– Summary –
Director : Tim Van Patten, David Nutter, Jeremy Podeswa, Graham Yost, Carl Franklin, Tony To
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Joe Mazzello, James Badge Dale, Jon Seda, William Sadler, Garry Sweet, Jacob Pitts, Anna Torv, Isabel Lucas, Scott Gibson, Rami Malek, Annie Parisse.
Awards : Primetime Emmy Wins: Outstanding Miniseries, Art Direction, Casting, Makeup, Prosthetic Makeup, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Outstanding Special Visual Effects (For Part 5).
Approx Running Time : 10 Episodes @ 50 Minutes approx.
Synopsis: Ensemble TV series telling stories of the events surrounding the Pacific Theatre of World War II, told through the eyes of three men. The marines, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie and John Basilone, each find themselves thrust into an appalling series of events that will either make, or break them, as they try desperately to survive the horrors of the Marine Corps efforts in the Pacific.
What we think : Grueling, thoughtful and insightful, The Pacific makes a perfect third effort in the collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, after Saving Private Ryan and Band Of Brothers, and is among the very best TV series’ seen this year. HBO’s amazing BluRay set gives this series the high definition transfer to die for, with some of the most stunning sound and visual presentations I’ve seen in ages. The Pacific is essential, nay mandatory, war-film viewing, and a must-own for any serious film/TV collector.
I’ve copped plenty of stick over the journey for my review of Saving Private Ryan, so much so that I was loathe to ever review the Hanks/Spielberg follow-up TV series, Band of Brothers. In fact, I must get around to writing that at some stage – I thought, however, after watching the latest effort from this pairing, The Pacific, that my thoughts on it had better be written before I chicken out. The Pacific, the massive 10-part TV series from HBO, Dreamworks and partially funded by Australian TV network Channel 7, has been given a stunning BluRay release, and I write this review based upon my experience watching this masterpiece of TV viewing. I did try and start watching this series when it was originally broadcast here in Australia on Channel 7 earlier in 2010, but they filled it with so many commercials the experience was ruined by the crass voices of advertising screaming at me to buy more fast food and carpets. Screw them, I thought to myself after the first and second episodes were screened as a single entity: I was so pissed that the series was ruined by commercials, I vowed not to watch it until I had a copy of the DVD or BluRay safely in my hands – I was given a copy for Christmas by my good wife Lisa, and recently, I sat down to watch the entire thing in a single sitting. My words of praise about Band Of Brothers were always going to take some beating, and I had my doubts about The Pacific’s ability to reach the heights achieved by that series. So is The Pacific a less-than-stellar TV series? Is it as action packed and visceral as BOB, or does it tend to water down the events of the Pacific theatre?
Simply put, The Pacific is a different beast, although similarities are there to keep it within the Band Of Brothers umbrella. While it maintains the gritty, bloody battle sequences we’ve come to expect from our war films these days, The Pacific does try and give the series more characterization of its characters, rather than make them caricatures of Marines caught up in the desperation and debilitating horror of war. Told from the perspective of three Marines, The Pacific is a stunning ensemble piece, filled with warmth, humor, carnage and devastating human courage amongst the most inhumane conditions imaginable. Eugene Sledge (Jurassic Park’s Joseph Mazzello, although he appears to be distancing himself from that by using the screen name “Joe”) has a problem getting into the Marine Corps, due to a heart murmur he’s had since childhood. Trying to escape the pressure of being the younger brother to a successful entrant, Sledge eventually winds up in the Pacific, in the 1st Marine Division, on the island of Peleliu. Private Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) arrives into the Pacific war on Guadalcanal, one of the first waves of American fighting against the Japanese, and has to survive some of the most primitive, harsh conditions on earth. Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone (Jon Seda), accompanying Leckie’s platoon onto Guadalcanal, performs a heroic act and receives the Medal Of Honour (the most auspicious and revered medal awarded in the US military – here in Australia our similar award is known as the Victoria Cross) for his troubles, and is sent home to spruik for the military and recruit new men to the cause, as well as sell war bonds. As the series progresses, we are taken on a journey with these men into the varied effects, events and personal stories of the Pacific theatre, as well as some of the more character-driven events they undertake – especially in the case of Basilone, who’s portrayed by the Defense Department as a hero, a title he’s uncomfortable with since all he wants to do is return to his platoon and his friends.
While the three main character listed above are the primary reason to watch The Pacific, they are by no means the least. This series is peppered with great performances from a relatively unknown cast – including plenty of Aussie’s portraying Americans. The Pacific was filmed in Australia, around the tropics of Far North Queensland, as well as areas around Melbourne, Victoria. Aussie viewers will spot talent like Garry Sweet, Henry Nixon, Isabel Lucas (last seen in Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen) and even that dude who played Smith’s human form in The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, as well as Les Hill, Bill Hunt and others. Where the series surpasses my expectations is the level of performance from each member of the cast: often, ensemble pieces fall over a little when one of the cast may not be as strong a performer as others, but here that doesn’t happen. This series showcases some of the best acting across the board you’re likely to see. It’s astonishing, watching this series in sequence without a pause. Where I was also impressed was the magnificent production value this show was accorded: reports have it that The Pacific cost around $150m, roughly the same as a big-budget action spectacle feature! The locations chosen for filming, representing the various islands around the Pacific, are stunning, and well used by the series. The jungles of Guadalcanal, Cape Cloucester, and the mountainous terrain of the horrific Peleliu Island, are all delivered in stunning realism with the best possible effects and practical footage around. This TV show is… well, epic is about the only word to describe it.
