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The Pacific is an epic 10-part miniseries that delivers a realistic portrait of WWII's Pacific Theatre as seen through the intertwined odysseys of three U.S. Marines - Robert Leckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge. The extraordinary experiences of these men and their fellow Marines take them from the first clash with the Japanese in the haunted jungles of Guadalcanal, through the impenetrable rain firests of Cape Gloucester, across the blasted coral strongholds of Peleliu, up the black sand terraces of Iwo Jima, through the killing fields of Okinawa, to the triumphant, yet uneasy, return home after V-J Day. The viewer will be immersed in combat through the intimate perspective of this diverse, relatable group of men pushed to the limit in battle both physically and psychologically against a relentless enemy unlike any encountered before.
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have long since shown that they can spin a good World War II yarn. But while their previous collaborations (Saving Private Ryan, which they starred in and directed, respectively, and Band of Brothers, for which they were part of the producing team) were set in Europe, The Pacific is their first look at the conflict with the Japanese on the other side of the world--and the two executive producers, along with an outstanding cast, an able crew, and a slew of top-notch writers and directors, have done a superb job. In making a 10-episode HBO miniseries (on five discs, with a sixth containing bonus material) that combines real events and participants with other dramatic elements newly created for the project, the filmmakers took a personal, experiential approach, focusing in particular on three marines, all of them real individuals: Robert Leckie (played by James Badge Dale), an aspiring writer who sees his first action at Guadalcanal, falls in love while on leave in Australia, and later suffers serious war wounds; John Balisone (Jon Seda), who performs heroically at Guadalcanal, earns a Medal of Honor, and is then sent home to help sell war bonds, only to return to action at Iwo Jima; and Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), who enlists later than the others, but not too late to witness and take part in some unimaginable horrors (books written by Sledge and Leckie about their experiences were used as source material for the miniseries). Of course, no one who's never been in combat can understand what it's really like, but through these three, and other men as well, we get some idea of the debilitating effects of war, both physical and psychological, and how those who managed to survive it might cope. As Leckie would write, "There are things men can do to one another that are sobering to the soul. It is one thing to reconcile these things with God, but another to square them with yourself."
A number of episodes depict the characters at home, on leave, or otherwise away from the field of battle, but the greatest impact comes from the extraordinarily powerful fighting scenes in which the marines--exhausted, half-starving, riddled with malaria, and enduring the appalling conditions (from extreme heat to relentless, torrential downpours) of an impenetrable, unforgiving jungle--battle an implacable, fanatical foe who would much rather die than surrender or be taken prisoner. A sequence in Part Five, when we're with Sledge as he lands at Peleliu for his first real action, is especially gripping; battles at night and in the rain at Cape Gloucester in Part Four, on Iwo Jima in Part Eight, and on Okinawa in Part Nine are also wrenching, but really, all the fighting sequences manage to convey the sheer, visceral terror the men experienced. To the filmmakers' credit, a number of real WWII veterans are on hand to share their memories, both in a 49-minute featurette on disc 6 and during the short introductions to each episode narrated by Hanks. Other extras include a 22-minute "making of" piece and a brief but interesting description of the cultural differences that made the conflict between the Japanese and the Americans even more brutal than it might have been. Kudos also go to the packaging and design of the boxed set; the menus are easily navigable, offering a synopsis of each episode. --Sam Graham
Making The Pacific: Go behind the scenes and take an inside look at the making of the miniseries
Anatomy of the Pacific War: Explore the historical influences and cultural perceptions that led to the merciless brutality in the Pacific theater of World War II
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The Pacific continues the trend of a character driven narrative with high production value but tells a much darker and more abysmal story of the horrors that the 1st Marines faced at Guadalcanal, Peleleiu, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. The supporting cast is rather large, though the main focus of this series is on 3 particular individuals; Bob Leckie, John Basalone, and Eugene Sledge - the material for most of the series was taken from Bob Leckie's autobiography "Helmet for my Pillow" and Eugene Sledge's autobiography "With the Old Breed: at Peleliu and Okinawa". While there are some scenes which visually romanticize the American vision of the rugged bare-chested marine fighting the "Japs" in the pacific - the charm is quickly overshadowed by the horrors of the non-conventional warfare our marines faced in the Pacific theatre. The Japanese warriors who engaged in night attacks, banzai bayonet charges, and suicide attacks are portrayed in a very dark and terrifying manner that definitely does justice to the brutality of the combat which took place. While Hollywood typically demonizes America's enemies in these sorts of features - the writers did a good job of respecting the Japanese as people and giving an accurate portrayal of the motivations of combatants on both sides of the conflict.
