Having put to bed one of the greatest television shows of all time (HBO's The Wire), producers David Simon and Ed Burns didn't rest on their laurels. For an encore to their sociopolitical look at the drug war as fought in Baltimore, they took on nothing less than Operation Iraqi Freedom. The seven-part HBO miniseries event Generation Kill is based on Evan Wright's best-selling book, which in turn was based on his Rolling Stone article "The Killer Elite." Following Reconnaissance Marines on their long slog into Baghdad, Generation Kill retains the journalistic flavor of its source, in turns terrifying and absurd, with gallows humor never far out of reach.
In the miniseries, embedded Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright (Oz's Lee Tergesen) travels with the Second Platoon of the Marines' First Reconnaissance Battalion's Bravo Company. Sergeant Brad "Iceman" Colbert (Alexander Skarsgård) commands the lead vehicle, also peopled by witty loudmouth Corporal Josh Ray Person (Ken Park's James Ransone, doing standout work) and nervously energetic Lance Corporal Harold James Trombley (Billy Lush); quickly family, they are given to singalongs on their road trip. And these are only four of twenty-eight starring cast members (supported by yet more players), with one Marine (Sergeant Rudy Reyes) playing himself and another playing someone else. There's First Recon commander Lieutenant Colonel Stephen "Godfather" Ferrando (Chance Kelly), named so for his strained voice, a result of throat cancer. Fresh from his Broadway run in WWI drama Journey's End, Stark Sands plays First Lieutenant Nathaniel Fick, a level-headed soldier whose smarts and nobility go thankless. Other notable character's include certifiably crazy platoon commander Captain Dave "Captain America" McGraw (Eric Nenninger) and Sergeant Antonio "Poke" Espera (Jon Huertas), who's always ready with an unvarnished observation like "People been fightin' over this bitch since ancient times, dawg" or "Do you realize the shit that we've done here, the people we've killed—back in the civilian world, dawg, if we did this, we'd go to prison."
Though the miniseries dramatizes the quagmire created with a destructive disregard for the civilian population and the mutual trashing of cities during and after the invasion, screenwriters Simon, Burns and Wright show sympathy for officers and grunts alike, doing their jobs as best they can with a poorly defined mission in an unfamiliar arena. Some are better equipped with intellect, practicality and humaneness than others, but the filmmakers mostly refrain from conclusive judgement, allowing the characters to be ideological Rorschach tests for the audience. The accounting of heroic service acknowledges organizational follies and understandable but scary combat errors; most scintillating are the scenes of human-natural dissention in the ranks, with lower men on the chain of command rankling over the decisions being made above them. At times, these resentments boil over into outright insubordination, with the recipients sometimes too shamed to report the situation. Certainly the writers don't shy from depicting how the Marines are poorly equipped, uneducated about Iraq, and lacking in cohesive strategy.
Generation Kill captures the uniqueness of the war in impressive detail. Filmed in the Republic of South Africa, the Republic of Namibia and Mozambique, the show gives a convincing impression of verisimilitude. Key to that effect is the recreation of military parlance, from the Military Phonetic Alphabet to racist diatribes against "Hajis," homophobic humor, and a general eagerness to "get some," or see action (there's also an amusing running joke about a distressing rumor that J. Lo may have died back home). Generation Kill is not for the faint of heart, in its depiction of collateral damage, its profanity or its conversations about American imperialism. It ends—as so many of Simon and Burns' TV episodes have—with a sobering musical montage, this one realistically created by a Marine to the apocalyptic tune of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around."
Generation Kill lands on Blu-ray in a three-disc set with a strong hi-def transfer. On the rare occasions of extremely low light, the image can briefly get very grainy, but in general the picture shows moderate grain, good detailand true colors, all in keeping with the source material. The DTS-HD MAster Audio 5.1 mixes are similarly sturdy, nicely balancing appropriate ambiance and ample firepower, as needed, to complement the all-important and clearly presented dialogue.
Blu-ray also includes an exclusive handful of features. When enabled during playback, Basic Training mode provides access to a Military Glossary, Chain of Command guide, and Mission Maps.
There are also audio commentaries on all but one episode: "Part 1 - Get Some" commentary by David Simon, Ed Burns (Executive Producers/Writers) and Susanna White (Director); "Part 2 - The Cradle of Civilization" commentary by Burns and Andrea Calderwood (Producer); "Part 3 - Screwby" commentary by Evan Wright (Screenwriter/author of Generation Kill), Stark Sands (Lt. Flick) and Benjamin Busch (Maj Eckloff); "Part 4 - Combat Jack" commentary by Alexander Skarsgard (Sgt. Colbert), James Ransone (Cpl. Person) and Simon Cellan Jones (Director); "Part 5 - A Burning Dog" commentary by Wright, Eric Kocher (Key Military Advisor/Gunnery Sgt. Barrett) and Jeffrey Carisalez (Marines Technical Advisor/Cpl. Smith); and "Part 7 - Bomb in the Garden" commentary by Simon and George Faber (Executive Producer).
In "Generation Kill: A Conversation with 1st Recon Marines" (23:25, HD) Evan Wright moderates a candid chat with Gunny Sgt. Brad Colbert, former Sgt. Josh Ray Person, former Staff Sgt. Eric Kocher, former Sgt. Rudy Reyes (who plays himself in the miniseries), former Sgt. Antonio Espera, and Master Sgt. Mike Wynn.
"Making Generation Kill" (25:05, HD) offers a reasonably thorough look at the production, including interviews with Simon, Burns, White, Wright, Lee Tergesen, Kocher, Wilson Bethel, Calderwood, Reyes, casting director Alexa Fogel, Carisalez, Kellan Lutz, Ransone, Billy Lush, Eric Ladin, Marc Menchaca, Rey Valentin, production designer Rob Harris, Jon Huertas, Alexander Skarsgard, Sydney Hall, locations captain Giles Harris, Jones, key make-up Sue Michael, costume supervisor Mabel Mofokeng & assistant costume designer Susan Howie, 2nd stunt coordinator Daniel Hirst, action vehicle coordinator Paul Fisher, key armourer Lance Peters, and Sands.
"Eric Ladin's Video Diaries" (30:09, HD) are an edited collection of clips shot by actor Ladin.
Lastly, we get Deleted Dialogues (audio only) between Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert and Cpl. Josh Ray Person, Sgt. Antonio "Poke" Espera Cpl. Jason Lilley and Cpl. Hector Leon, Lance Cpl. Harold "James" Trombley and Cpl. Gabriel Garza, Sgt. Larry Shawn "Pappy" Patrick and Sgt. Rudy "Fruity Rudy" Reyes, and Cpl. Evan "Q - Tip" Stafford and Cpl. Anthony "Manimal" Jacks.
All in all, this is a mightily impressive Blu-ray set, with sterling feature content and illuminating extras.
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