HBO’s The Pacific is a companion piece to 2001’s World War II miniseries Band of Brothers. As with Band of Brothers, The Pacific was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. The Pacific tells the story of three Marines, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie, and John Basilone, and their separate experiences during World War II on the Pacific front. The 10-part series was primarily based on the memoirs of Sledge (With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, China Marine) and Leckie (Helmet For My Pillow). Basilone was a highly decorated war hero, whose story in large part is a matter of historical record. Part of Basilone’s story was based on the memoir (Red Blood, Black Sand) by Chuck Tatum, a Marine who fought with Basilone at Iwo Jima.
The Pacific tells the story of several major battles including Guadalcanal, Tenaru, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The stories are told from the point of view of the Marines who fought on the front lines. What I found compelling about the mini-series was the lack of politics. The Pacific is a movie about World War II, but it is not an analysis of the war itself. We do not see the battles being planned, or any high level military brass discussing strategy. What we see is the brutality of the front lines and men whose job it was to complete their mission or die trying. From their point of view we see unbearable conditions such as endless rain, mud, lack of water, food, shelter, and even toilet paper.
Of course, there is also the immense loss of human life. Troops are mowed down as they come ashore, before their feet barely touch the sand. Japanese soldiers are killed by the hundreds. Except for the dead, there are very few Japanese soldiers shown in the mini-series. That’s in line with the perspective of the Marines, many of whom didn’t really see the enemy during entire battles. The Japanese were not only very skilled at remaining hidden during combat, but also clearing the dead before U.S. forces could see the bodies.
Basilone, Leckie, and Sledge did not serve in the same units. Their paths crossed incidentally; Basilone and Leckie were both at Guadalcanal, Sledge and Leckie both fought in the Battle at Peleiu. Each Marine has a unique vision of the war, and each story is carefully crafted and interwoven throughout the episodes of The Pacific. Jon Seda does an excellent job portraying John Basilone. Basilone was the consummate Marine. He was brave, willing to do whatever it took to win, and yet humble and unassuming when not in action. Seda captures the nuances of Basilone the war hero and Basilone the man.
Equally good is Joseph Mazzello (best known as Tim in Jurassic Park) as Eugene Sledge. Sledge did not go into battle until the war was well under way due to a health problem. He goes from a naïve young man overwhelmed by battle to a grizzled Marine who barely flinches at the death and destruction around him. Leckie (James Badge Dale) is more of an everyman. He doesn’t always want to be there, he gets himself in trouble with his COs, but in the end he does what he needs to do. Dale captures the thoughtful introspective of Leckie in his strong performance.
While the program itself is not about the “whys” of the war, the special features offer plenty of historical context. Each disc has an enhanced viewing mode, which is a picture in picture with historical commentary about what’s going on in each episode. We hear from historians as well as WWII veterans. Much of this can also be watched separately in the Field Guide along with additional interviews, historical footage, text, and maps. The Field Guide is presented in a very user-friendly timeline.
There is such a wealth of information, it would take hours to watch all at once. Luckily everything is separated into categories, and viewers can click on whatever interests them most, with the rest of it ready for viewing at any time. The sixth disc is all special features. The highlight of this disc for me was the feature that gave a brief history of many of the Marines depicted in the mini-series.
There are two episodes of The Pacific on each of the first five Blu-ray discs. The sixth disc is reserved for special features. This is one of the best looking Blu-ray releases I’ve ever seen. The level of detail is truly impressive in the ultra-sharp 1080p/MPEG-4 transfer. During the daylight combat scenes, jungle landscapes are life-like and vivid. The colors stand out bright and bold. The more barren landscape of some battles presents the rocky textures with startling clarity. Explosions send dirt and rock flying everywhere, and each grain is visible.
The night battles, extensive in some of the early episodes, are impressive as well. Even in very low-light situations, the viewer is always aware of what is happening onscreen. The darkness is pure black, deep and without any visual noise. Even with rain drenching everything, there is always a clear visual presentation. There is simply no way I can fault the video quality throughout all ten episodes.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is, if anything, more impressive than the visuals. This is the most enveloping home video audio experience I’ve ever had. The combat sequences are, as expected, the highlights. The viewer is put right in the middle of the action, with all channels contributing to the audio assault. The subwoofer rumbles with each large explosion. Through the rear surround speakers, bullets zip past, people yell and scream, seemingly from all directions. Dialogue during these scenes is realistically drowned out much of the time, as the viewer experiences the chaos along with the actors.
Even during heavy downpours of rain, there is never a problem following what the characters are talking about. During the non-combat scenes, dialogue is never hard to understand. There is a very effective balance between the actor’s speaking and the score. Quiet details come through very well, such as during Leckie’s stay in the hospital where other patients are going about their business. The entire soundtrack is perfectly free of distortion or flaws.
The Pacific is nearly overwhelming in the way it involves the viewer emotionally. The goal of the filmmakers’ was to recreate the details of the war in the Pacific as accurately as possible. Viewers will leave the series with a much better idea of what these brave men endured. On Blu-ray, with unparalleled audio/visual quality, the experience is even more unforgettable.