After the rousing mini-series that was Band of Brothers I wondered if I’d ever see a film, mini-series or anything else that could possibly be its equal. There were so many tense moments in that series coupled with highly emotional ones that even something like Saving Private Ryan kind of paled in comparison. While Ryan is no doubt one of the best war movies ever made, it really can’t compare to a mini-series that allows you to be come intimate with the individual characters as well as familiar with the bond that they share with one another. Needless to say when word came that The Pacific was in production, I couldn’t wait to watch it. Not only because the same production team that made Band of Brothers was behind it, but also because it meant I was about to embark on another emotionally exhaustive war tale that would reward me in pretty much everyway possible: physically, emotionally, and visually.
The Pacific is an epic 10-part miniseries that delivers a realistic portrait of WWII’s Pacific Theatre as seen through the intertwined odysseys of three U.S. Marines – Robert Leckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge. The extraordinary experiences of these men and their fellow Marines take them from the first clash with the Japanese in the haunted jungles of Guadalcanal, through the impenetrable rain forests of Cape Gloucester, across the blasted coral strongholds of Peleliu, up the black sand terraces of Iwo Jima, through the killing fields of Okinawa, to the triumphant, yet uneasy, return home after V-J Day. The viewer will be immersed in combat through the intimate perspective of this diverse, relatable group of men pushed to the limit in battle both physically and psychologically against a relentless enemy unlike any encountered before.
I won’t go into details about the story or the characters, simply because that would both take me several days to hash out my individual feelings on the series as well as the characters and, more importantly, it would kind of just ruin the mini-series for you if I went blow-by-blow. Besides, that kind of detail should be saved for summary websites or super spoiler filled Wikipedia articles. Not that we don’t know how this war ended up, but still—it is a journey that the series takes you through and, if possible, is something that you should go into completely unaware. It’s disorienting at first to keep track of all of the different men (hazards of uniforms—can’t tell anyone apart for a long time), but it pays off in the long run.
I’ll admit that while I was eager to watch the series, when it started up I was knee-deep in about fifteen other primetime TV shows so I held off at first. Then the holding off got progressively longer and longer until finally it arrived at my doorstep on Blu-ray. Now I had an excuse (“I have to review this, that’s why the subwoofer is making your eyes vibrate”) to watch the series straight through in crystal clear high definition. I’ll touch on that again later but for now let me just say: wow. HBO really did an outstanding job on the A/V presentation (not that they don’t always do that, but this series especially is a real jaw dropper).
So with the viewing under my belt I was finally able to answer the questions that I’d heard asked the most about the series: how does it stack up against Band of Brothers? Well to straight up compare the two would be kind of unfair considering that they’re really different war stories. Sure they both take place during WWII, but not only is the enemy different this time around, so is the location. On top of that we obviously have a whole new cast. Just about the only thing the two series have in common is that they’re both multi-part mini-series about WWII and that they both portray war accurately (almost too much so in some cases) with all of its gruesome visuals and foul language amongst the troops. I will say that they both make you cringe, cry, hurt, and wince about the same, so in that regard they’re pretty big emotional powerhouses when it comes to bringing out the tearful side of you.
Each part of The Pacific further progressed the story as well as intertwined it between the three main marines that we focus on (there are other soldiers of course and the “who is that again?” fatigue that was still heavy mid-way through Band of Brothers dissipates a bit more easily here earlier on) and never once did you feel as if it was dragging on or wearing out its welcome. It’s an expertly paced, acted, produced, directed, and scored (Hans Zimmer…you truly are one of the most brilliant composers out there) piece that really is a Must See if you are a fan of this genre at all. I will follow that up by saying that if you don’t like wartime series or stories then you should really stay far away from this are there are some truly brutal visuals that will definitely make you squirm if you aren’t accustomed to it from past Hanks/Spielberg efforts.
As much as I’d like the series to stand on its own, HBO wants to think otherwise as it packages it up in an identical fashion to Band of Brothers: a heavy-duty tin that houses the discs and wrapped up in a small cardboard slip that denotes the Blu-ray-ness of it all. It slips alongside Brothers nicely on the shelf and stands out as prominently. But even though you may spend more time in the long run looking at the package on the shelf than you would with the actual disc contents, that is truthfully where you’ll find the most enjoyment (that should go without saying, really—who stares at a package all day?).
Video is an AVC encoded transfer and since the comparisons to Band of Brothers will never stop, I’ll just say it now: this looks infinitely better than Brothers. How can it look so good when I stated that Brothers had visuals that were “jaw dropping”? Well it’s simple really–Brothers still looks fantastic, but it’s pushing almost a decade in age now, so by default Pacific already has the upper hand with age. Pile on top of that the expertise that HBO and Spielberg have with processing some of the most brilliant looking A/V transfers and it’s no wonder that The Pacific looks so good it hurts. I mean that literally as there is quite a bit of squirming and jerking you will do as the wartime violence ramps itself up on your TV. For me 52” was big enough to witness all of it in it’s brilliant and glorious 1080p detail, but those with bigger TVs or projectors will probably end up with even more half-open eye moments.
Let’s see how many words I can use for the audio: astonishing, amazing, flawless, spectacular, riveting, emotional, bombastic…there are probably a hundred more I can use, but I’ll save this keyboard the trouble of trying to keep with my typing and end it there. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is absolutely breathtaking to listen to, whether it’s the opening theme or the gunshots, grenades, and other explosions that go off there really is nothing quite like witnessing this series on Blu-ray. There is so much subwoofer and surround usage that you should really warn other individuals in your dwelling that you’ll be embarking on military training, as that is exactly what it will sound like coming from your room or apartment.
Profiles of the Pacific – biographies of the individuals that are portrayed in this series. Definitely something you want to watch after you view the series as it adds and even deeper human element to the entire mini-series.
Enhanced Viewing Mode – a picture-in-picture mode that has a ton of behind the scenes content that plays throughout the series. Really similar to the Maximum Movie Mode touted on Warner Bros. titles. Some of the content here is repeated on the other featurettes on disc six, but a lot of it is locked down to the EVM and viewable only that way.
Historical Backgrounds – these are just the five minute prologues for each episodes to give you an idea of where each part is sitting. These were originally included with the HBO airings, but if you watch the series in big blocks you probably can just skip past these–although they are all really good reminders as to what the current state of affairs is before each episode starts.
Anatomy of The Pacific War – a featurette that details the history of the war, albeit really briefly.
The Pacific Field Guide – a timeline for each episode with a lot of text and a ltitle bit of video.
Overall this is a Must Own set if, again, you enjoyed past Spielberg/Hanks wartime efforts. If not you should probably avoid it as it’s really probably some of the best work they’ve done thus far.
The Pacific arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on November 2nd.