Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Pacific, "Part One": A real turkey shoot

I've already written about HBO's "The Pacific" in both a column review and a behind-the-scenes feature. So now it's time to start reviewing each episode. My take on part one coming up just as soon as I poison a billion coconuts...
"There are things that men can do to each other that are sobering to the soul." -Leckie
I watched the first two episodes of "The Pacific" back in January in the run-up to the Television Critics Association winter press tour. At the time, I liked but didn't love them, finding it hard to let go of my worship of "Band of Brothers" - which shares many producers but not an aesthetic with the new project - and to keep track of the characters and the dizzying action.

Then I watched those same two episodes on the new screeners HBO sent out a few weeks back, and I was much more engaged, and had a much easier time following the action. Some of that, of course, comes from seeing the episodes twice (just like I knew who Muck and Penkala were my second time through "Band," but not the first), and some from the improved picture quality of the final cuts.

I'm hoping the picture issue was the more important one, and that therefore those of you who just watched it for the first time tonight were absorbed by this world from the jump. And if not, I strongly recommend giving Part One (and, if necessary, Part Two) a second viewing if you have the time, as it'll greatly improve your appreciation going forward.

So, no, this isn't "Band." We spend a lot of time in this first episode on the homefront, and not even on basic training like with Easy Company. We follow John Basilone (Jon Seda) to his parents' Jersey home for a family Christmas dinner. We spend time in Alabama with Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), who can't even enlist yet because of his heart murmur. We see Bob Leckie (James Badge Dale) chatting with old neighbor Vera (Caroline Dhavernas, whom some of you might remember as the lead on Fox's "Wonderfalls"), who will later be the subject of Leckie's letter home from Guadalcanal.

And in all three cases, we see the men deal with fathers not prepared to see their grown sons go off to war, possibly never to return. Parents aren't supposed to outlive their children, but millions of fathers and mothers had to brace themselves for this exact scenario over the course of WWII.

After the long homefront prologue, the focus of part one shifts largely to Leckie, though Basilone and his buddies briefly turn up at the end, and Sledge's buddy Sid Phillips (Ashton Holmes) reads one of Eugene's letters to Leckie.

Hanks, Spielberg and company somewhat reluctantly agreed to produce those little documentary pieces that come at the top of each episode and explain exactly what was happening during the period that hour will depict. Hanks complained at press tour that when HBO initially asked for the documentaries, "those of us on the producing team that felt that context was a waste of time and once we got involved in this story, the context would be obvious." Ultimately, though, I think they turned out to be very valuable, because it means the episodes themselves don't have to waste any time explaining, say the military value of Guadalcanal and instead just give us the jarhead's-eye-view of the campaign.

So even though Leckie and his buddies argue over why they're going to this island nobody's ever heard of before, we understand, and can therefore focus our mental energy on appreciating the experience of being on the ground in this terrifying, alien(*) place.

(*) Director Tim Van Patten and director of photography Remi Adefarasin really shot the jungle as if it were another world. At one point, I jotted down the phrase "it looks like Pandora" in my notes.

In the 12 years since "Saving Private Ryan," the Normandy beach scene has become so iconic that we automatically anticipate something similar as the small boats approach the Guadalcanal shores, and the actors certainly play it up as if they're expecting that kind of hell-on-earth. Instead, it turns out that the Japanese forces have already retreated into the jungle, leaving only other Marines waiting on the beach. It's a nice meta moment, but also the kind of unexpected tension-breaker that Spielberg is often fond of using.

And there's still plenty of action to come, with the episode's centerpiece being a recreation of the Battle of Tenaru (or, as the river's referred to here and in some other places, Alligator Creek). It's at night, and completely chaotic, but I felt only slightly more confused than Leckie himself must have during it. And, in the end, things turn out exactly as Leckie's pal Chuckler predicted, with the combination of American machine guns and poorly thought-out Japanese tactics giving men like Leckie and Chuckler a chance to wipe out dozens of advancing enemy combatants.

The casual racism of the Pacific theater - the way the Japanese were demonized and viewed as something other than human - is a running theme of "The Pacific" (and a big departure from "Band," where the soldiers ultimately came to respect the Germans as being like them), and nowhere in Part One is that more obvious than the morning after on Tenaru, as the Marines take great pleasure in taunting and wounding, but not killing, one of the few Japanese soldiers to survive the night. When Leckie takes out his sidearm and kills the guy, the look on Dale's face is ambiguous enough that you can either view it as a noble moment (Leckie isn't as savage as his comrades and just put the soldier out of his misery rather than letting him die slowly as a Marine plaything) or as a vengeful, cathartic one (after that terrifying night, Leckie just wants to be able to look an opponent in the eyes as he shoots him).

The specific battle is won, and reinforcements (including Basilone) arrive, but no one is still clear why they're there, who they're fighting, or how exactly they can win against men so committed to their cause that they'll hurl themselves at machine guns and commit suicide-by-grenade if they can take one or two Americans with them.

As the other Marines sing to belated birthday boy Sid, "How f--ked are you now?"

Some other thoughts on Part One:

• The miniseries has three leads, but it also has a sort of Very Special Guest star in William Sadler, who goes to town in the role of legendary Marine leader Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller. Sadler kicks off the miniseries in fine fashion with a stirring speech to Basilone and the other non-commissioned officers, in which he declares them the backbone of the campaign and looks forward to sailing with them "across God's vast ocean, where we will meet our enemy and kill them all." Another key difference between this and "Band" is the level of esprit de corps that the Marines have, as typified by their uniform love of Chesty, who has no problem bantering with the enlisted men when he gets to Guadalcanal. (The guys in Easy Company loved each other, but weren't crazy about the Army itself.)

• As with "Band," I could probably watch the main title sequence - featuring heavy pencil sketches of several key scenes and characters, as well as a simultaneously melancholy and stirring theme composed by Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli and Blake Neely (all in place of the late "Band" composer Michael Kamen) - several times a day and not get bored.

• Leckie and Phillips did, indeed, serve in the same company, though because Leckie was a machine-gunner and Phillips a mortar man, some dramatic license was taken to show the two hanging out as much as they seem to here. Leckie's other friends - Chuckler (Josh Helman), Runner (Keith Nobbs) and Hoosier (Jacob Pitts, whom "Pacific" producer Graham Yost later hired for a supporting role on FX's "Justified," which debuts Tuesday) - were all very tight with him in real life.

• I'll admit it's a bit distracting to be spending a lot of time with Sledge this early in the miniseries when he's not even in uniform yet, but Bruce McKenna's script does a nice job of establishing Sledge and Leckie as kindred spirits, with Leckie quoting "The Iliad" on the ship as the guys discuss Guadalcanal, and Sid then reading a letter where Sledge quotes "Gunga Din."

Finally, a few words on how the No Spoiler policy is going to apply to this series. History on a big scale is not and should not be considered a spoiler. If you don't know the larger points of World War II and/or the Pacific campaign, then you and your high school history teacher need to have a chat. But the lives and military careers of Basilone, Leckie and Sledge, for our purposes, will be considered spoilers. So if you know more about one or more of them going in, or read up on them over the course of the miniseries, do not share any of that info in your comments, okay? We were able to get through the "Band of Brothers" reviews without giving away who lived, who died, who got promoted, transferred, etc., and I'm sure we can do that here as well. So until we get to the final episode in 10 weeks, no talking about anything that took place after the events depicted in a given episode - and that includes anything in the previews for upcoming episodes (or, at the end of this one, for the whole series). Okay?

Having said that, what did everybody else think?

82 comments:

Alex said...

First of all, thanks to Feinberg, I'm now going to be calling it "The Specific" in my head. Second of all, I found this episode to be a little on the slow side, but I'm chalking that up to having to establish certain things. I think I'm going to have to re-watch in order to get a handle on who the main characters are.

Hanks may have complained about the documentaries, but in this case, as much as I hate to say it, I think they might be necessary. You're correct in noting that they cut out the need for exposition from the characters, but they also help viewers (like me!) who may not be as familiar with the Pacific campaign. Most people know about the Western portion of the war, but not so much the Pacific, save for the A-bombs.

Tassoula said...

I think I'm going to take your advice and watch it again. I'll have to say I was underwhelmed by this first viewing (and am also spoiled by my fond memories of "Band of Brothers"), but will most definitely give it another chance. Plus, I like the narration in the beginning setting things up. It's been a long time since high school history class.

BF said...

I don't remember Band being quite as potty-mouthed, but maybe that's just me getting old.

Annie T. said...

I'm hooked. I love Band of Brothers' but I know going in that this series will be different. I really felt the tension and uncertainty when they are walking through the jungle for the first time. I look forward to next several weeks.

Andrew said...

Ultimately, though, I think they turned out to be very valuable, because it means the episodes themselves don't have to waste any time explaining, say the military value of Guadalcanal and instead just give us the jarhead's-eye-view of the campaign.

Isn't that exactly what they did with William Sadler's early speech, though? Almost all of it was just repeating stuff that had been said moments earlier. It was kind of jarring.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what this episode was supposed to be about.

You had 1/3rd of it on the home front, 1/3rd the monotony of the landing, and 1/3rd the terror of that first fight.

There are three main characters, but coming in fresh you wouldn't think Eugene was one of them.

Unlike the first episode of Band, I thought this wasn't nearly as effective at building up the tension for what we were supposed to anticipate, or establishing the main characters.

Maybe it will work better in context.

Juan said...

Wow just wow, Leckie has to be my fav char. Leckie on that Machine gun was sick

Alec said...

Was I the only one who, upon seeing Josh Helman, immediately thought that Stifler had joined the Marines?

Marc said...

First impression was positive. It will be hard for it to stand up to Band of Brothers for me, but I am going to try to view it separately. One facet that seems apparent already is the lack of a Dick Winters. His story and Damian Lewis' portrayal were both immensely memorable. I am also trying to keep in mind how different combat was in the 2 theaters. While the ETO featured urban warfare and treks of hundreds of miles, the PTO was, as was mentioned in the episode, fought on specks of largely undeveloped land only miles wide. Overall, another reminder for us to thank our elders for the sacrifices they made.

Indeed said...

It didn't take me too long at all to get hooked. I liked the structure and that we got to see a bit of the home-front before they shipped off. I also greatly appreciate the documentaries, since I must admit I know almost nothing about the Pacific. The title sequence was stunning.

Indeed said...

"Was I the only one who, upon seeing Josh Helman, immediately thought that Stifler had joined the Marines?"

Yes!! Total Stifler-look alike. I didn't catch his name, but I assume you're speaking of the same guy I was thinking that about! I watched the credits to see if there was an actor with the last name Scott.

Andrew said...

Having watched Band of Brothers on DVD, I can't help but wonder if watching The Pacific on the one-episode per week schedule will be relatively frustrating-- especially after taking a few episodes to get the cast of character straight. But The Pacific looks spectacular and the battle scenes were very intense.

michaelvankerckhove said...

@BF ~ I love how the script isn't shy about the language! Makes me think of moments in Ken Burns' documentary where their language on the war front vs. the home front were discussed. :-)

Thank you, Alan, for taking on this series. I enjoyed your BoB posts last summer. Cheers, everyone.

Germ said...

Wish I had HBO to watch this... sounds really good!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Isn't that exactly what they did with William Sadler's early speech, though?

There's some overlap btw this documentary and the speech, but episodes going forward are much less concerned with setting the scene.

srpad said...

I just watched all 10 hours of Band of Brothers for the first time since they originally aired over this rainy weekend (and read the reviews on the site) and maybe that will color my opinions of this, I'm not sure. I liked it and I'm waiting for more.

The pace was slower than I was expecting but I didn't mind it because that seemed to be exactly how the Marines who were there felt. Like Band, I am still trying to learn who is who (and this time they made it easier so I have no one to blame but myself) but I am looking forward to what comes next.

J said...

Two major differences with BoB that'll probably color things going forward: 1) BoB was devoted to a specific group of men, and all the things that happened to them, were important because it happened to THEM, whereas the 3 leads of The Pacific and their friends are more servants of the events than their subjects. The war is the subject, rather than the men ... at this first look anyway. 2) The first episode of BoB was creating the extraordinary camaraderie of Easy Company. This one introduces us to the alienness of the Pacific.

Also, anyone else reminded of Generation Kill's Captain America by that captain in Leckie's company?

bratcat said...

Being a huge fan of Band of Brothers (and war movies in general) I was eager to see how Pacific would stack up and so far I'm pleased with the first episode. The production value, effects, and cinematography are first rate and really help to pull you into the story.

I agree that its probably a good idea to watch the episodes a couple of times each, I had to do that with BoB and Generation Kill. I like that its complex enough to almost require a second viewing, it pays off once you get the faces down and can process a lot of action per episode.

Regarding the increase in 4 letter words- I noticed that too, and am glad to see these types of little differences that seperate the two series, and the two theaters. Marines are salty dogs! There's a romantic quality to the European theatre, picturesque French villiages, more "familiar" cultures, etc. I couldn't imagine hearing Lt Winters cussing up a storm. But from what I know about the fighting in the Pacific, the fighting was much more brutal and carnal. From the kamikazes, to the villagers jumping off of cliffs to avoid capture by the Americans there's a much more "take no prisoners" mentality adopted by both sides. I think we've seen the first signs of that already with the mutilated bodies, the injured soldier with the hand grenade, and the slow shooting of the unarmed soldier.

The aspect of BoB that I hope is replicated is the establishment of the hierarchy of rank. Seeing how the privates enteract with the NCOs, and how the officers approach things really helps to get a sense of mission, pupose, and perspective. This first episode almost felt like it was every man for himself.

