on 22 December 2010
When I heard that Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg had teamed up again to make the miniseries The Pacific, I was thrilled. Now that I've watched it in its entirety (over just two and a half days!), I can honestly say that it's a must-see piece of work. It's a masterpiece. As other reviewers have rightfully said, there's considerable contrast between this and Band Of Brothers. Is one better than the other? I don't think it's possible to say, because it's like comparing chalk and cheese. Both are 5 star + achievements, incredible memorials to the men who served and died in Europe and the Far East during World War Two. Both bring us the stories of real soldiers, real heroes, and what happened to them.
One of the main attractions of this series is that it tells us of the incredibly savage battles that took place across the Pacific as the Japanese were gradually dislodged from the thousands of tiny islands that they've occupied. This is a little known aspect of the war, which deserves to be more widely known. Shocked by the brutality of one particular battle, on an island called Peleliu (now part of the nation of Palau), I did some research, discovering that the struggle on Peleliu had indeed been savage beyond measure. It is in fact regarded as the most difficult battle that the US armed forces fought in WW2. Worse than D-Day! It took more than two months to gain control of an island just 5 square miles in area, and the Marines lost thousands and thousands of men.
I've seen some great films about the war in the Pacific, among them the outstanding Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima, directed by Clint Eastwood, and Kokoda - 39th Battalion, about the Australian experience in Papua New Guinea. But nothing could prepare me for the relentless assault on the senses that is the Pacific. Buy it. It's unforgettable.
Footnote: if you want to read more on the subject, two of the soldiers who were portrayed in the series wrote about their experiences. I've bought both books already. They are: Helmet for my Pillow by Robert Leckie and With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge (for me the outstanding character of the series). I can't wait to read them.
Ben Kane, author of The Forgotten Legion.
on 31 August 2011
As with Band of Brother which is from the same Hanks/Spielberg stable this is a historically accurate and absolutely captivating drama. The story of the US forces, and particularly that of the US Marines, follows their progress through the Pacific campaign to overtake islands held by the Japanese. The action and battle sequences, like those in Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan are so realistic (if we're allowed the luxury of imagining how horrific battle would be) as to be edge-of-the-seat gripping and quite frightening. We're left in no doubt about the fear, the suffering and the horror of battle, it is brought real into our living rooms.
The story, as far as the main characters are concerned, follows the trials and strife of a few real-life soldiers from the campaign, one of whom may be the bravest soldier of the twentieth century. In any other era of film making, we could be forgiven for assuming that the exploits had enjoyed some Hollywood over-dramatisation; not so, if anything, the heavily decorated John Basilone was even braver in real battle and real life than he is portrayed in this mini-series - I looked into his sadly short career on Google. Suffice to say that the producers have not exercised any moviemaking license or dramatic hyperbole in the making of this series, and they needn't have done, the truth is startling and frightening enough.
The characters are well drawn, youthful, callow as the teenagers and frightened as the young soldiers of WWII would have been. There is no schmaltz, no tackiness in sketching the relationships, even when playing out the brief romance and even briefer marriage of Basilone.
Shot in low saturated colour, the photography gives the movie a feel of the period, a period of history which we all think of as having taken place in black and white and which makes us uncomfortable with livid technicolor. Each episode is so captivating and seems so short (though they are not) that I challenge you not to watch at least two episodes on the trot.
A fabulous dramatic roller coaster and I recommend it to you.
I write this review based on my experiences of watching the whole series on Sky HD in the UK. Although from the same stable (HBO, Spielberg and Hanks) as Band of Brothers, this is a rather different beast, covering the stories of three different US Marines (Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie and John Basilone) across the battles of the Pacific from August 1942 to end of the war in 1945. Its structure is therefore determined and limited by historical fact and the source material. I won't repeat too much of the background or general overview as that is clearly set out in the synopsis and in other reviews on this web page.
There is a great deal to be admired and appreciated with this truly epic production. The attention to historical details is stunning, although some events have been changed to help the narrative and to focus on the key themes that the writers wanted to develop. The performances by the cast are outstanding and I'm sure they will pick up a shed load of awards next year. This is also a no-holds barred production with easily the most brutal depiction of the horror of war you are likely to ever see depicted on screen.
That said, there some problems with parts of the series. The strongest elements are those taken from E B Sledge's memoirs "With the Old Breed" - see my own review of this book - which have clear story and character arcs and require less historical knowledge to follow. The two and half episodes that cover the battle of Peleliu are simply outstanding and worth the price alone. The story of Gunnery Sgt. Basilone is less well developed and feels a bit like a bolt on most of the time. That said, the 10 minutes or so of Iwo Jima action is some of the best combat simulation you'll see in the series.
The series weakest parts are the first three episodes, of which the two covering Guadalcanal are disappointing and confusing. The problem stems partly from the complex nature of that battle, of which the 1st US Marine Division was involved in from August to November 1942. More time and effort was needed to set up the characters and to explain what was happening, where, when and why. I accept this was a tough assignment but some simple changes like dates and location details on-screen would have helped. The third episode takes place in Melbourne as the Marines recover after their ordeal. Here the writers have invented a fictitious (i.e.non-historical) relationship for Bob Leckie with an Aussie/Greek girl which fills half the episode, time which could have been better spent expanding the Guadalcanal section.
For all the problems with these early episodes the rest of the series is excellent from Ep.4 onwards when it picks up the pace and doesn't let go until the end when the final section sees the Marines return home to the US.
Perhaps the best recommendation I can give is from Eugene Sledge's own family who are quoted as saying that they did not understand what he went through during the war until they saw this series.
on 15 November 2010
Some may argue it is unfair to compare The Pacific to Band of Brothers, however given it is another WW2 drama miniseries produced by a Spielberg & Hanks dream team in exactly the same format I think they should be contrasted.
Although I am the patient type The Pacific is a very slow starter, this wouldn't matter if the acting was up to the standards of the pyrotechnics and special effects, but it isn't in many places. Of the main characters, Jon Seda who plays John Basilone is the stand-out performance whereas the likes of Robert Leckie (played by James Badge Dale) are unconvincing and some of the romantic scenes with him are cringe worthy. It is true that overall the acting is a far cry from Band of Brothers and I am unsure as to why this is. With the exception of John Basilone, character development is patchy and thus it is difficult to empathise with their story. In addition, I couldn't help but notice the similarity between Basilone's story and that of the characters in Flags of our Flathers i.e. paraded as a war hero and used as a poster-boy to encourage Americans' contribution towards the war economy. But in reality he is left with feelings of guilt as he sits it out cosily while his comrades continue the fight.
The Pacific still is an absorbing and enjoyable experience and admittedly it could never live up to the hype machine surrounding it. The production values are what is expected of a Spielberg behemoth and the battle scenes are highly impressive, although not quite as intense or brutal as Saving Private Ryan or Assembly, to name just two. But after each episode I was expecting the The Pacific to take off, but alas it never actually does. I just can't help but feel it could have been so much more, especially given the $150 million budget and every resource under the sun available to them.
I appreciate The Pacific is a different approach to WW2 drama, focusing more on the events and story rather than the characters, however it feels stuck in second gear for most of the time and only occasionally moves up to third. Just my opinion at the end of the day but I was left rather dissatisfied and unfulfilled.
August 1942. The United States Marine Corps lands in force on the island of Guadalcanal and begins the long, gruelling campaign of 'island-hopping'. Over the next three years they will take the fight against Japanese forces on islands all across the western Pacific, drawing ever closer to the Japanese home islands and victory.
