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Blu-ray Review: Generation Kill

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From the team of David Simon and Ed Burns, the executive producers/writers of The Wire and The Corner, comes the 11-time Emmy-nominated Generation Kill on DVD and Blu-ray. The seven-part HBO miniseries is based on the book by Rolling Stone writer Evan Wright, which began as a three-part series of articles, the first of which went on to win a National Magazine Award for Excellence in Reporting in 2004. He details his time in 2003 embedded with the Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom. While the deserts of the Middle East are half a world away from Simon’s normal milieu of the streets of Baltimore, the theme of individuals struggling within a bureaucracy is a familiar one in his work.

As the series begins Wright (Lee Tergesen) joins up with the Marines in Kuwait where he is assigned to ride in Bravo Company’s lead vehicle, which is commanded by Sergeant Brad “Iceman” Colbert (Alexander Skarsgård) and driven by wisecracking Corporal Josh Ray Person (James Ransone). The Marines aren’t thrilled about having to deal with Wright; they figure his left-leaning magazine will paint the soldiers in a bad light to its hippie readership. However as consolation, many of them enjoy the picture of Wright’s girlfriend.

Over the course of the seven episodes, which roughly covers the three months Wright was in the field, we witness the Marines’ journey as they invade Iraq and occupy the city of Baghdad. The days are filled with lethal action and relentless tedium, and they never know if the next Iraqi they meet wants to shower them with flowers or bullets. The fog of war affects their efforts, as does being poorly supplied.

On the front lines, they are constantly put at risk having to discover the correctness of decisions; some of which are made to impress higher-ups while others are no more informed than a coin flip. A few men question their superiors at different times, but this stems from losing trust in their superiors’ competence to adequately protect the men. As a result, two captains have been derisively nicknamed Encino Man and Captain America.

The Marines appear like any other group of people in that a bond unites them and compels them to work together, yet it doesn’t mean they all like each other. There are personality clashes and racists as expected, but most intriguing is seeing some Marines shun Lance Cpl. James Trombley. At a time when the rules of engagement declared all Iraqis hostile, Trombley’s eagerness to get in on the action contributes to his shooting at camel herders off in the distance. However, it is discovered the men he shot at were a couple of unarmed Iraqi boys when their relatives bring them in for medical attention.

While the battle scenes are intensive, the most compelling moments take place as the Marines deal with situations they are not trained nor prepared for. In particular, during a very tense situation as they deal with crowds of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, a Marine shoots up a car and kills the driver who ignored the warning to stop and headed towards them. It is powerful scene because while the Marine’s response is understandable, regardless of the driver’s intent, he is affected by it.

The miniseries is presented in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ration of 1.78:1. The color palette is rather limited, which is understandable as the Iraqi deserts, recreated in Africa, don’t look like the beaches of Miami. It is mainly comprised of muted variations of green, brown, and blacks with the blacks losing some of their depth and richness during the night sequences. There is evident grain throughout the image, a source choice by the cinematographer.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 engulfs the viewer in the sound mix, putting them square in the convoy as it rumbles across the desert and does battle. Helicopters roar across the speakers as they fly across the sky and sniper fire rings out from locations. Yet with all the commotion, the dialogue doesn’t get lost. Kudos to the sound team because they will cause your head to swivel around.

Basic Training is an exclusive Blu-ray feature on each episode offering a Military Glossary, Chain of Command Chart, and Mission Map to inform the viewer. Each can be viewed through the Pop Up Menu or the arrow keys on remote.

All but episode six have a commentary track. The participants in various combinations are Simon, Burns, Wright, executive producer George Faber, producer Andrea Calderwood, directors Susanna White and Simon Cellar Jones, actors Skarsgård, Ransome, Stark Sands (Lt. Fick), Benjamin Bush (Maj. Eckloff), and Key Military Adviser Eric Kocher (Gunnery Sgt. Barrett), and Marines Tech Advisor Jeffrey Carisalez (Cpl. Smith). “Generation Kill: A Conversation” features Wright talking about the film with members of the 1st Recon Marines and their impressions of the series. There is a making-of HBO special, Deleted Dialogues, and actor Eric Ladin’s Video Diaries he shot over the course of the film.

Generation Kill puts a face on the Marines, the fathers and brothers, friends and neighbors, who are risking their lives and killing on behalf of the country, each for their own reason. The cast and crew do a very good job telling their story through Wright's perspective. It’s too bad the networks have gotten out of the miniseries business, but thankfully HBO has filled that void.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS