Having previously reviewed The Pacific here, I thought it was time to go a bit more in depth now that the show has finally kicked off on Sky Movies Premiere. I’ve had a bit of time to think about the two opening episodes since I first saw them, and I’m happy to report my initial views haven’t changed. The show is both epic and intimate, and fully deserves the attention it is getting.
Episodes 1 and 2 form a complete introductory story within a story and, indeed, are being broadcast edited together in the UK. That story is the battle for the island of Guadalcanal.
Events kick off in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, where career soldier John Basilone (Jon Seda) and soldier brother and friend eagerly await orders from command. When they come, it reads one thing – the Marine Corps will be in the front line, taking back the captured Pacific islands, and taking on the might of the Japanese Empire.
Meanwhile, Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) signs up for unclear reasons, although he seems determined to write while there, so perhaps is taken with the romantic ideal of war, an ideal which he soon loses when faced with the reality.
Finally, young Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazello of Jurassic Park fame) is shown failing a medical given by his doctor father, much to the relief of his mother. Sledge does not play much of a role in these first episodes, but is due to get the bulk of the action from episode five, and perhaps is the true lead of this series amongst the three.
Leckie essentially acts as the audience’s in-point to the show, and Badge Dale does an admirable job guiding us through the battle(s). Basilone, meanwhile, is the handsome poster boy of the military, and while the most obviously professional of the three, begins to realise the true cost of what they are fighting for.
After a brief lead-in at home, we zoom (literally, the camera zooms into a lovely map of the Pacific Islands) to Guadalcanal, and prepare ourselves for an action-packed beach landing. Except when the Marines hit the shore, they find other Marines lounging about.
It is this early confounding of expectations which sets the mood for the series, as, while many of the classic war movie tropes are present and correct, the word is that The Pacific goes to some pretty dark places both viscerally and psychologically.
There are a few scenes in Guadalcanal which illustrate this, prime amongst them being the Marines’ callous use of a lone Japanese soldier for shooting practice, something which Leckie puts an end to, although how much it costs him is unclear.
It also brutally illustrates the characterisation of the Japanese in these episodes. They are either an unseen enemy or cannon-fodder (sometimes both, as in the case of a night attack on US forces). And while The Pacific is unashamedly an American retelling of the war, about an American campaign, I do hope that this is rectified.
However, I suspect that the Japanese won’t be the true enemy of the show, as grander themes of the nature of humanity and brotherhood are introduced, and what it means to keep your soul when others have forsaken theirs, the ending scene being a perfect illustration of this.
As mentioned in my previous review, the action is superb, and more than worthy of the big screen. The tropical scenery looks spectacular, and despite the horror of what is happening onscreen, did make me want to visit! Although not while at war with the Japanese.
The blues, greens and yellows all stand out and shout out that this is definitely not the muddy and grey European theatre of war. However, it is just as effective on the small screen, and once again, I point to the night time naval engagement as an example of a set-piece action scene handled superbly.
An artillery shelling and its aftermath is another scene worthy of praise. The fire-fights are also brutal and confusing, leaving the audience unsure as to who has survived and who has not, but for the most part this adds to the experience rather than detract.
The characters have only slightly more of an idea of what is happening than the audience, which builds a sense of tension as Basilone searches for missing comrades.
However, as has been mentioned elsewhere, James Badge Dale does seem to disappear slightly when his helmet is on, although this is probably due to me recognising him mainly by his hair. And while this affects the other two less so, it does lead me onto my main criticism of The Pacific, which is that not enough time is spent getting to know these characters outside of war, and while I appreciate that the makers wanted to get straight into the action and show you how epic the scenery is, I couldn’t help feeling that their plight would have meant that little bit more to me if I had spent some time getting to know them.
A prime example of this is Leckie’s one scene with a potential love interest, in which he promises to write her. It came across as slightly like he wanted to write to a stranger for the sake of it, and not as a way of keeping his humanity, as indicated through his confessional letters later on.
Yet by the end of the battle for Guadalcanal, I felt like I knew these characters well enough to feel concern for their safety and well-being, and was saddened by the death of the well-sketched supporting characters. And as Sledge finally tells his parents he is joining up, no matter what they say, and joins the fray, you can feel the pieces slotting in for what promises to be a magnificent series, and one which may come the closest yet to showing the full kaleidoscope of war.
The Pacific is screening on Sky Movies Premiere and Sky Movies Premiere HD.