The Pacific is HBO's companion series to their acclaimed 2001 series Band of Brothers. Like the earlier series, The Pacific follows American soldiers across a single theatre of war (albeit a far vaster one). Unlike Band of Brothers, which was able to concentrate on a single company of the 10st Airborne and cover its journey in some detail (the whole series, bar the opening training sequence, only spanned nine months), The Pacific is rather diffuse in its focus. It covers a period of three years and the almost modular nature of the war in the Pacific (multiple major battles raging simultaneously on islands hundreds of miles apart) means it is impossible to focus on one unit throughout the whole war. The series copes with the problem by dividing the narrative into three storylines following three marines (John Basilone, Bob Leckie and Eugene Sledge), but this ultimately proves to be a move with mixed success.
Plaudits first. The Pacific is visually stunning. Filmed on location on Australia's Pacific coast, the series employs impressive location filming, practical special effects and CGI enhancements to depict WWII combat on-screen more viscerally and in a more convincing manner even than Band of Brothers. The Pacific really does look and sound like a movie, especially on Blu-Ray, and as an audio/visual experience is always impressive. The lead actors - Joseph Mazzello, James Badge Dale and Jon Seda as Sledge, Leckie and Basilone respectively - are impressive and are lent able support by the likes of William Sadler (as the infamous Colonel 'Chesty' Puller) and Rami Malek, who gives an offbeat but fascinating performance as 'Snafu' Shelton. In terms of direction, production values and acting, the series is overwhelmingly impressive.
The issues arise from structural choices for the series. The Pacific War was a very different beast to the Western Front of WWII in Europe, spanning vaster distances and featuring the marines, navy and army fighting simultaneously on different fronts. An immediate drawback of only having ten episodes to tell this story is that other units and services outside the Marine Corps get short shrift. None of the immense naval battles in the theatre (Midway, the Coral Sea etc) are really mentioned and the massive American bombing campaign against Japan is not featured. There are some nods to the other services (the Battle of Savo Island is briefly watched by the marines from the shore; aerial assaults on Japanese positions are occasionally shown) but the focus is squarely on the marines.
Even this is problematic. To get across the scale of the conflict, HBO conflates three separate stories together. John Basilone's story allows them to show life on the home front (Basilone was sent home after Guadalcanal, initially serving as a PR representative to raise money for the war and later as a marine instructor before returning to the field during the battle for Iwo Jima), whilst Bob Leckie is used to cover the initial stages of the fighting and also the role of Australia in the conflict. After Leckie is wounded and forced to return home, Eugene Sledge steps up as our principal POV character and we see most of the latter stages of the war through his eyes. This baton-passing approach to the narrative sounds good but ultimately feels disjointed, as the three soldiers' paths never cross (aside a fictitious brief meeting between Sledge and Leckie). It also complicates things by giving us three different sets of supporting characters to also get to know, which is a tall order for just ten episodes.
Which isn't to say that what we are left with is still not compelling. The actors do a great job of selling their characters' respective storylines: Leckie is left on the front lines a little too long and begins suffering from battle fatigue; Basilone is tired of being hailed a hero at home whilst his friends are still fighting and is anxious to return to the front; and Sledge is angry at missing out the start of the war due to poor health and is keen to prove himself, only to ultimately start losing perspective as the gruelling months of combat unfold. These are familiar storylines, but are given added depth and weight by being true (all three marines are real, and Leckie and Sledge's memoirs provide the basis for the series).
The overwhelming feeling of the series is one of despair. The fighting is savage and without quarter, and the marines often feel that their fighting and dying over specks of land in the middle of nowhere is pointless. There is a lack of any type of grand strategic overview which is true to the experience of the soldiers on the ground. Notably, there is no equivalent to the Why We Fight episode of Band of Brothers (where the 101st liberates a concentration camp and their horrific experiences harden their resolve to help destroy the Nazi regime). The marines are left feeling bereft of a purpose, which makes the horrors they experience strike home even harder. It's no wonder that many of them are shown breaking down or needing urgent time away from the front to reorient themselves. HBO should be congratulated for not downplaying these angles, but it often makes for very hard viewing.
