The Pacific—HBO's fine sideways sequel to Band of Brothers—didn't nab the same affection and ratings as its predecessor, and it's not hard to see why. Band of Brothers, set in the European Theater of WWII, premiered on September 9, 2001. The majority of its ten episodes unfolded just after 9/11, at a time of swelling patriotism and before the current quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. By executive producer Steven Spielberg's admission, The Pacific's jungle setting becomes "a Hieronymus Bosch landscape," and an audience weary of war (and looking for relief of work-week stress) is less inclined these days to commit to a story rife with war horrors. I confess: my first sampling of The Pacific didn't sufficiently grab me to commit to following the run on TV. But now The Pacific has arrived on home video, fresh for (re)discovery as a highly skillful piece of historical drama.
A marathon viewing benefits the ten-part series, which becomes more engrossing with each episode as the characters and the war develop. Executive producers Spielberg and Tom Hanks say they were inundated with requests by veterans of the Pacific theater to tell their story, and it's likely not just PR. The somewhat less familiar, somewhat less glamorous circumstances that played out in Guadalcanal, Peleliu and Iwo Jima were nightmarish tests of character for American and Japanese fighters. Of course, The Pacific benefits from a more nuanced perspective than the rah-rah films of the '40s, and from a nine-hour run time that allows greater depth and detail. Head writer and co-executive producer Bruce McKenna (Band of Brothers) shepherds a team—including Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, Graham Yost (Band of Brothers, Boomtown) and novelist George Pelecanos (The Wire)—that takes inspiration from the autobiographical books Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie and With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene B. Sledge, as well as Chuck Tatum's Red Blood, Black Sand, Sledge's China Marine, and original interview material.
As played by James Badge Dale (24, Rubicon) and Joseph Mazzello (The Social Network, Jurassic Park), US Marines Leckie and Sledge share the spotlight with Medal of Honor-winning Marine John Basilone, played by Jon Seda (Homicide: Life on the Street). The discrete stories of each interweave to create the complex fabric of The Pacific, which tells the story of the Pacific Theater from their unique but representative perspectives. The series first two hours cover enlistment drama and the hell of Guadalcanal, experienced by Leckie and Basilone. In Melbourne, Australia, Leckie and the 1st Marine Division get some R&R, including relationships with women who end up as either "passing ships in the night" or wives; meanwhile, Basilone reluctantly ships home to collect the Medal of Honor and do the crucial but safe duty of drumming up sales of war bonds. After basic training, Sledge sees his first action in Peleliu, where an increasingly battered Leckie tries to hold it together. A frustrated Basilone begins to make noise about getting closer to the action as the series makes its way to Iwo Jima, Okinawa and a final homecoming.
And so The Pacific has breadth, dealing with homefront drama and wartime romance as well as battles. Even in the jungle, the story takes care to find grace notes to counter the harshness of the setting—or vice versa: the complexity of a war-stressed personality may best be represented by Cpl. Merriell "Snafu" Shelton (Rami Malek), who makes a gesture of goodwill to a brother in arms, then turns around and digs gold teeth from a "Jap"'s mouth. The demonization of "Japs" is an unavoidable part of the Marines' character, somewhat daringly explored as part of the education of Private Sledge, an innocent gradually hardened by action (that he's played by former child star Mazzello, still a potent actor, heightens the emotional impact on the audience). Madness, too, pervades the landscape: out-of-commission Marines are either dead or "gone," so crazed as to be a danger to themselves and others. Naturally, The Pacific also excels in its grueling, literally breathtaking battles scenes, which—like Band of Brothers—evoke the "you are there" style of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.
The Pacific succeeds in giving a vivid impression of the nature of this theater's combat, creating a venue for both powerful emotions and thoughtful consideration of provocative questions about what constitutes heroism or a just cause, battlefield conduct under extreme mental duress, and the lingering effects of war horrors. Flashes of humor and sweet love stories in miniature add texture to the narrative, which culminates in a curtain call for the Marines by way of historical photos and biographical updates. With its feature-quality production and sharp acting, this ten-part miniseries lives up to the HBO motto; The Pacific hardly seems like TV.
HBO brings The Pacific to home video in twin Blu-ray and DVD editions. The hi-def Blu-ray features staggeringly life-like transfers that accurately recreate the filmmakers' intentions in every respect: color and skin-tones are spot-on, and detail and texture sharply put every production dollar into focus. The spectacular image is wedded to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes built to blow you away. The battle scenes burst with sonic intensity and discrete detail; prioritization and directionality are outstanding, resulting in pin-drop clarity and a wholly immersive effect, even in subtler scenes.
Like other HBO Blu-ray sets, The Pacific includes an Enhanced Viewing Experience (HD) playback option, here available on all ten episodes. The tracks feature Picture-in-Picture interviews with surviving veterans (as well as family members of those deceased Marines) and analysis from a team of historians, headed up by series historical consultant Hugh Ambrose. You'll also find pop-up factoids, character bios and still photos.
All ten episodes also get a Field Guide. This interactive feature offers all manner of historical context: animated maps; more interviews with veterans, family and historians; archive footage; photographs; biographies and more. It's a terrific way to enhance the educational experience of the historical miniseries.
“Profiles of The Pacific” provides profiles of John Basilone (9:55, HD), Eugene Sledge (10:11, HD), Robert Leckie (8:57, HD), Sidney Phillips (6:09, HD), R.V. Burgin (7:20, HD) and Chuck Tatum (5:57, HD). Interview footage, some of it archival, with the Marines and their families make up each segment.
The compact behind-the-scenes doc “Making The Pacific” (22:36, HD) may leave viewers hungry for more, but we get a solid overview of the miniseries' subject matter, production, and relationship to Band of Brothers, as explained by cast and crew (and famous executive producers) and illustrated in set footage.
“Anatomy of the Pacific War” (9:59, HD) gives a quick historical context for those too busy to delve into the BD's enhanced viewing options.
There's no better way to experience The Pacific than in HBO's enhanced six-disc Blu-ray set, with its perfect A/V credentials and encyclopedia bonus features about the WWII experience of Pacific Theater veterans and their families.
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