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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 13, 2001

'Pearl Harbor' steers clear of major commercialization

 •  Love, war in Hawai'i: Disney production 'Pearl Harbor'
 •  Advertiser special: The Pearl Harbor Story — Major Movie, Real Memories

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer

When the movie epic "Pearl Harbor" opens this month, don't look for the usual tie-ins of toys, T-shirts and McDonald's meals for which the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group is famous.

Borders Books & Music at Ward Centre features a "Pearl Harbor" book display, one of the few official product tie-ins to the movie.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

In recognition of the film's painful subject matter, Disney is steering clear of the marketing strategies that usually surround its summer blockbusters and has taken a more low-key approach.

Disney is selling the $145 million movie — premiering here May 21 aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis — on the strength of its classic love-triangle storyline and an eye-popping re-creation of America's day of infamy.

Contrast that with "Pearl Harbor" director Michael Bay's last Disney film, the $174 million "Armageddon," which arrived in theaters three summers ago complete with Nestle "nuclear chocolate" and "chocolate asteroids." As another tie-in, Mattel manufactured miniature action figures depicting Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck.

The only products Disney has released or has plans to release as official tie-ins to "Pearl Harbor" are two books from the company's Hyperion press, and a soundtrack of the film's score on Warner Bros. Records.

At $35, "Pearl Harbor: The Movie And the Moment" is the film's collectible coffee-table offering. A paperback novelization of Randall Wallace's "Pearl Harbor" screenplay is available for $5.99. Both titles have been released nationally.

The "Pearl Harbor" soundtrack — set for release May 22 — features composer Hans Zimmer's original score and the movie's Diane Warren-penned love theme, "There You'll Be," performed by Faith Hill.

The company has secured only two promotional partnerships, with Ray-Ban Sunglasses and Hamilton Watches, both of which have no plans for official "Pearl Harbor" merchandise, but may have product placement in the film.

"The reverence we have tried to show is vitally important," said Dick Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. "You won't see any games, toys or anything like that in or around the film. The film is something that we hold very sacred, and is meant to honor, not take away from anything that happened at Pearl Harbor."

Cook said the "Pearl Harbor" marketing campaign — though replete with enough effects-laden theater and television trailers, print and Internet advertising to ensure the film makes money — has taken a decidedly more subdued tone than a comparably sized summer lead film from Disney.

"It's been very 'un-movielike,'" Cook said. "Typically (films of this size are advertised) as being the biggest, the best, the this, the that. We've chosen to stay away from all the hyperbole that normally is associated with a big blockbuster."

USS Arizona Memorial historian Daniel Martinez said he was never troubled by the potential for commercialization of "Pearl Harbor," but he is nonetheless happy with the studio's sensitivity.

"I think Disney has been very, very careful to see that there is historical connection to the product," Martinez said. "If (there are) sunglasses or the watch, I think that is fine. There is a big difference between that and being involved in a food campaign."

But Disney's soft-marketing approach hasn't kept others from unofficially piggybacking on the movie's blockbuster potential.

In late April, Web-based superstores Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com were listing an average 35 books on Pearl Harbor whose publishers chose release or re-release dates near the May 25 "Pearl Harbor" launch rather than the 60th anniversary of the attack, Dec. 7. By comparison, only one book — Richard Tames' "Pearl Harbor: The U.S. Enters World War II" — is scheduled for publication in November.

Locally, booksellers including Borders Books & Music and Barnes & Noble Booksellers have set up Pearl Harbor-themed displays.

Also in April, Johnny Lightning, maker of die-cast miniature cars, released its "Pearl Harbor: Day of Infamy" collection. The six-car collection includes the 1940 Ford pickup representing Wheeler Field Army Air Corps and the 1937 Ford staff car for Hickam Field Army Air Corps.

RCA Victor has set a June release date for "Remember Pearl Harbor: Classic Songs of World War II," which includes Glenn Miller's "Shh, It's a Military Secret," Spike Jones' "Der Fuehrer's Face" and Sammy Kaye's classic title track.

The world's largest online auction site, eBay, recently included items being offered by a few members of the "Pearl Harbor" production staff. The items for sale are crew T-shirts, cast-signed posters, and leather and wool logo jackets given at the end of filming to the actors and principal crew. Prices range from $15 to $295.

Pearl Harbor survivors expressed little outrage over the commercialization issue.

"I wouldn't object to a soundtrack of the musical score if it's apropos (of the era)," said Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Aloha Chapter president Bob Kinzler, who was stationed at Schofield Barracks on the morning of the attack. "You can take the high road with items like books or a soundtrack, and then you can put out junk which is meaningless like some cheap pens or something that just says 'Remember Pearl Harbor,' where you throw it away when it runs out of ink."

Attack survivor Everett Hyland, a former Navy antenna repairman on the USS Pennsylvania, was 18 when a Japanese bomb hit the battleship. All the other members of his antenna crew were killed. He spent nine months in the hospital recovering.

Now 78, Hyland has lived in an 'Aiea Heights home overlooking the harbor since retiring from teaching public school in Las Vegas a decade ago. Like Martinez and Kinzler, he says he doesn't worry much about the potential for over-hyping history.

"I couldn't care less, I guess," Hyland said. "The one thing that's good that might come out of all this, though, is it might wake up some kids to the fact that Pearl Harbor really happened. Anything that keeps people interested in what happened is a positive thing."

Advertiser staff writer Mike Gordon contributed to this story.