Let’s start with the important thing. Is The Pacific a worthy follow-up to Band Of Brothers? The answer is most definitely. If you had any fond feelings for the previous WWII instalment from Messrs Spielberg and Hanks, then rest assured you will not come away disappointed from the opening two episodes of their latest venture.
In the interests of maintaining suspense for those planning to watch it, I shall keep this review brief and spoiler light, as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but, hopefully, you’ll be able to glean a sense of what this is all about.
The basic storyline narrows the focus from Band Of Brothers Easy company, to just three men: career soldier John Basilone (Jon Seda), bohemian Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and young patriot Eugene B. Sledge (Joseph Mazello).
After a quick introduction sequence for each man, including Leckie’s enlisting and promises to write a girl, and Sledge’s frustrated attempts to join up, the action shifts to the Pacific arena, and the battle for the island of Guadalcanal.
Much has been made of the production budget of $200+ million, and with the promotional material firmly concentrating on the scope of it, it seems apt to start with the visual aspect of things. Make no mistake, this production is huge. They’ve thrown most of that money up on screen, and it tells. I was lucky enough to watch it on the big screen, and it honestly looked better than some recent big-budget blockbusters I’ve seen.
The fire-fights are incredibly visceral, and a set-piece effects show of a night-time naval engagement is handled superbly, as the action is seen from the viewpoint of American Marines on the island of Guadalcanal, which simultaneously exposes the viewer to both the epic panorama of war and the intimate reactions of the anxious non-combatants.
The battle for Guadalcanal, which dominates the first two episodes, is shown in a series of increasingly desperate fights, and never once did I feel confused as to what was happening – no mean feat considering the frantic fray depicted. I’m not sure how much was practical effects, and how much was CGI, which leads me to feel they have the mix right.
The aftermath of battle and destruction is shown, rather than the impact itself, which I imagine is for budget reasons, but it is a forced decision which actually works well, given that the focus and context of this series, much as it was in Band Of Brothers, is on the human experience of war.
And it is this experience which seems to drive The Pacific from the offset. As Tom Hanks has himself stated, “We try to touch more on the frailty and the folly of the human condition…the human beings that were there at the time and the checkered reasons for why they were there.”
In less experienced hands, The Pacific‘s noble aim of showing soldiers in it together could have easily come across as cheesy. However, knowing the research and commitment to showing the truth that the makers have previously demonstrated, it instead acts as a tribute to those involved.
The soldiers are quickly and effectively sketched out, and I was able to identify with each of the main and several of the supporting characters, to the extent that you are genuinely affected by any deaths. Hopefully, the series will go on to fill in the gaps, and explore the reasons for why each man went to war.
It would also be nice to revisit their home life, as, while it is exciting to be thrust almost directly into the action and exotic locations, I did feel that not enough time was spent in mainland USA, which would perhaps more effectively tie you emotionally into the characters and what they are risking.
The Pacific is also undeniably an American look at the war; there are small nods to the symmetry that exists between the US soldiers and the Japanese, although the latter are mainly there for cannon fodder.
All in all, the opening two episodes of The Pacific are blockbuster television, and utterly compelling. I could have happily sat in the auditorium and watched the entire 10 hour series in one go. As long as the characters are not lost amongst the visuals, then this could even be more successful Band Of Brothers.
A 10 part mini-series, The Pacific airs on HBO on March 14 in the US, and on Sky Movies HD in the spring.