As their World War II epic Pearl Harbor finally hits theaters, director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer figure to generate quite a few lines at your local multiplex in the weeks ahead. What’s less obvious, but seemingly just as likely, is that the film may trigger the same effect at the production’s location itself.
”It’s a bit electric out here, anticipating just how many people might start showing up,” says Dan Hand, chief ranger at Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona Memorial. As it stands, the site sees 1.4 million visitors annually, with its peak time coming during the summer. Although admission to the memorial is free, first-come, first-serve, day-of tickets are required for the short boat ride out to the spot where the Arizona went down. Despite the movie’s release, not to mention the upcoming 60th anniversary of the bombing, the memorial’s operating budget has stayed flat. ”I’m hopeful that whatever [visitor] increase we see will be in those times we would anticipate fewer people, like the fall,” Hand says.
But if the Pearl Harbor staff is lacking for market research, they need look no further than Alcatraz — another historic site already familiar with the torrential trickle-down effect of a Bay-Bruckheimer juggernaut. As soon as The Rock hit in 1996, ferries to the island went from being sold out three days in advance to two and a half weeks in advance. ”Business has never gotten back down to its pre-Rock level,” says Alcatraz spokesman Rich Weideman. And that includes business of the dodgier variety: ”What a lot of tour operators do is buy Alcatraz tickets and package them with other tours,” Weideman laments, noting that ferry tickets with a face value of $12.25 can often end up costing visitors $60 as a result.
There is, of course, a question of distance involved in Pearl Harbor’s case: For most mainlanders, airfare to San Francisco is substantially less expensive. ”I’d love it if the movie drove people to Oahu,” says Lois Shore, a California-based travel executive who specializes in Hawaiian vacations, ”but we just have no way of predicting.” Bruckheimer, though, is guessing that hunger for tactile experience will count for a lot: ”I think when you see the movie, you’re going to want to see the actual location where it happened, where you can see the bullet holes still in the ground, and the plaques, and the Arizona.” Lest we forget, he’s seen this sort of thing before.