Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Pacific

The Pacific is pretty similar to Band of Brothers, its spiritual predecessor, though if you expect it to be exactly the same you might be disappointed. Whereas Brothers told a single, continuous story about an entire company from their training until the end of the war, Pacific focuses on three individual soldiers who barely even cross paths, jumping to various important times in their serivce to show things from their perspectives. Also, the enemy is Japanese rather than German, but that goes without saying.

One of the things The Pacific impressed on me is how much more brutal that theater was. I mean, Europe was no picnic. The Nazis did some pretty horrific stuff, and no war is pleasant. But at least they weren't enduring constant rain, sleeping in the mud, and dealing with enemy soldiers that simply refused to ever surrender. There's a twinge of racism through the whole thing, as many of the American troops viewed the "Japs" as something less than human, and their sadistic glee when given a helpless victim is sometimes frightening. But there's a point to all of it. The war was terrible on everyone involved, and you can see how some less than flattering ideas would be attached to such an enemy. This is the most clear with Eugene Sledge, one of the three leads, who starts the war as an idealistic Christian, but finds himself saying he'll kill them with his bare hands if he has to before the end. It's a violent series, but some of the worst parts have nothing to do with the battles. Soldiers committing suicide during a morning shower, stumbling upon gutted civilians who still haven't managed to die yet; you can tell that the goal was conveying how bad war really is, and it's mostly effective. A few bits hit you over the head too much, but what they're saying is pretty important.

Although nobody really stands out that much, the acting is pretty good. The leads are all solid, investing you in their individual stories, whether they're stuck in the trenches or enjoying a bit of time away from the front. And the direction is extremely strong, especially on the battles. I don't mean to sound like I'm glorifying the violence after everything in the last paragraph, but like Brothers, one of the series' strongest elements is the sheer quality of the production during combat. A single extended take of Sledge's first real taste of war at Peleliu, crawling up the beach, watching people fall around him, is one of the most stunning images I've ever seen. There's a surprising amount of variety considering the pervasive tropical island backdrop, as the soldiers do everything from fend off ambushes in the dead of night with the blinding flash of machine gun fire keeping things barely comprehensible, to insane charges through fields of artillery fire in the middle of the day, to a rainy, unnervingly quiet skirmish where the characters' biggest concern is finding mortar rounds that aren't wet. There's a fair amount of drama and heartbreak and laughter to mix things up, and while it didn't touch me as much as Brothers, it's still a great accomplishment and probably the last miniseries of this scope we'll see, at least for a while. Worth watching for anyone who cares about what it sometimes takes in this world to get some peace.

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