The vast majority of reviewers received Pearl Harbor negatively from almost every possible aspect of filmmaking. Not only is the film enormously historically inaccurate, it also fails both as an action film and a drama. The action scenes are so littered with special effects as to become dull, and the love triangle between the main characters fails to excite. Several reviewers lament the false impression viewers are left with of the attack on Pearl Harbor, particularly because films are a place where many Americans obtain their knowledge of history. Each reviewer accepts that the producer and director admitted to being historically inaccurate on different levels, but most still argue that in making a film about a real American historical event, it was their obligation as filmmakers to respect the true event. This film was intended to be a box office blockbuster, and because of this motivation, it failed massively in its representation of American history.
- Berardinelli, James. Rev. of Pearl Harbor, dir. Michael Bay. Reelviews.net. http://www.reelviews.net/php_review_template.php?identifier=257
- Berardinelli is unabashedly blunt about the great failure he believes Pearl Harbor to be. He says that with such a "grand historical backdrop" Pearl Harbor had the potential to be a great film, but he feels the film failed on almost all accounts. With only twenty percent of the running time dedicated to the actual attack, Berardinelli writes that Pearl Harbor fails both as a love story and as a depiction of a historical event. He lists the film's greatest problems as "the lack of dramatic tension and empathy for the protagonists." Berardinelli is not shy about his harsh criticism of the film.
- Dower, John W. "The Innocence of ‘Pearl Harbor'." New York Times 3 June 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/03/opinion/the-innocence-of-pearl-harbor.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/W/World%20War%20II%20(1939-45)&pagewanted=all
- Dower softens the blow many critics give to Pearl Harbor by citing that it romanticizes war in the way almost all American war films do. Dower mentions that he, too, is disheartened by the fact that "many people get their knowledge of war and history in general from the movies." The true issue is the tragedy that was World War II, which involved a series of retaliations by Japan and the United States to one another that resulted in great loss for both sides: "An enormously powerful, humanistic film waits to be made here. But who would dare do this? Who would go see it?"
- Ebert, Roger. Rev. of Pearl Harbor, dir. Michael Bay. Rogerebert.com. 25 May 2001. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20010525/REVIEWS/105250301/1023
- Ebert criticizes the lack of historical accuracy in the film by saying that "if you have the slightest knowledge of the events in the film, you will know more than it can tell you." He says the Japanese cannot be offended by their portrayal in the film because it is in fact too small to even leave an impression. Ebert completes his review of the film by saying, "It was a terrible, terrible day. Three thousand died in all. This is not a movie about them." This film succeeds neither as a fictional drama or as an accurate depiction of history.
- Jensen, Jeff. "Veteran's Say." Entertainment Weekly 8 June 2001. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,256589,00.html
- Jensen shares the reaction of his grandfather, a Pearl Harbor veteran, on the film. He says his grandfather was somewhat bored by the lengthy love story leading up to the actual attack scenes, but once these arrived he felt the film did a good job of portraying what Pearl Harbor was like on the day of the attack.
- Lee, Chisun. "Romancing the Republic." Village Voice 12 June 2001. http://www.villagevoice.com/2001-06-05/news/romancing-the-republic/1
- Lee argues that Pearl Harbor aims to create a "rose-filtered version of America," which is intended to create a false idea about our country's "character and global purpose." Lee says that the film portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light in order to get both their stamp of approval and "unprecedented permission to film on military bases." Lee says this film denies Americans the whole picture of the real reasons for the attack on Pearl Harbor and the events leading up to that day. Lee laments not only the film's historical inaccuracies but also the false impression of both history and America that it gives to film viewers.
- Suid, Lawrence. Rev. of Pearl Harbor, dir. Michael Bay. Journal of American History 88.3: 1208-9.
- "So little of what appears on the screen bears even a remote resemblance to actual events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the actual attack, or the aftermath, including the Doolittle raid, that audiences come away from the film with no real understanding of what happened and why." As a historical narrative, Suid says Pearl Harbor fails completely. His problem with this is not that this film had to be historically accurate, but that director Michael Bay stated in interviews that it was going to be an accurate depiction of what really happened at Pearl Harbor. Suid says the filmmakers chose to portray drama rather than history.
