Last summer, the only date that lived in infamy (for critics, at least) was the opening of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, a ”serious” event movie correctly dismissed as facile and casually false, both historically and dramatically. Since then, much has changed in America, and ”Pearl Harbor” still isn’t a great film. That’s not to say it isn’t a perfectly serviceable one, with its clean, seamless CGI dogfights and golden-hued ocean horizons, its radiantly irrelevant young-love triangle (Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale) catching the light just-so across their polished features.
Yet there’s no denying that ”Pearl Harbor” is a different movie in December than it was in May. Will we ever look at a crop duster the same way again? Do we still crave cinema that anticipates its own carnage in savory slo-mo?
Perhaps, perhaps not. One thing is clear: All of that digital destruction commemorates the close of a blissfully detached era. ”Pearl” was designed to evoke nostalgia for the Greatest Generation; now it’s a memento of the dreamy virtual reality of late-20th-century America. The terrorist attacks drew two instant comparisons: Pearl Harbor and a Hollywood blockbuster. Here they are, packaged together, in a time capsule dated Sept. 10.