'PEARL HARBOR' premieres with a bang

Tuesday, May 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) _ In a spectacular display of military cooperation with Hollywood, Disney premiered its dlrs 140 million ``Pearl Harbor'' aboard an aircraft carrier moored near the underwater graves of the battle it recalls.

Echoes of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack rang out across the tranquil harbor waters Monday night as 2,000 invited guests watched the explosive epic in a giant open-air theater on the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis.

A few hundred yards (meters) from the carrier, light flickered through the gleaming white memorial for the 1,177 USS Arizona crew members who died in the Japanese attack.

A massive fireworks display lit up the harbor when the movie ended, with a deafening finale that rained down sparkles on the memorial and the USS Missouri battleship nearby.

For survivors of the attack, the sounds and images stirred painful memories. But many said they enjoyed the film and didn't mind a gala celebration so close to the Arizona Memorial.

``I think the sailors would like that,'' said George Brown, 80, who was on the USS Oklahoma during the attack. ``I think this is great. It might bring a lot of people to realize that freedom isn't free. You have to work for it.''

Guests watched at sunset as eight Navy SEAL paratroopers jumped out of a Black Hawk helicopter 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) above. The crowd of partygoers then stood in silence as four F-15 fighter jets from the Hawaii Air National Guard flew over the carrier in a ``missing man'' formation, to honor the more than 2,400 Americans killed in the attack that drew the United States into World War II.

When the fireworks show ended, elevator decks shuttled guests between parties on the flight deck and the airplane hangar deck below.

The dlrs 5 million premiere-party, which didn't wrap up until after midnight, is the highlight of a massive promotional effort for the film that opens in theaters across the country Friday. The three-hour movie tells the story of the attack through the lives of two Army fighter pilots (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) who fall in love with the same nurse (Kate Beckinsale).

The premiere brought together Hollywood stars, military brass, veterans and local dignitaries, many of whom posed for pictures next to a vintage B-25 bomber and a P-40 fighter on the deck of the 97,000-ton nuclear-powered carrier.

Hundreds of enlisted personnel from every military branch cheered and clapped as members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association made their way to the premiere along a pier covered in red carpet. Some rode in wheel chairs, stopping to shake hands and pose for pictures with young sailors and Marines.

``Seeing all these people, it's like coming home again,'' said Yuell Chandler, 83, who was an Army sergeant stationed off the Pearl Harbor channel during the attack.

But he added, ``I wish all them guys that's in the Arizona was up here instead of me. And all the thousands that got shot up that day. It was a mess.''

The lengthy battle scene, which featured a high-tech reenactment of the capsizing of the Oklahoma, hit home with Brown.

``I lost a lot of good friends on the Oklahoma,'' he said. ``It brought back a lot of memories that I didn't care to think about.''

But Brown said he is grateful for the movie's potential to educate young audiences about the attack.

``The young people don't know what we go through to secure their freedom,'' he said.

The promotional effort includes brochures and movie trailers in Japan, where the movie is scheduled to hit theaters July 14. Promoters are expecting the movie it to be a hit in Japan, despite the sensitive topic.

The content is not inflammatory to the Japanese because it's not trying to make a political or social statement, said Yoko Kishi, spokeswoman for the distributor Buenavista International Japan.

``We're confident that the film can appeal to a wide audience, from the young to the old,'' Kishi said. ``It's entertainment, a love story.''

In Los Angeles' Little Tokyo neighborhood, about 10 people gathered outside the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center on Monday to express concern that inaccuracies in the film could cause an anti-Asian American backlash.

``The movie 'Pearl Harbor' infers that a Japanese-American does help the enemy in identifying some of the positions in Pearl Harbor the day before the attack. FBI investigations have shown that this is false,'' said speaker Floyd Mori of the Japanese American Citizens League.

The Stennis came to Pearl Harbor from its home port of San Diego for the occasion. Disney studio chairman Peter Schneider said Friday the Navy was not charging Disney for the trip.

Navy officials have said the ship was supposed to be at sea anyway for training, and it made little difference whether those operations were off Hawaii or off California.

The Navy assisted in the making of the movie, and Disney is reimbursing it for costs.