When’s it out?
Who’s in it?
James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello, Jon Seda, Jon Bernthal, William Sadler.
What’s it about?
A thematic sequel to the classic Band Of Brothers (which also came from the unmatchable HBO stable) The Pacific is a brutal dramatisation of the lives of three real-life US Marines; Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie and John Basilone; and it charts their entwined journeys from a first taste of battle on the infamous Guadalcanal island, to their eventual return to the USA in the immediate aftermath of V-J Day.
What’s it like?
Obviously it’s very similar to Band Of Brothers but it’s also much looser and almost impulsive in its structure. That said (somewhat bizarrely) the drama is a lot more focused as a result – keeping its primary attentions fixed on those three characters specifically. In addition, the violence and overall depiction of warfare are far more unflinching, and if your knowledge of the Pacific War isn’t especially notable, each episode is very handily preceded by a ‘Historical Background’ introduction; a five minute short film that gives each episode a broad-but-detailed bit of valuable context. And if you think that the opening two chapters are a little on the slow side, stick with it. Much like Band Of Brothers, it gathers real momentum not long after that, and maintains a pace and consistency of tone (and quality) that are pretty much beyond compare.
Star of the show?
As was definitely the case with Band Of Brothers, The Pacific‘s rumoured 120 million dollar budget clearly wasn’t spent on familiar acting talent, and the show is all the better for it. There isn’t really a standout here – whereas Damian Lewis was largely isolated as the breakthrough performer in Brothers’ cast – but the ensemble is buoyed by a trio of predictably muscular and distinctive performances. That said, Joseph Mazello (who everyone probably remembers best as the kid from Jurassic Park) seems to have made that difficult transition from child actor to adult star very seamlessly indeed.
It’s probably the covert playfulness of it all. Although the humour remains very much in the gallows for the majority of the time (aside from a comparatively light-hearted stretch that takes place on Australian soil) The Pacific also takes great pleasure in regularly double-crossing your expectations. Other classic war movies are endlessly referenced – for example the Omaha beach sequence from Saving Private Ryan is replicated in an almost shot-for-shot fashion – but these ‘homages’ are actually nothing of the sort, and instead serve to lull you into repeatedly thinking that you know what’s coming next. You don’t.
The chaotic and brutal battle sequences are shot and edited to perfection by a heavyweight team of seasoned professionals, but as was the case with Band Of Brothers it is the script’s very deft sense of characterisation that will keep you gripped throughout. The Pacific is far more concerned with the psychological effects of war than Band Of Brothers was, and those observations – torn straight from the pages of two very different sets of memoirs, penned by two of the main character’s real-life counterparts – are judicious and perceptive. The Pacific may be slightly less traditionally accessible than its predecessor, but make no mistake; it is every bit as satisfying, dramatically.
So much more than a mere companion piece, The Pacific proudly stands on its own. Its strong emphasis on the galling disorganisation of war is as unsettling as it is refreshing, and the direction is predictably sure-footed, with some of HBO’s most reliable stalwarts (including the perennially under-appreciated Sopranos/Boardwalk Empire/The Wire maestro Tim Van Patten) and all of them collectively dodge every opportunity to sermonise or sugar-coat. In many ways The Pacific is exactly what you think it’s going to be; but in others, it supersedes so many expectations that there is no other option but to consider it worthy of standing alongside the very best material that HBO has ever had a hand in creating.
Hit or miss?
A very big hit indeed.
Watch The Pacific trailer here: