The Pacific is what executive producer Tom Hanks calls “World War II, v 2.0” with 2001’s gritty combat series Band of Brothers being v 1.0. Instead of Germans, American troops now take on the Japanese, a strikingly different opponent fought on distant, remote islands in the South Pacific. We follow three young Marines who enlist after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. There is definitely a different feel and look to this series as compared to Band of Brothers.
The Story So Far: “Parts 1 & 2” find two of the young soldiers, Robert Leckie and John Basilone, in the midst of the Guadalcanal campaign. The troops are able to take the strategic location from the enemy, but not without killing thousands of Japanese. The painstaking realism is quickly evident with exploding body parts and incredibly vivid shot locations. The “War is Hell” mantra sings loud, with amazing exhibits of both brutality and humanity. The other marine who will be seeing a lot of screen time is Eugene Sledge, played by Joseph Mazello (who I recognize as the kid from Jurassic Park). Because of a heart condition that is diagnosed by his doctor father, he doesn’t immediately enlist. But when his condition improves he joins up, so he’ll likely feature in upcoming episodes.
In “Part 3,” the Marines are shipped off to nearby Australia, where the Yanks’ campaign in Guadalcanal saves the country. It’s an interesting reprieve for the men and for the viewer. Most of this series will be centered around bloody combat; here, we get to see the more civilized depiction of an American soldier. Too bad it started off with drinking and fighting. It bothered me that the filmmakers were heading down that well-worn road of the stereotypical movie soldier who acts as though he’s God’s gift to the natives. Thankfully, the fight scene is short, as is the boozing.
Instead, the Marines are embraced by the people; we see the similarities between Americans and Aussies with their trolley cars, 40s fashion and big band music. Leckie meets a nice Greek girl in Melbourne and is welcomed into staying with Stella in her parent’s home. When she comes to his bed the very first night it seems a bit bold, but their relationship ends before he’s shipped out when she dumps him over the fear of having to deal with it if he is killed. He doesn’t take it well—especially after Stella’s parents have taken to him as much as she has. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of her, however. James Badge Dale is wonderful as Leckie. A writer before the war, he has a streak of the dramatic in him: Hemingway’s heart, and bravado.
As with anything that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are involved in, there are those poignant moments of humor, even in wartime. I loved it when Basilone (Jon Seda), after a night of partying, throws up in the Colonel’s wastebasket while receiving the news that he is being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal. Conversely, and appropriately, the pomp and circumstance of the actual ceremony is treated with all the dignity due a war hero, and the scene is filmed with that same respect.
The Colonel surprises Basilone later by telling him he’s being sent home to help sell war bonds—something he claims is more important than fighting. But it’s tough for Basilone, especially when he has to say goodbye to the friend he enlisted with. Seda’s performance is particularly strong in the combat scenes, so with seven more episodes to go I’m hopeful he’ll be back in the line of fire. I don’t know if it’s because there are no battles in this Australia episode, or because the combat is portrayed in a more emotional context, but this was definitely the weakest of the first three parts. Even so, it still made for great television.
The closest thing we get to a depiction of real military life is when the Marines are taken to the Outback for heavy duty maneuvers. In one of those warrior-brotherhood moments, one Marine cuts opens up another’s blisters for him. I think I cringed more during that scene than I did from seeing all those blown up body parts. Next week, however, they’ll all get back to real action.