- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii —Ben Affleck never will forget the moment he stood over the watery grave of the battleship USS Arizona for the first time last spring and saw fuel oil still seeping from the sunken vessel buried 40 feet below.
"It hit me hard when I got off the launch and walked across the memorial, looking down at the ship right below. Seeing all the names listed on the wall in the shrine room, the sets of brothers and fathers and sons," Mr. Affleck says, as he sits on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, docked several hundred feet away from the spot where the Arizona exploded nearly 60 years ago.
The 28-year-old Oscar-winning screenwriter and actor says he immediately got a "sense of awe" for the 1,177 men who died aboard the Arizona some of whose remains are still entombed in the vessel — and those who survived the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Station on Dec. 7, 1941.
It was that sense of awe, he says, that drove him to do his best to portray one of those soldiers in Hollywoods latest military — epic "Pearl Harbor."
"It was a very difficult day for me," Mr. Affleck says quietly. "One of the survivors began playing taps, and I realized that, oh boy, we better do right with this movie. These are real people, and these were real consequences they lived through. People died here."
Mr. Affleck plays opposite relative newcomer Josh Hartnett as one of two daring young fighter pilots who fall in love with the same nurse, played by British actress Kate Beckinsale. Each romance, which takes place at separate times during a year, is interrupted by a call to duty. One of the relationships ends tragically.
The movie, which opens nationwide today, also features Alec Baldwin, Cuba Gooding Jr., Dan Aykroyd, James King, Colm Feore, Tom Sizemore, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Mako and Jon Voight, who plays President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Disney spent $135 million making "Pearl Harbor." The company hopes to rake in about $400 million globally to break even. Mr. Affleck worked for a fraction of his $12 million fee, earning $250,000 in return for a piece of the profits. Miss Beckinsale and Mr. Hartnett each received $50,000.
In round-table interviews aboard the Stennis, "Pearl Harbor" director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are quick to point out that the movie is not a documentary but rather a tribute to the men and women who died during the battles. The movie includes the Battle of Britain — the aerial conflict between British and German air forces in 1940 — the assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and Col. James Doolittles attack on Tokyo four months later.
"Were not here to entertain," insists Mr. Bay, who almost quit the project four times over budget issues. "Were telling a story. Were not showing stuff that didnt happen. When you look into these 80-year-old guys eyes and they bare their souls and tell you what it was all about, for me that was the story that had to be told."
But the duo, who previously collaborated on the box-office hits "Armageddon" and "The Rock," acknowledge that they added the love triangle to attract a younger audience.
"You educate yourself" on the subject, Mr. Bruckheimer says, "and then you do your best to come up with a screenplay thats romantic, entertaining, humorous and yet has depth and pathos and shows the tragedy so many families went through. We tried to encompass all of that in this movie. We tried to be accurate, but its certainly not meant to be a history lesson."
They also wanted a PG-13 rating, so they left out some violent scenes from the final version so as not to keep teen-agers out of the theaters.
For Mr. Affleck and his co-stars, the movie was about breathing life into the members of the armed forces who perished at Battleship Row that fateful morning and into their loved ones who were left behind to deal with the aftermath.
"You had to make it as true as you could," says Miss Beckinsale, 27, who plays Navy nurse Evelyn Johnson. "You tried to keep their spirits alive."
To prepare for his role, Mr. Affleck says he underwent weeklong intensive training in Army Ranger boot camp at Schofield Barracks on Oahu and spent countless hours talking with historians, military personnel and World War II veterans. "We in Hollywood have a responsibility to at least get the facts right," he says.
Mr. Bay says he tried to keep the Japanese assault on the American Pacific Fleet as authentic as possible, even including real underwater footage he shot of the Arizona. He also sprinkled the script with racial epithets, including "Japs," which was used commonly during the 1940s.
As a result, many Japanese Americans who were rounded up and confined to internment camps after the attack — fear the movie could generate a racist reaction. Several Japanese-American publications in Los Angeles have begun receiving letters from across the country urging Japanese Americans to leave the country.
Mr. Bay says he portrayed the Japanese with utmost respect. "We treat the Japanese with dignity," he says. "They were warriors. Its like doing 'Roots without saying the N word. In this movie, thats how our survivors speak. Unfortunately, this is something that happened, and we tried to do it with respect."
Mr. Aykroyd, who plays Capt. Thurman, agrees. "In this movie, you dont hate the Japanese," he says. "You see them as warriors. You see the attack as a tragic surprise, but we have to understand that we were all doing our jobs back then."
Among Mr. Afflecks chief concerns was the desire to create a plausible and universally appealing film.
"I wouldnt have taken the role if I thought the film was jingoistic propaganda," he says. "We tried to be fair and honest. The Japanese are presented as honorable people with a certain point of view. They felt threatened by the United States and did what they felt they had to do at the time. We have a great responsibility to honor all the parties involved."
The movie should not be taken any other way, he adds as he looks over at the memorial.
"I hope this movie will serve as a gesture of respect for the men and women who died in the attack," Mr. Affleck says. "This movie is meant to be reverential. Its a great testament that people still care about what happened. If anything, it should serve as another monument to the men who lived and died here. This movie is a tribute to them."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide