Posted by: ckckred | July 17, 2012

Comparing a gem to a dud: Saving Private Ryan vs. Pearl Harbor

I compare two war films: one great and one bad

Today, I’m announcing a new type of post on my blog, the “versus” post.  In it, I will compare two different films, usually of the same genre or filmmaker, and discuss their similarities and differences.  It could be between good and bad films or between two films that are similar.

So for my first edition, I’ll compare one of the best films of the last twenty years to one of the worst: Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan to Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.

Saving Private Ryan is typically rated at one of the best war films ever made.  Indeed, it pushed the envelope of war films and served as a template for many recent movies (such as Letters from Iwo Jima).  Spielberg’s father actually fought in World War II, and Spielberg was always interested in making a war film (he made Schindler’s List, which is about the Holocaust, and 1941, which is about Pearl Harbor).

Saving Private Ryan has many great scenes, but the best is the opening where the soldiers land on Omaha Beach.  Spielberg’s famous for his openings in movies (who couldn’t forget Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark), and he shows us one of the most technically marvelous scenes ever filmed.  About a thousand extras were used, and there’s a lot of blood and gore on the scene.

What’s really impressive is how realistic the films is is.  A actual soldier was hired to help the actors and crew realize what war really looked like.  Saving Private Ryan was praised for its realism, and Spielberg adapts techniques in this scene that Stanley Kubrick used in Paths of Glory.  And unlike many war films, Saving Private Ryan displays the real fear and ferocity of war.

I think Michael Bay wanted to rip-off the success of Saving Private Ryan for Pearl Harbor.  There are literally thousands of reasons why Pearl Harbor is a dreadful film, and I’ll list a few major one.

First of all, the movie has a PG-13 rating.  You can’t show any violence or gore with that, which obviously shows that Bay wasn’t looking to make a realistic film.  He is just trying to get the younger teen audience who couldn’t see Ryan.

Another awful thing of the movie is how horribly inaccurate it is.  The movie goes way over the top with the attacks, featuring hundreds of obligatory Michael Bay explosions.  The actual events are so different than reality (here’s an article on Wikipedia to prove it).

But what makes me so disgusted by the film is how Bay wants to make the film a tearjerker.  Pearl Harbor is definitely one of the saddest events in American History, and a talented director could make it work.  But Bay is far from talented and he adds a wimpy romantic subplot that’s so shallow and forced into the plot.

There are sad parts in Saving Private Ryan, but you could understand the characters.  We could feel what Tom Hanks’ John Miller was going through in the movie.  All the characters are well drawn out and feel so real.  When watching Pearl Harbor, I thought I was watching a Nicholas Sparks war movie.

But Bay doesn’t care about making films realistic.  He just saw the money Saving Private Ryan earned, and thought he could do that himself.  But Ryan felt real and had an emotional punch to it.  Pearl Harbor feels like a poor copy of it.



  1. I agree, Pearl Harbor is a stupid, overlong movie. Haven’t seen Saving Private Ryan yet. I have to disagree with you on one point, though: you absolutely do not need graphic violence to make a war movie succeed. Just emotion. Proof: Howard Hughes’s 1931 Hell’s Angels. It passed the tyrannical Hays code and was rerated PG fairly recently. And it’s EXCELLENT.

    • That part you said was true. There’s a lot of good old war films that actually aren’t very graphic, and Hell’s Angels is one of the many good examples. I just think with an R rating a movie could expand more into the depths of violence for today’s war films (back then it was hard to make a violent film and get it released).

      Overall, I think Pearl Harbor is a terrible movie that’s too stretched out. Saving Private Ryan’s a classic, and I recommend it highly. Overall, the film’s pretty violent (especially the opening scene), but it feels like a true war film with much realism. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Interesting post, definately prefere Saving Private Ryan to Pearl harbour

    • Yeah. Saving Private Ryan’s a gem and one of the best films of the last twenty years. Pearl Harbor’s a rip-off that just seems like a mindless action movie mixed with a romantic sub-plot. I think Bay should be ashamed for exploiting Pearl Harbor, taking a tragic event and trying to make money off of it. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Am of mixed feelings. Loved “Private Ryan” because of the absolute authenticity of the seemingly mindless slaughter of Omaha Beach. It makes me think of the remark that was made by someone much wiser than I, that: “There is no winner in a war.”
    I did enjoy Pearl Harbor for several reasons. 1. Yours truly is an absolute addict for airplanes; 2. I loved the computer animation; 3. I was able to watch the filming of some of the flying sequences live on streaming video via the then-existing and now-defunct “Pearl Harbor Web cam.”
    Believe the operator of same was temporarily stationed at Pearl Harbor and was housed in a high-rise apartment building overlooking the AZ Memorial, and set his Web cam to run 24/7 pointed at the monument. This he streamed live over the Web. So, it was possible to see US Navy ships of every shape and size passing by the AZM at full hand-salute status.
    When “PH” was being made, it was done with three original Japanese A6M2 Zeros, and we watched them being flown around the red and white control tower at Ford Island. I recall that one of the Zeros crashed during the filming. We actually caught the smoke from the crash when we first logged on one day.
    Great idea for the blog. Congrats.

    • I’m glad you like Saving Private Ryan as well. That opening runs chills down my spine every time I see it. The only war film I like more is Apocalypse Now.

      And even though I didn’t like Pearl Harbor, I have to admit the film did have some good special effects. I saw how they made them on a studio tour once, and thought it was pretty interesting. And it’s really cool you got to see those planes. Thanks for commenting.

      • Thanks ckckred. I’ve logged on to follow your blog permanently. So I’ll be looking fwd to your future posts. Rgds

  4. I watched Saving private Ryan in London one of the Greatest openings of a Movie ever made the reaction of the people watching was silence and shock I couldn’t believe it. Micheal Bay is not a good movie maker Pearl Harbour was terrible.

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