itself and could be a movie all by itself. As a matter of fact it already is, THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944). Which is where I really feel it should have been left, by itself.

The story continued when it should have ended. It is the typical Hollywood ending. Contrived, sappy, and over the top. I wanted to burn those last 20 pages.

The loose ends of the story could have been tied to a very emotional, satisfying and patriotic ending, and not leave Pearl Harbor in the process. But this ending is clearly a result of the writer focusing on pilots, and not the sailors, and therefore probably couldnt have ended it at Pearl Harbor even if he wanted to. The writer backed himself into a corner here.


Amid the contrivances and absurdities there is a theme to this story. The opening sequence actually has its place thematically, which is surprising. Danny represents innocence lost. He lost that innocence while he was young, the real world slapped him in the face early and often. Wallace wants us to believe that innocence was lost at Pearl Harbor, which is even more evident in this draft. This theme is completely incorrect historically, but works for the film. After all, we're writers, and that's what we do. We make shit up, dramatize history and Hollywoodized it so people like myself can stand to sit through it for two-hours. No matter how dedicated a writer wants to be, he/she will take creative liberties when writing about true events. Its to be expected.

If you look at the story closely, you'll see that Danny represents innocence and the death of it as seen by Wallace the screenwriter. He is the epitome of it.

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