From HBO comes another captivating multi-part mini-series detailing soldiers experience during war. Although HBO’s previous effort, Band of Brothers, focused on World War II, Generation Kill is a decidedly more modern approach, adapted from the best-selling book by Evan Wright that recounts the first forty days of the Iraq war. Although it has no big-shot names, the men here will no doubt go onto bigger productions based solely on the acclaim that this seven part mini-series received. Now the series marks its debut on DVD (with a Blu-ray release tentatively planned for mid-2009) and arrives on shelves just in time for the Christmas season.
The mini-series tells the story of these young Marines’ physical and emotional journey into the heart of Baghdad in those initial weeks, and how the war reveals to be much more complicated, problematic, and tragic than anyone had contemplated. Many of the complications and problems that arise are due to the unwieldy military bureaucracy which the Marines confront in the midst of the war, the challenges of over-zealous and incompetent commanding officers, ever-changing rules of engagement, a non-existent strategy, severe deficiencies in necessary armor and supplies, and an enemy they don’t understand. Generation Kill is a humorous and frightening first-hand account of these remarkable men, of the personal toll of victory, and of the brutality, camaraderie, and bureaucracy of a new American war. It is a profoundly insightful and realistic look at the risk, costs, and ultimately, the failures of the war.
It seemed a bit strange to me that after watching Jarhead on Blu-ray for the first time that Generation Kill arrived on my doorstep. Having seen neither before, I jumped into Jarhead first and after enjoying that film I decided a mini-series was a good thing to follow it up with. Little did I know going into this mini-series that Generation Kill is, in some ways, a near replica of Jarhead in that it starts off focusing on a core group of Marines who just spout off long diatribes of offensive dialogue to one another, all the while killing time as they prepare for war.
Unlike Jarhead, however, these boys do see action…and plenty of it. The story itself encompasses the first forty days of the Iraq war and is largely based around the Rolling Stone reporter who was embedded with them. Although the mini-series starts out before the reporter arrives, the remaining parts of the mini-series often revolved around what he is witnessing, although in an odd way he becomes a secondary character in the whole affair…which I suppose is what a journalist really wants, to not stand out and let the men do their thing. Still, there is a vast array of soldiers to become acquainted with here at first, so the reporter acts as a bit of an aid for the viewer as he himself acclimates himself to the surroundings and the myriad of men around him.
An element I didn’t immediately recognize while watching this mini-series was its lack of music. While soldiers may sing or listen to something in the background, the entirety of the mini-series revolves around the soldiers and is shot very much like a documentary. I had a hard time distinguishing between whether this actually was a documentary or not at first until I read some of the literature that went along with the set, it was that convincing to me and the overall lack of orchestral score of any kind simply aided in that belief.
While the series is definitely not for everyone (it’s an HBO mini-series though, so that’s to be expected already), Generation Kill is an overall fascinating look into the world of the Marines. As with Jarhead, there are some elements that come off as slightly offensive and disturbing based solely on the dialogue that comes out of some of the soldiers mouths, but it’s something you quickly “accept” while viewing the series. This alone isn’t reason to not watch the series, of course, but it is something to be mindful of if you’re offended by excessively racist or profane dialogue.
In all Generation Kill comes Highly Recommended. It’s an easy series to get lost in and you’ll likely feel like you could have watched this as a regular series by the time the seventh part wraps up. Unfortunately that would have delved into a fictional area as this series is based solely on the novel of the same name, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing that anytime soon.
The seven part mini-series arrives on DVD in a sturdy cardboard box set that is reminiscent of the John Adams set that HBO put out earlier this year. Three digi-pak trays are folded into one another and the set seals with a magnetic closure. A nice booklet is included that has descriptions of each installment as well as a handy Marine dictionary, filled with all of the terms and slang that gets tossed around in the series. There’s no real crash course for this in the series itself, so it’s a handy little book to have on hand. Also included in the booklet is a chain of command chart, and a mission map.
Video and audio for this release is what you’d expect from a modern production, although I have to say the level of compression is a bit of a deterrent when watching this. What is particularly distracting is the outside sequences with all of the sand granules seemingly grabbing into a healthy amount of compression by themselves, creating a sometimes ugly looking image. Other than that it’s a fairly clear transfer and the 5.1 audio mix really aids in making the viewer feel as if they’re in the action along with the rest of the men on screen.
Each part of the mini-series comes with an audio commentary, so once you finish watching the series you can watch it all over again with additional insight into how it was made and what it was like to make it. The commentaries can get a bit dry and are admittedly not as intriguing as the episodes themselves, but there is still a great deal of information to glean from these tracks so for that reason alone they’re worth checking out, particularly if you got as caught up with the series as I did.
Moving onto the rest of the featurettes we have Generation Kill: A Conversation with the 1st Recon Marines (XX:XX) and a general Making Generation Kill (XX:XX) feature. As with the commentaries, your enjoyment of the extras will go a long way if you enjoyed the series, as the actual interviews with the marines the mini-series portrays and the on-set footage of how it was made are incredibly interesting to watch. In addition to those pieces we have Eric Ladin’s video diaries (XX:XX) and Deleted dialogues (XX:XX).
Overall Generation Kill is a fantastic mini-series and another solid effort from HBO Home Video. Although HBO sets tend to cost more (this set, while only three discs, has an MSRP of $59.99), you’re almost always guaranteed a quality series as well as expansive and informative extras. Generation Kill is no exception and comes Highly Recommended.
Generation Kill arrives on DVD on December 16th.