When talking about The Pacific, there is one question that is unavoidable, inevitable even. Is it better than Band of Brothers? The question arises from the fact that Band of Brothers, like The Pacific, was also a 10 part mini-series, focusing on the second world war, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and aired on HBO. Band of Brothers was critically acclaimed and many called it the best war piece of all time, better than any movie, television show or mini-series out there.
So now we come to The Pacific. This time Spielberg and Hanks focus on another side of WWII, the Pacific theatre. While Band of Brothers was set primarily in Europe, The Pacific is more or less set in Japan and a number of islands in the Pacific. Starring James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello and Jon Seda, the mini-series had a lot to live up to. So how did it hold up? We’ll tell you.
Despite the similarities to Band of Brothers, The Pacific is at heart, a very different mini-series. Based on four separate memoirs, The Pacific primarily tells the story of three soldiers, Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone. Both Sledge and Leckie wrote memoirs on which the series is based on. Over the course of the series, we are taken through some of the most harrowing battles that took place during WWII, in the Pacific theatre. Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, we get to see it all, and nothing is held back. It’s gritty, bloody, absorbing, visceral and moving. As one could expect from a Spielberg/Hanks WWII production, the war depicted here feels and looks as real as possible.
Perhaps one of the strongest points of The Pacific, and a point where Band of Brothers failed, is that The Pacific shows us who these men are and how their experiences will haunt them for the rest of their lives. We see them struggling to keep a hold on their humanity as they trudge through the depravities of war. We get to see these men before, during and after war. And while there may not be as much conflict or as many battles as Band of Brothers had, you can be sure that every one counts.
Back to the human element though, The Pacific shows us these young men and the horrifying situations they find themselves in. We truly feel moments of poignant sadness, true terror and authentic elatedness. In Band of Brothers, I felt like I never really got to know any of the soldiers well enough to really care a whole lot. And while I’m sure many will argue that point, that’s just my opinion. The Pacific fleshes out these three main characters so well, and the acting behind them is so dead on, that you really develop a connection to them, which leads me to my next point.
The Pacific focuses so heavily on its three leads, that at times, it forgets about the supporting cast. By the end of the series I was still left with questions as to who was who and I couldn’t remember everyone’s names. Due to so much focus being on Sledge, Leckie and Basilone, some of the other characters do get overlooked. It never really hurts the series, but it would have been nice to get to know some of the other soldiers a little better.
Working with a reported budget of $150 million, Spielberg and Hanks had a lot to play with here, and anyone who has seen Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan knows that no one does war better than this duo. The Pacific doesn’t change this. The war scenes are spectacular. Real, breathtaking, nail-biting and ferocious in nature. They attack you, pinning you down and never letting up. Relentless in their execution, the fighting depicted here is amongst the best ever committed to celluloid. There is nothing left to the imagination.
This ten part series is physically and mentally exhausting but it’s far and away one of the most accomplished and immaculate pieces of work I’ve seen in a long time. Being on the HBO network, no punches were pulled and everything you’d expect to see from a HBO production is here. Sex, violence, language, it’s all here, so if you’ve got young kids, you’ve been warned. If you’re of age though, you owe it to yourself to take this Blu-Ray for a spin. It will pull your emotional chords, challenge you to watch it and leave you immensely satisfied in the end. This is one that no one should miss.
HBO brings The Pacific to Blu-Ray in spectacular fashion. War films always need top notch audio and video and luckily The Pacific delivers in both areas. Colours are accurate as things like lush green jungles and crimson red blood look spectacular while facial expressions, dirt, debris, shrapnel and foilage all show superb detail. Facial detail is especially good. Lighting is handled quite nicely as well, aside from a few nighttime scenes that look a bit too dark. Skin tones look lifelike and overall it’s a pretty satisfying visual experience.
The audio matches the video, in almost every regard. It’s equally as impressive. It’s a thunderous experience and when played on the right sound system, it’s truly a treat. Of course, the battle scenes are the highlights and boy do they sound great. Bullets whizzing by, gunfire erupting, explosions roaring and screams and cries of the Marines all help envelop you in what you’re watching. Dialogue is never lost in the heat of battle and everything in the audio department from the score, to the sound effects to the dialogue is handled with perfection. This is no doubt demo worthy material. It’s almost hard to describe just how good it sounds, you have to see for yourself. I assure you though, if you have the proper sound system, you’re going to be blown away.
And finally we come to the special features. The features aren’t bad but they did let me down in some regard, allow me to explain. Here’s what we get. First up is a ten minute documentary on the culture clash and racial animosity between the Japanese and Americans. While it’s interesting, at ten minutes, it’s far too short. Worth a watch though if you’re into history and WWII. Next up is the making of documentary which at 22 minutes is criminally short. It’s a great documentary, don’t get me wrong. It features interviews with Spielberg, Hanks, the actors, the crew etc. It’s very much like an EPK and basically gives an overview of the series. It’s a shame because I really wanted to see more material like this. More behind the scenes documentaries. I wanted to see how they filmed certain scenes, challenges they had to overcome while shooting etc. While there is some of this here, for a series of this scope, there just isn’t enough in this making of feature.
The rest of the special features all take a historical approach rather then a behind the scenes approach. The next special feature is a profiles feature where you can choose from a handful of soldiers and view their profile. What this means is you’re treated to a roughly 10 minute video that gives a brief bio of the soldier. It’s interesting to hear from people who knew them and even from the soldiers themselves in some cases. It gives these characters a human face and only enhances your appreciation for what you saw them go through in the show.
Lastly we have the field guide and enhanced viewing experience. Both of these options are available for each episode. With the field guide, you get an interactive collection of material relating to the events that happened in that particular episode. Text based information, videos, archival footage, interviews, photos, animated maps etc. It’s all here and if you want to know more about the historical events that each episode was based on, it is essential you check out the field guides. It’s a great feature and history buffs will surely appreciate it.
Then we have the enhanced viewing experience. Once again this is for every episode. With any episode you can use this feature and it’s essentially a picture-in-picture track. Once again though, these are strictly historically based. So the only things you’ll be hearing about is the soldiers or the battles or anything else you’re seeing in the episode. You’ll hear from historians, receive first hand accounts etc, but you won’t hear anything about the production, which is why I was upset that the only production feature was so short. Nevertheless, if you’re interested, check out the enhanced viewing experience, for an episode or two at least.
Overall, The Pacific is an outstanding triumph. It’s better than Band of Brothers (in my opinion) and it truly is astonishing. If you liked Band of Brothers, enjoy war films, have any interest in WWII or just want to bear witness to a spectacular production, go out and pick it up. It was easily the best thing put on TV in 2010 and amongst the best television of the decade. You can’t go wrong with this series.
The Pacific is moving, dazzling, entertaining and simply fantastic. It's a stunningly real depiction of war.