The Pacific (****) is ultimately worth watching. It's a stunning production that makes some hard comments about war and its ultimate savagery, even when a war is worth fighting. It doesn't glorify war and shows its horrors in full force, which can make for hard viewing, but the superior acting and writing make it compelling. Structurally the series is disjointed, and would have benefitted from a tighter focus on maybe just one or two of the marines featured. Extending it to three stretches the story almost to breaking point. However, once you adjust to the structural issues the series is an impressive piece of work. It is available now on DVD (UK, USA) and Blu-Ray (UK, USA).
on 3 April 2011
I am a big fan of BoB and in general of war book and movies. I think there are mainly two kind of books/DVD sets: the ones where you check how much is remaining because you just want them to end soon and the ones were you are actually worried because there is not much left to go. The Pacific belongs to the latter category and I was truly sad when I realized the last was a special features disc and I was watching the last episode.
Superb picture and sound made combat scenes among the best ever seen, but I found also very entertaining episodes away from the battle theater like in Australia or back at home in the US as they provided some glimpse of what life was like in that period for soldiers and civilians alike.
on 21 April 2014
As with "Band of Brothers" I found this series difficult to get into - probably more so because the series immediately pitches into the vicious battle of Guadalcanal and there is little time to get acquainted with the characters. The third episode, set during a moment of respite in Australia, remedies this and from this point I found the series increasingly gripping.
The fragmented, and sometimes pointless, nature of the Pacific campaign means that this series is perhaps even more character driven than "Band of Brothers" with its Normandy to Germany narrative arc. In some ways this makes it easier to relate to as it focuses principally on just three marines: Leckie, Basilone and Sledge. On the other hand the brutality of the Pacific fighting, the underlying racism of the conflict and the marines culture of taking no prisoners leavens our thinking about these people and poses back to the viewer the uncomfortable question of how we would behave if we had to courage to face similar circumstances.
Consequently the series avoids jingoism and mock heroism. The combat sequences are terrifying rather than exciting and the overall tone is sorrowful rather than celebratory. It raises difficult issues and does not provide comforting answers.
It is quite simply a masterpiece.
on 13 November 2010
I bought the Blu Ray box set after seeing the first 2 episodes on Sky in the summer. I was impressed with what I saw on Sky but wanted to watch the full series without breaks for ads etc. I found the series enthralling and it kept me on the edge of my seat watching it. If conditions were truly like that depicted in the film then I cannot understand how the soldiers who fought in the Pacific were able to endure what they did. They fought a fanatical, ruthless and immensely brave it has to be said, Japanese enemy who were not prepared to concede an inch of their territory. If there was one fault then it would be that the series did not consider the Japanese point of viwe of the battles. But then the series was telling the story from the perspective of 4-5 central characters and their view was that all enemy soldiers had to be eliminated due to their total fanaticism.
WW2 has been mainly covered in books and film focussing on the European campaigns of the war. This series, along with the excellent film 'Thin Red Line' helps address that imbalance. This is a series I will watch again.
on 23 May 2011
I have watched this series with awe.The battle for Peleliu called with good cause 'The Devil's Anvil'by James Hallas,and marked out by E.B.Sledge as a battle at the very edge of human endurance, can only be compared to the European battle fought by the Americans on Omaha beach.My introduction to Peleliu was by way of Fred Bock, Captainof the B29 ('Bock's Car')which dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.Fred told me that he had been just diagnosed with terminal skin cancer and was reading 'The Old Breed.'I hope that he found some consolation in recalling the bitterness of a war which his B29, flown over Nagasaki by Major Sweeney, finally brought to a cataclysmic end.As for this film I believe it does full justice to the courage of those who fought on both sides.It conveys not only the Horror of war but its futility, which in the end of ends sends young men again and again into a debasing,senseless and ultimately irrational situation. Old men and survivors can only hope and pray such fate is never visited upon their own children.
on 21 November 2010
As said by others, forget any comparison with Band of Brothers and judge this on its own merits. It is an excellent, realistic portrayal of hell on earth in the Pacific. Wonderful direction, acting, superb battle scenes and sympathetic treatment of the horrors and psychological impact suffered by the US Marines. Recommended for those who are 'fans' of the genre.