The Pacific Review: Storming The Beaches

April 4, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews


It’s not often that Hollywood heavyweights throw their support behind a TV series but when they do, the results can be spectacular.

After their critically acclaimed series Band Of Brothers which told the story of a company of soldiers in WWII, director Steven Spielberg is back with Tom Hanks in the producer’s chair with a mini-series about the Pacific war.

From its opening credits and sombre title sequence, and the fact that it’s being shown of Sky HD with no adverts, you can tell this is something they wanted to take very seriously. And so they should. The Pacific is a theatre of action that has only recently been portrayed with any detail in TV and cinema – most recently with Clint Eastwood’s two movies Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima – and so it’s important to do it justice.

The result here is something as gripping and as intense as any account of warfare should be – it never shies away from the viciousness of combat or the horror of war but never actively celebrates it either. It strikes a good balance between the need to portray pitched battles (and the excitement that brings) with the human cost – both psychological and physical.

Unlike Band of Brothers which was very much about the comradeship that sprung up in the ranks, The Pacific, like its theatre, is a much more chaotic, unorganised affair. The men are fighting on a land they can’t even pronounce, with men who aren’t their friends but people who simply have a job to do.

Crucially the focus is on the characters and not the war – something which Band Of Brothers struggled with; its ensemble cast made it hard to identify with one particular individual. The Pacific is much more narrow in its focus and the first episode centres on Robert Leckie, a cocky, aspiring writer.

After a hard-fought battle, some soldiers amuse themselves by taking pot-shots at a wounded Japanese solider, intending to prolong his death. Leckie dispatches him with a pistol shot. “What did you do that for?? shouts one of the others, seemingly unable to make the connection between a target and a human being. As Leckie says later in a letter home, “There are things that men can do to each other that are sobering to the soul?

As as their gung-ho ignorance of their enemy turns to the dawning realisation that this might not quite be the “turkey-shoot? that they imagined, we’re carried along with their hopes and fears.

There’s no other word than “cinematic? to describe the visuals. It’s rightly being broadcast on Sky HD – which makes a great deal of difference in everything from the crisp snow of a American churchyard to the morning carnage of floating bodies after a furious night-time battle (it seems macabre to find beauty in something so inherently horrific but the shot composition is masterful, almost poetic).

As it’s the first part in the 10 part series (incidentally the most expensive in TV history, clocking in at a whopping $220m), it remains to be seen whether it can sustain its appeal, but if this episode is anything to go by, its character driven story, outstanding cinematic style and well-crafted storytelling will ensure that it racks up the awards come Emmy time.