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New miniseries: The Pacific debuts Sunday, March 14

In television on 03/11/2010 at 10:56 am

Series name
The Pacific

Debuts
Sunday, March 14, 2010, at 9 p.m. ET on HBO Canada

Regularly airs
Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO Canada for 10 weeks.

Update March 12: Great news for French-language viewers who are looking forward to The Pacific. Super Écran’s Mylène Racine wrote to say that, “the French version of the series, Le Pacifique, will debut Sunday April 4 at 10 p.m. on Super Écran. It is the first time that a French version of an HBO series will be broadcasted in a short delay like this (3 weeks).”

Premise
A window on a handful of World War II battles in the Pacific theatre, through the eyes of three Marines and drawn from the writings of journalist/memoirist/machine gunner Robert Leckie, memoirist Eugene Sledge, and many interviews with Pacific war vets.

Primary cast and crew
James Badge Dale (The Black Donnellys, 24) is Robert Leckie, poetry-writing, wise-cracking tender heart who writes daily to the girl across the street back in New Jersey. Dear Vera …
Joseph Mazzello (remember the boy in Jurassic Park?, also wrote, directed and starred in Matters of Life and Death and is currently shooting The Social Network) is Eugene Sledge, whose heart murmur and protective physician father will keep him out of the war for only so long. And then …
Jon Seda (Homicide: Life on the Street, Third Watch) is John Basilone, decorated war hero who won’t refuse any combat orders, even when they’re not.
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg (Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan) are exec producers.

But what do I know anyway? After having watched all 10 hours, some of them twice, I …
Well, I loved it. But it took a while to get there. I was about halfway through viewing this 10-hour miniseries when I knew I had to go back and rewatch the first few hours at least. After, that is, I was able to hurl the boulder-size chip off my shoulder that was my deep love for the first Spielberg-Hanks-HBO WWII miniseries, Band of Brothers. Focussed on the war in Europe, Band of Brothers followed Dick Winters (Damien Lewis) and the Marines of Easy Company from their Atlantic crossing to V-E Day. Every episode drew from the same handful of guys in battles that I was familiar with. Excellent acting and storytelling, percussive and otherwise effective filmmaking. I’ve seen the entire series probably three times. Will see it again (thank you History Television). Okay, I’m an incredible TV nerd. Hopefully you are not thus afflicted, but I think anyone who watched Band of Brothers might also be looking for Band of Brothers: The Pacific Sequel. I had even hoped to see at least a walk through, in a background shot, of Winters or one of the other Band of Brothers characters. The Pacific, however, is no relation to Band of Brothers except, happily, in the quality of the performances, writing and production. The style and story stand on their own. That’s how it should be and it’s in the best service of the story.

In the video Making the Pacific, Spielberg and Hanks discuss the decision to follow Leckie for his extended hospital stays, Basilone for his war-bonds tour and Sledge at home before his late arrival. These were among the ways to focus the series on the psychological, interior field of war. Island fighting involved not only heat and disease but extreme and prolonged isolation. This tight focus was very effective. There are fewer characters to bond with, but you get to know them more deeply.

Among the other things I liked and did not:

  • The decision to make these more interior stories meant sidestepping the big battles and bravo for that. Once you start to get inside Leckie, Basilone and Sledge, you will be glad no story stime was spent re-creating the battles of Pearl Harbour (which has happened eight months before our lads head to the Pacific) or Midway or the flag raising at Iwo Jima. Short documentary scene-setters help fill in the blanks on some of these less known (to me at least) battles. Here’s the backgrounder for the first episode; it is a great marriage of newsreel footage, Tom Hanks giving historical background, and then ending with two veterans’ reflections. This video is from HBO’s YouTube channel, but you can find everything you need on the excellent official website.
  • The visual details are amazing, like the lone pristine stick of Wrigley’s gum that a nervous Marine jams in his mouth, shaking with nerves on the approach to Guadalcanal beach. It is the last clean thing for a long while.
  • Episode 1 lays out a delicately played view of two-sided cruelty. One scene of a mutilated American corpse is followed later by another of a Japanese soldier weaponless and raging as Marines take potshots but refuse to give him the Bushido “death before dishonour” he wants. Until.
  • Hearts and minds break and this series shows that. Well done but strange, unsettling to show how bullets were not the scariest things some of these guys faced.
  • Regarding performances, James Badge Dale does an especially good job of covering Leckie’s range from brittle to leathery; and Joe Mazzello’s latecoming Eugene Sledge will break your heart as his innocence get stomped; Jon Seda had the biggest challenge in playing the hero returned home for war-bond promotion, and occasionally disappears behind the tortured warrior mask. Later secondary performances are outstanding. Watch for Montrealer Caroline Dhavernas (who has a quick appearance in Episode 1 and returns for the finale), who is more 1940s than Betty Grable. Watch also for Rami Malek as Snafu, so strange and nasty and gentle all in one.
  • “You’re okay. You’re okay.” You will hear this a lot, from one soldier to wounded confrere. It is usually a lie. It never failed to gut me.
  • I did not like how dark the first two episodes were, but is there any way around that when the action is dominated by night-time firefights? Presumably, it’s intentionally disorienting, when all you see is muzzle flashes and the blunt dull curve of a helmet briefly illuminated by a grenade explosion, but I often didn’t know what the hell was going on. Grunts and thumps and who’s dead now?

Official website
It’s loaded, as expected. Each episode has a written summary, a historical backgrounder video (Episode 1’s is embedded above), and a link to share stories, from survivors and their families. Considering The Pacific arose from the barrage of letters and emails after Band of Brothers started airing, this could be the genesis of the next WWII project by Hanks and Spielberg. The site also has links to Leckie’s book Helmet for My Pillow and Sledge’s With the Old Breed and Hugh Ambrose’s The Pacific: Hell Was an Ocean Away. If you click around, you’ll also find the video Anatomy of The Pacific War, which includes interviews with Spielberg, Hanks and retired Captain Dale Dye, every WWII filmmaker’s best friend and consultant, who also starred in Band of Brothers. Immerse yourself.

Can’t wait for the next new-series preview?
Sons of Tucson, starring Taylor Labine (Reaper, Zack and Miri Make a Porno), debuts Thursday, March 11 on Global and Sunday March 14 on Fox. I’m late but I’ll have something before the Sunday broadcast.

— Denise Duguay

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