The story begins a day or two after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, before the US actually engaged the enemy in the Pacific (references to the war in Europe pepper early moments in Part One), which allows us time to be introduced to some of our character in a non-war setting – something Band of Brothers didn’t do, and yet this subtle difference allows a more intellectual bond with the characters: we understand where these men have come from before they get blown to hell and back. The added emotional weight of this, and these sequences throughout the series, does tend to slow the storyline down somewhat, but by doing so gives us time to absorb the characters as people, rather than just as potential cannon fodder. It’s great scriptwriting, and a part of The Pacific I feel excels in its intent and achievement. Entire episodes are given over to simple, elegantly told character development (Part 3 is set in mid-40’s Melbourne, as the 1st Marine Division is sent Down Under for some R&R, the majority of Part 8 shows us a frustrated John Basilone falling in love with a fellow NCO before returning to Iwo Jima after re-enlisting) and it’s brave of the producers to do so: we expect more violence and carnage, yet they hold off for long periods of time to tell the stories of these guys outside of war. I applaud this decision, because it allows us to bond with them on a deeper level.
Don’t think that The Pacific skimps on the graphic war footage, however, because it truly does not. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that The Pacific has more battle violence in many of it’s single episodes than Band Of Brothers did for its entirety. Graphic, unflinching and horrifying (I know, I’ve used that word often in this article… it’s the most apt) to watch, The Pacific shows us the most appalling acts of human depravity mixed with some of the most heroic, and the most heart-wrenching, moments of historical fact seen on the small screen to date. Bodies are obliterated in gouts of flesh and pulp as bombs explode through the tropical “paradise” of Peleliu, a mud-bog filled with death and destruction on a scale unimaginable to those who do not know war. I include myself in this group. It’s simply incomprehensible (once more) to me that people actually fought like this, battled through the torrential rain, the sodden mud and inhospitable islands of the Solomons (among others) to gain an inch, a mile, for the freedom of us all. The directors, producers and production teams are to be commended utterly for their unflinching recreations of some of the wars most brutal, high-casualty battles – and their realism is delivered with a thud into your lounge-room.
It’s entirely possible that The Pacific is among the finest depictions of the Pacific war ever made: I admit to not having had much interest in the past with this facet of the war, and will also admit that my eyes have now been opened – and I know I haven’t seen many films based around this side of the conflict, but I doubt they’d come close to the accuracy, the gut-churning emotional wrenching, and the power of such a brutal, inhumane piece of history. I don’t want to spoil the series for newbies, and I never wanted to go into too much detail here, but I cannot implore you more strongly to give The Pacific a watch at some stage, when you have a few days to spare (I did it in a single sitting – beat THAT!) and prepare to be moved, shocked and amazed, at not only one of TV’s most astonishing achievements, but at what it represents to the freedom we all enjoy. The Pacific is stunning, first class cinematic television that simply must be experienced.
HBO have, once more, delivered one of the most technically superior BluRay releases I’ve seen thus far, with their 6 disc edition of The Pacific. Having recently watched and enjoyed the first two seasons of True Blood on the HD format, I was salivating at having a chance to catch The Pacific in full resolution vision and audio – and I can say without question this is far beyond what we’ve come to expect from TV series these days. The tin-set holds the 6 disc set in a fold out cardboard sleeve, similar to many of the multi-disc DVD sets of yore, with each disc holding 2 episodes (disc 6 is reserved for the exemplary special features, not all of which I’ve seen yet as I write this!) and a bunch of special episode-specific features. It’s a well designed box set, and looks handsome (if somewhat oversized) on the shelf among the other regular BluRay releases.
The Pacific shines on BluRay, in the visual sense. Not a frame of this series is anything less than a work of art, be it the explosive battle sequences or the quiet, human character-driven moments. HBO have accorded the series the luxury of being spread across a number of discs, so the picture (and sound) quality is never undercut for lack of space. Colours are superb, from the burnt orange and brown of Small Town America, to the mud soaked green and brown of Guadalcanal, the harrowing rock strewn airport battle on Peleliu, and the mud-swallowed mountains of the same island: this visual presentation is exemplary on BluRay. Framed in it’s original 1.85:1 aspect, there’s no hint of banding or artefacting, nor any other digital compression issues. Black detail is superb, as is fine detail, resulting in one of the most eye-catching HD presentations I’ve seen in the last 12 months.
If you think the visual side of The Pacific is superb, you should hear the audio tracks. Each episode is granted a dts-hd 5.1 mix, and by all that’s holy you need to hear this loud. One of the most immersive surround tracks I’ve ever heard, for sheer exquisite brutality and depth, The Pacific is an audiophile’s delight. Dialogue is clear and intelligible at almost all times, unless it’s being drowned in requisite explosions and battle sounds – the rear channels come in for an absolute pasting, they’ve got so much to do. The Pacific isn’t a sound mix you might expect on a TV production: this is feature film quality delivered across ten episodes, and it’s absolutely awesome. Bass, one of the most unique aspects of any sound mix, and certainly a facet of audio that is different for each of us, is simply pulse-pounding when required here, with explosions, gunfire, music and other ambient sounds delivering some of the best low-end material I’ve heard in ages. Anybody with a relatively cheap audio system at home is going to feel my words are empty promises when they fire this beast up: you need a sound system capable of delivering full frequency surround sound in every channel without a problem, to feel the power of The Pacific’s audio mix.
I’ve seen a few BluRay discs since upgrading the fernbyfilms.com system to HD early in 2010: The Pacific is a stunning, superlative-inducing example of what can be achieved on BluRay and by a studio prepared to spend a little cash to tell a truly inspiring story. The Pacific is astonishingly good on BluRay, and if you haven’t considered adding it to your collection, can I implore you to do so as soon as you can. One of the best BluRay presentations I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a few.