History

Michael Bay's Infamy

The moral vision behind Pearl Harbor.

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According to the London Sun, a special version of Pearl Harbor has been made for screenings in Germany and Japan. "Producers are ditching a closing speech by Brit Kate Beckinsale, 27, telling how the US bounced back from the cowardly Japanese raid on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor to win the war," the paper reports. "The decision came after Disney chiefs canvassed people worldwide to see if anyone would be offended." Disney has denied the Sun's story, but still made a "conscious decision to keep it very neutral," the Pentagon's "Pearl Harbor project officer" told the Washington Times.

In either case, the movie isn't merely a militarist's wet dream: It doesn't even have the courage of its convictions. But it would be wrong to conclude that director Michael Bay lacks a consistent, heartfelt moral vision. I saw it on display two years ago, when the auteur behind Armageddon, some beer commercials, and a Lionel Richie video spoke at a panel on media violence.

The event was sponsored by the Creative Coalition, a collection of Hollywood liberals devoted to federal funding of the arts and other trendy causes. Amitai Etzioni (a "communitarian" philosopher) and Arianna Huffington (a flake with money) were on hand to denounce media violence. Bay was there, I gathered, to demonstrate that those who produce violent movies can be as airheaded as those who attack them. (The fourth member of the panel was the rapper Chuck D, whose comments were sometimes low on coherence but who still came off as the brainiest man on stage.)

Few things are more enlightening than listening to a bunch of pundits and Hollywood shakers go on about the need to make more uplifting, "positive" movies, especially if one of the people so expostulating is the director of Bad Boys, the 1995 buddy cop flick that starred Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and loads of explosions and shooting scenes. "Bad Boys has a lot of violence, but it's always in a context of good versus evil," Bay explained. "Will Smith is good, and he's fighting drug dealers, who are evil."

But that's not the heart of Bay's moral vision. That came later, when he conceded that there are lines that he just won't cross. Sure, he said, he'll show people blowing each other into pieces. But he never shows anyone smoking. After all, kids watch this stuff.