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#MemorialDay2016: Review: HBO's The Pacific

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor 18-year-old Sidney Philips stands in a Navy recruitment line.
PFC Sidney Philips is just one of the real men portrayed in The Pacific, and his true story, along with others, are profiled among the special features of this masterpiece disc set by HBO Home Video.

When it comes to World War II, the war in the Pacific rarely gets the kind of attention bestowed on the European theater. They fought on nameless dots of land upon an endless ocean in an alien terrain and the Marines fought a brutal war against a relentless enemy more than prepared and all too ready to die for his cause. Their battle is equally as important as any in the War and is deserving of equal attention.

HBO Films and the makers of Band of Brothers have saved their best effort for the war in The Pacific. Their ten-part presentation, made with an estimated $150 million budget, has won 8 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries – it easily ranks as the most important television of 2010.

The miniseries is made in the modern filmmaking tradition where war is shown as human tragedy rather than simply a vehicle for action. Following the high standards set out by executive-production duo Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, The Pacific is a worthy successor to both Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.
Don’t expect a simple retread of Band of Brothers, however. Basing itself partly on memoirs written by two Marines featured in the series –With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie – The Pacific takes a more personal approach. We see much more of the home front than we did in Band of Brothers, and are given reflections of the national mood following Pearl Harbor, including the racist dehumanization and caricaturizing of the enemy that was committed on both sides of the ocean. We also see naivety of youth and the contagious spirit of unity that spread across a nation mobilized into action.

The story of The Pacific is presented through three main characters: PFC Eugene Sledge, PFC Robert Leckie and Sgt. John Basilone. One of the common complaints of the series when it was airing on HBO was that the characters seemed to keep changing, making it hard to follow. Where Band of Brothers had the consistency of Maj. Winters and Capt. Nixon to ground the story through many historic events, the connections between the main players in The Pacific are subtle.

This is where the volumes of background information found in the special features add real value. Knowing more about the people who lived these experiences and hearing their stories in their own words brings the series closer to heart and allows it transcend mere entertainment. The Pacific is an ambitious masterpiece of film that hits the mark – at once an action-packed adventure and a journey of self-discovery, not only for the Marines but for an entire nation that found itself ill-prepared for war.           
The tales of Leckie, Sledge and Basilone play out as separate-but-intertwined stories told through their exploits in the First Marine Division. Their stories cover not only the war but family life and personal connections. They start with their motivations for joining the Marines and don’t end until we’re shown how each of them coped after the war.

Narrative musings lifted from letters and other written works from Marines are translated into film to create introspective moments that put you inside a hellish existence on Guadacanal, Peleliu and Iwo Jima. On Guadalcanal, young men barely out of boot camp are forced to set aside their basic humanity as they face a brutal enemy and commit acts they would have previously thought unimaginable – acts that will haunt many of them for the rest of their lives. The Marines of the First Division earn their reputation across the Pacific as blood-and-guts warriors prepared to do whatever it takes to win. 

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