General News

'Pearl Harbor' Price Tag: $135 million

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Jul 31, 2001 | 6:53am EDT

In case you haven't heard, another big budget, big boat flick is about to set sail in Hollywood.

Nope, it's not a sequel to "Titanic." But given its eye-popping $135 million upfront budget, it'd better be like one at the box office.

The film in question is Disney's grandiose World War II opus "Pearl Harbor," and the big boat in particular is the battleship Tennessee (which was once the film's working title) -- the Pearl Harbor-docked vessel where the bulk of the film's eponymous Japanese bombing attack sequence takes place.

Reuniting "Armageddon" producer-director team Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay and written by "Braveheart" scribe Randall Wallace, the flick follows the tenuous love triangle involving two buddy pilots and a nurse stationed at Pearl Harbor during and after the attack.

Despite the emphasis on the romantic component, the flick, being still a Michael Bay product, is said to be heavy in special effects, pyrotechnics, visceral spectacles and all the necessary bells and whistles that would lend the film a sense of historical verisimilitude and import.

So far, what's spectacular about the film is not the scope of its ambition but the controversy surrounding the flick's proposed starting budget, which was initially set at a whopping $145 million and which would have made "Pearl Harbor" the priciest film to date (the previous record was held by Bay's last venture "Armageddon," at $140 million).

With such an inflated price tag, the flick was fast acquiring a high-risk rep that didn't exactly jive well against Disney's recent financial plunders. The survivability of the WWII film was the topic of many Hollywood debates in the wake of power shuffling high up on the Disney food chain -- the result of which saw the exit of studio chief Joe Roth (an avid espouser of the project since its inception). A cautious Eisner, only days after Roth's resignation, told both Daily Variety and The Wall Street Journal that the film was not being approved.

The film's mercurial fate took a definitive upswing after budget meetings between Eisner and Bruckheimer, which cut the cost from the initial $145 million to $135 million. Variety reported just last Thursday that Disney has given the project a definitive go-ahead and plans to put up the war flick's entire $135 million budget.

Meanwhile, Bruckheimer has already begun doing what a producer of a pic heading into production does. In his case, successfully enlisting the government's defense expertise on the project and coming up with a list of possible candidates to fill the three main roles.

The roster of hopefuls, said The Hollywood Reporter, includes Wes Bentley ("American Beauty"), Ed Burns ("Saving Private Ryan"), James Caviezel ("The Thin Red Line", Charlize Theron ("The Cider House Rules") and television teen drama "Felicity" stars Keri Russell and Scott Speedman. Acting heavyweight Gene Hackman is reportedly the top selection for the part of the incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt. (The predominance of up-and-comers is reportedly due to a slashed cast budget to compensate for the mammoth cost of the film's special effects.)

With a definite seal of approval from Disney, "Pearl Harbor" is well on its way to becoming one of the most anticipated films slated for 2001. But the $135 million question remains: Would audiences respond to a seemingly cliche love story with non-established Hollywood faces, however splashy the special effects-laden backdrop might be?

"With a film like this -- which basically belongs to the genre of big-budget disaster film -- the model the studio's going by is to sell the concept rather than the star. With an established director and producer, Bay and Bruckheimer are providing the real star power for the film," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of the box-office analysis Web site Box Office Guru (http://www.boxofficeguru.com).

"Take for example, "Twister," with Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt. They were known but were not big names but the film still went on to make a lot of money. Another one is 'Independence Day.' Bill Pullman, Will Smith were not big level stars, but the concept worked and the film skyrocketed. And let's not forget 'Titanic.' When the film opened, everyone thought it would fail. And look what happened."

And what happened was that Leonardo DiCaprio became a worldwide phenomenon.

Taking Bay and Bruckheimer's track record into account ("Armageddon" grossed more than $550 million worldwide), "Pearl Harbor" may not only be successful, but it could also provide one of those star-making turns for whose who end up in the title roles.

"I don't think you can ever underestimate Bay and Bruckheimer's ability to deliver a hit. Having big stars is just one piece of the pie. Knowing the type of marketing expertise behind the film and the people involved who's going to put it together, I think this film has as good a shot as any to be a hit," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

"'Titanic' was a big-budget film with relative unknown stars, and it went on to become the bigger domestic and worldwide grosser of all time. Leonardo DiCaprio was recognizable, but he certainly became an A-list star after 'Titanic's' release."

Disney likes it. The government likes it. The film-analyst community likes it. But what about the people whom the film's portraying? We asked a Pearl Harbor vet for his opinion.

"I think it's wonderful," said Charles Myles, a Pearl Harbor vet and secretary of the Orange County chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivor Association. "There're many facets to the events that took place at Pearl Harbor. And to understand them, you have to lay the groundwork before the attack. I think the film will do well in keeping the memory of Pearl Harbor alive."

With that said, audiences can judge for themselves using the following handy Pearl Harbor facts (from both the cinematic version and the real thing).

COST

Unknown, but the total U.S. expenditure for World War II was approximately $3.3 trillion dollars. "Pearl Harbor" film: So far, $130 million (down from the $145 million original figure) in initial budget, plus the $2 mil screenwriter Randall Wallace reportedly got for the script.

PERSONNEL/CASUALTIES/DAMAGES Military and naval forces suffered 3,435 deaths. Eight battleships, three light cruisers, three destroyers and four miscellaneous vessels were severely damaged or destroyed. The film: So far, a cast of four known roles (two pilots, one nurse and one president). Two battleships, the USS Tennessee and the USS Oklahoma, were said to be featured in the bombing scenes.

TIME AND PLACE

The attack took place in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. According to reports, the film spans some 20 years. The first act of the film takes place in Tennessee, where the boyhood friends meet. The second act focuses on the attack on Pearl Harbor. The third, and final, act will incorporate the April 18, 1942, "Doolittle Raid" over Tokyo.

LENGTH

The attack lasted approximately 2 hours -- bombing began at around 8:30 a.m. and ended shortly after 10:00 a.m. According to FlixBurg USA (http://members.xoom.com/FlixBurg/flixburg040.htm), an early draft of the script is locked at 142 pages. Using the standard formula of one page per minute, the film would be approximately 142 minutes long, or 2 hours, 22 minutes.

OTHER NOTABLE PEARL HARBOR FLICKS

"Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (1944) with Robert Mitchum and Spencer Tracy, and 1970's "Tora! Tora! Tora! "Pearl Harbor" is slated to begin filming in April and is aiming for a Memorial Day 2001 release date. Possible locations include Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Los Angeles; Baja, Texas; and England.

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