- Sullivan, Robert. "What Really Happened." Time 4 June 2001. http://www.time.com/time/sampler/article/0,8599,128065,00.html
- Sullivan commends Pearl Harbor for portraying much of the history accurately, but he also gripes that the film "doesn't paint a clear picture of the attack or the political events leading to it." Sullivan uses quotes from real Pearl Harbor survivors to support his contention about the film's inaccuracies. Sullivan says it is a great film, but he wants to be clear that it "is Hollywood, not history, at heart." While he cites many of the film's inaccuracies, Sullivan also notes that the two American pilots Harnett and Affleck are based upon really did exist and shoot down seven Japanese planes during the attack.
- Travers, Peter. Rev. of Pearl Harbor, dir. Michael Bay. Rolling Stone 21 June 2001. http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/movie/5948445/review/5948446/pearl_harbor
- Travers criticizes this film for being both an historical failure and a film failure. He feels this film was designed to be a box office blockbuster with little attention paid to the actual content of the film. The bomb scenes were meant to awe and excite audiences, and in creating this film the director turned "a real-life tragedy into a carnival attraction." Travers evaluates most of the film's actors as failing to animate the "moldy romantic triangle." The sole praise he gives in his review is to the seasoned actors with small parts in the film.
- Watson, Shannon. "'Pearl Harbor': Fact vs. Fiction." Veterans of Foreign Wars Magazine 89.4 (December 2001). http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-93715542.html
- Watson discusses why many Pearl Harbor veterans take offense at Hollywood's version of December 7, 1941. Watson admits there is some accuracy in the film but says the film is for the most part historically inaccurate. She says that this is important because many people acquire their knowledge of history from movies. Watson does a good job of citing those on each side of the argument and explains that Pearl Harbor's director never intended for this film to be a history lesson. Finally, Watson explains that the filmmakers were careful not to portray the Japanese in a harmful light because Japan is a huge market for American films.
- Zacharek, Stephanie. "'Pearl Harbor': Bombs Away." Salon.com 25 May 2001. http://archive.salon.com/ent/movies/review/2001/05/25/pearl_harbor/index.html
- Zacharek begins her review by stating that historical inaccuracy in Hollywood films is to be expected, but that Pearl Harbor exceeds any level of acceptable historical errors. Zacharek says that in "taking great pains to humanize the Japanese," the filmmakers portrayed them inaccurately. For Zacharek, most of the actors fail to leave an impression, and she faults the "huge sweeping vision of Pearl Harbor" as the issue.
Ansen, David. "Make War, Not Love." Newsweek 14 May 2001. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-74361271.html
Bruinius, Harry. "Remembering Pearl Harbor, in a Search for Heroes." Christian Science Monitor 25 May 2001. http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/0525/p1s3.html
Clark, Mike. "'Pearl Harbor' Sputters – Until Japanese Show Up." USA Today 7 June 2001. http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/pearl-harbor/2001-05-25-pearl-harbor-review.htm
Clinton, Paul. "'Pearl Harbor' Hits Some, Misses Much." CNN.com. 28 May 2001. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/SHOWBIZ/Movies/05/24/pearl.harbor.clinton/index.html
Cooper, Rand Richards. "Bombs Away: ‘Pearl Harbor.'" Commonweal 15 June 2001. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-76915668.html
Hoberman, J. "Days of Infamy." Village Voice 5 June 2001: 141. http://www.villagevoice.com/2001-05-29/film/days-of-infamy/1
James, Victoria. "Japan Snores Through Pearl Harbor." New Statesman 23 July 2001. http://www.newstatesman.com/200107230025
Lally, Kevin. "Targeting ‘Pearl Harbor.'" Film Journal May 2001. http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/reviews/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000696954
Macnab, Geoffrey. "Pearl Harbor." Sight & Sound 11.5 (2001): 47-49. http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/review/2046