Cable Operators

REVIEW: HBO's 'The Pacific'

3/13/2010 3:53 PM Eastern

In his voyage to the Pacific after the Japanese
bombed Pearl Harbor, Eugene B. Sledge wonders:
“Would I do my duty or be a coward? Could I kill?"
HBO’s upcoming 10-part miniseries The Pacific answers
that question, revealing the toll on this shy teenage
son of an Alabama doctor as he became a hardened
fighter of the 1st Marine Division, 3rd battallion,
5th Marines. Viewers won’t be disappointed.

HBO miniseries The PacificExecutive-produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg
and Gary Goetzman, the series tracks the experiences
of three true-life Marines — Robert Leckie, John Basilone
and Sledge. Scenes in the series have been culled
from two books that anyone remotely interested in
World War II will find fascinating: Helmet for My Pillow,
by Leckie, and With the Old Breed, by Sledge.

Fans of HBO’s highly successful Band of Brothers will
make comparisons, and there will be endless debate
over which is better. The opening score of strings
and horns, combined with fierce charcoal sketching,
is elegantly and artfully rendered. The acting, largely
by unknowns, is exceptional, and the powerful battle
scenes a la Saving Private Ryan will no doubt leave
home-theater owners crouching white-knuckled in
their recliners.
Unlike Band, which followed a single group of Army
paratroopers in Europe throughout training and combat,
in Pacific, we’re following three disparate characters
whose narratives intersect tangentially. For me, it
took longer to build up sympathy. It’s when the series
zeros in on Sledge’s experience that it really picks up.

When young Sledge declares he’s enlisting, his father
tries to explain his objection with his own experience
as a doctor during the first World War: “The worst thing
wasn’t they had their flesh torn out, it was they had
their souls torn out. I don’t want to look in your eyes
one day and see no spark, no love, no life.”

Another big difference to Band, which follows the
campaign in Europe, is the absolutely hellish conditions
on the Pacific islands. There, the outnumbered
Marines fight some of the fiercest, bloodiest battles of
the war, including Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Iwo Jima,
and on the tiny speck of coral known as Peleliu. Warning:
high body count, mostly Japanese.

But there was a more pervasive enemy, too. As
Leckie says during another downpour, ”Now our
enemy is the jungle itself. ” Uniforms and boots literally
rot from their bodies. And flies, dysentery, malaria,
rats and crabs made conditions unbearable for the
Marines in the Pacific, especially as mortar shells rained
downed and bullets whizzed overhead.

In more scenes than not, viewers can’t help feel profound
gratitude for the deaths of freedom’s defenders
on tiny islands a world away.

The Pacific premieres Sunday March 14 at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on HBO.

September