What this series does that Band of Brothers didn't is show the difficulties of the soldiers who returned from the war and the mental toll that the war in the Pacific took on them. There are some scenes that are real tear-jerkers, having felt especially bonded to the characters and their experiences.
While I think I prefer Band of Brothers if I had to pick a favorite, I still greatly admire The Pacific as a spectacle that stands on its own. It shares a very different story than Band of Brothers and I would highly recommend.
Note: This series is especially violent and gratuitous in its portrayal of many of the themes of the war in the pacific. Everything from the violence, the language, and the sexual content is quite R-rated so this might not be the most appropriate for younger audiences.
Band of Brothers dealt with the land war of the US Army (and Air Force) which I categorized as an artillery/armor type war other than the landing in Normandy in June 1944.
The Pacific was always a frontal assault against heavily fortified and armed forces where overcoming one's primal fear of a dedicated and ruthless foe often decided who lived and who died. The Marines proved over and over that the Pacific was the proving ground for their unique style of close combat.
Each theater had is characteristics, and the two were as different as night and day except for the killing. Both films brought this out with incredibly realistic visual and audio cinematography, but again, illustrating the huge difference between what the combat was like in each theater.
The Pacific very effectively illustrated why the Marines quickly refused to take prisoners against an enemy whose culture defined surrender as the ultimate personal shame. The Marines leaned very quickly that to survive each of them had to become heartless, cold, ruthless killing machines thereby losing part of their humanity in the process.
I thought the most brutal part of the entire Pacific series was the frontal assault on the airfield on Peleliu where the Marines had to advance in the face of heavy fire with no cover. All one has to do is see that action alone to learn what courage, sacrifice and determination in close combat really means. No one could emerge alive from that action without having soul searing reflections later in life.
Eugene Sledge's recollection of the Okinawa campaign in his book was brought to vivid life in the film. One can only marvel that anyone came through that experience whole, and Mr. Sledge did not.
John Basilone was a genuine American hero and earned a well deserved Medal of Honor only to lose his life on Iwo Jima. The scene at the end of the series where his widow visited the Basilone family in New Jersey to give the Medal to John's father was as emotional a scene that has ever been filmed. No doubt that kind of scene played out many, many times during World War II.
Today, in the year 2016, our country has changed dramatically and face new enemies around the world. I often wonder whether we can rise to the occasion to protect the nation like the Greatest Generation did. I have my doubts.
If we ignore the lessons to be learned from The Pacific and Band of Brothers, we will be a lesser people for it.
And while Band of Brothers left you with a feeling of hope or optimism, the Pacific was downright dreary and depressing. But that's the true nature of war--it ruins lives. That's not to say Band of Brothers gave a cheery account of war, only that The Pacific portrayed the utter misery that our men experienced in the PTO. So don't watch this series expecting an uplifting experience.
I've watched Band of Brothers several times; I doubt I'll rewatch The Pacific simply because it was so grueling. It'd be like watching Schindler's List over and over.
Another difference is that Band of Brothers had interviews with the veterans themselves throughout the series. The Pacific has none of that (obviously, most of the individuals portrayed in this series were gone by the time production started). Band of Brothers also had narration throughout, through the eyes of one of the men. I feel like The Pacific would have benefited from having some narration, but oh well.