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The glamour and the details are real, Pearl Harbor director Michael Bay tells Robin Gatto.

Born in Los Angeles in 1965, Michael Bay went from the music video world to advertising and the industrial world before linking the two together along with his degree from Pasadena Art Centre College of Design to plunge into the cinematic world, successfully on all counts.

Over the past 4 years, the undaunted Bruckheimer-Bay alliance has been keeping the flag of blockbuster cinema flying high with such glossy productions as Bad Boys, The Rock and Armaggedon. After the macho camaraderie of his first two films, Bay advanced on more sentimental ground with Armaggedon, though still selling the American heroes "as if they were to appear on teenage girls' walls across the world," according to the Wallflower Critical Guide. Pearl Harbor, Bay's new parade of pyrotechnics, pushes the ambivalence even further, catering to the nubile, young and restless side, while affirming the almighty valour of heroic intrepidity. Meet the Marshall-mallow Man.

Why did you put such an emphasis on the glamorous, the romantic?
You know, I interviewed about 150 survivors, and when I asked them: "What was life like before December 7th?", their eyes would light up, and they said: "The ocean, the beach, the women, it was paradise, it was as far away from the war in Europe as it could be." And it was an innocent time, it was glamorous, you should look at photographs of how people were dressed back then (smiles). So this is where we took our stories.

Did you want to make an entertainment film, or did you also want to make a history piece?
If you wanted to tell the true story of Pearl Harbor, it would be a nine-hour movie. There is a lot of history to tell. What we were very detailed in was putting lots of little bits from survivors, true little stories, throughout the movie, to give an essence of what it must have felt like when that mournful morning happened. It was all the little details that we took, like Kate's stockings, lipstick, the coke bottles where they were doing blood transfusions, this is from a true story. Josh and Ben being the only two fighters to get up during the attack, that's a true story - though I don't know it they flew that well! (laughs)

Do you feel that making a film like this has somewhat of a healing aspect to it?
Well, it does for the survivors who fought in Hawaii. They were very proud of this movie, because it's a movie that honours their sacrifice. I think we were far away enough from the war so that we could show how it was. I don't think this film could have been made 5 years after the war. We treated the Japanese very dignified in the movie - they were very courageous and brave and they pulled off an excellent attack...

The film really honours the generation of our grandparents who, back then, would put their country before themselves. And that you don't find much nowadays. It's very humbling to meet all these survivors and be in their presence. These were boys that were 15, 16, 17 years old that would die for their country at a moment's notice.

The survivors were all overwhelmed by the film, there were a lot of tears. Roosevelt's grandson actually came up to me. He had tears in his eyes and said: "You got my grand dad right!"

Are there war films that you somehow looked up to for this film? And also, how did you manage not to repeat what had been done before?
There wasn't a prototype of a movie that inspired me for this movie. When I started researching for Pearl Harbor, what I really studied a lot was combat footage; I watched a lot of history channel stuff, there was a lot of photo research, not necessarily movies.

After the test-screening, someone from the audience said: "Why are you shooting guys under the water? I saw that in Saving Private Ryan!" And I was like: "Well, that's what happened! They were shot in the water!" And then: "Why are you showing a ship sinking? I saw that in Titanic." "That's what happened!!" I mean, we had to show what happened in the attack!

Would this movie have been possible without visual effects?
When this idea came about, I flew to Pearl Harbor to see if I could even redo the site. I got there and of course, there were no battle ships there, they were all sunk, there was only one original Japanese Flying Zero that we used in the movie - we actually used 9 Japanese planes in the movie - but the digital world really enabled us to make this movie. Surprisingly, there are only 150 digital shots. If you compare it to a movie like Titanic that has 500, or Armaggedon that has 300, it's not that much. That's because we shot a lot of real stuff in this movie, but the digital world has really advanced leaps and bounds, so now you're able to do things so photo-real!

Also, I got a message from George Lucas, who owns ILM, that's where we did the effects. He wrote me a letter saying that these are the best effects he's ever seen. So that's a nice compliment from someone I worked for when I was 15! (laughs)

Published June 21, 2001

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Michael Bay (right) and Jerry Bruckheimer

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