Looking at this conflict with 21st century eyes it gives hope that maybe the people and cultures we fight and demonize today will be our allies 60 years from now.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Re: the bad language, I was rewatching part of the first episode of BoB this afternoon, and one of the first scenes of the miniseries is Sobel chewing out Malarkey as "Private Bullshit." So it's not like the original exactly ran and hid from cussing.

paul said...

I thought it a bit weak. For one thing, it jumped right in without conveying much of the shock and despair the country felt at loss after loss that the Japanese inflicted. Hanks and Puller recited the facts, but the show did not convey the emotional impact very well. That's important context, especially to the notion of "casual racism." More on that below.

You also did not get a sense as to what Leckie was like. I've seen a number of reviews that describe him as the McNulty of the Pacific, but there was loads of good stuff from his training and the first few days after the landing that was left out.

On the other hand, the battle scene was very, very good. I especially liked the homage to the final sequence in "Bataan."

As to the "casual racism," it's important to note not only the context I mentioned above, but also the fact that the Marines had just seen two of their fellows who had been tortured and mutilated, and then several more blown up by a Japanese soldier they were trying to help. This was a very different war than the Western Front, and the Japanese were a different adversary. I'm really hoping Hanks et al don't get carried away on this.

One query: does anyone know why Iceland was shaded as held by the Nazis on that map behind Puller?

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

For me, the entire episode zipped by too quickly and left me wanting more....that's a good sign.

I'll take an opposite view of some of the other posters- the major scene where nothing was apparently happening had me on the edge of my seat; when the platoon was marching through the jungle looking for the enemy it had the same intensity as going into an "Old Dark House" where the audience knows "The Killer" is lurking. You knew something bad was going to happen to these guys, only you weren't sure when.

Another poignant and very real scene for me- when the guys were accidentally fragged by their own troops when they went to relieve themselves in the dark. There has to be a better term for "friendly fire".

As for the documentary comments added- its probably a necessity for a modern audience. We live in a world where a sizable number of people think World War II was fought in the 1960's, and would be hard pressed to find Japan on a map or globe.

And regarding the racism depicted in the series....the best analysis of the subject in the Pacific theater I've ever read was FLYBOYS, by James Bradley, co-author of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and son of Iwo Jima flag raiser Jack Bradley. The racism on both sides was horrific...but the Japanese took it up several notches, particularly in how they dealt with Allied prisoners.

Bottom line...it was a great start, and I will give it a second viewing in the AM.

Ryan W said...

I really enjoyed the first episode, which did much to set it apart from Band of Brothers. Thinking back to how Band first aired in HBO, I wonder if HBO should have have aired the first two eps of the Pacific the same night as they did with Currahee and Day of Days way back in 2001. I doubt, based on Part One, that Part Two of the Pacific has the same cultural touchstone from the Band eps, but it could have helped.

Henry said...

I like the little fake out with the 1st Division hitting the beach of Guadalcanal and most viewers expecting the guys to get mowed down by machine gun fire like in the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, only to have other Marines waiting for them. On the beach.

Makes the battle later in the episode really hit with a wallop.

Henry said...

I like the theme for The Pacific too, but anyone else have the theme to Band of Brothers stuck in their heads while The Pacific's title sequence went along? I dunno why, but it happened to me. I loved the Band of Brothers theme very much (I have it on my iPod somewhere) and I guess I just miss Michael Kamen's music and seeing this miniseries reminded me so much of Band of Brothers that the theme is just embedded in my head.

themightypuck said...

I wish this was available on itunes although I get HBO knowing I'll break down for this show as I have done so many times in the past.

Anonymous said...

"One query: does anyone know why Iceland was shaded as held by the Nazis on that map behind Puller?"

I believe that's a mistake based on the Nazi occupation of Denmark, since King Christian was technically the Icelandic head of state.

Iceland itself was neutral, so Britain decided to invade in 1940 to keep it out of German hands. By the time of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was actually in control of Iceland.

oz (via wikipedia)

Craig Ranapia said...

The racism on both sides was horrific...but the Japanese took it up several notches, particularly in how they dealt with Allied prisoners.

Hugh Jee: I really really hope that 'The Pacific' isn't going to be buying into that rather specious self-justification. Judging from some of the comments I've read elsewhere, I know that it's pretty uncomfortable to look straight on at the way Allied propaganda dehumanised the Japanese -- and Germans -- as sub-human (at the same time Japanese-American citizens were being interred at home, unlike Americans of German or Italian descent); or downright torture and degradation of wounded enemy soldiers.

But we don't honour anyone by white-washing history with comfortable lies or self-deception. Plaster saints do not deserve to he honoured. Human beings -- facing the brutal reality that war is not a video game and soliders see and do things no human being should have to face -- are.

Toeknee said...

I’m sure this episode (all episodes, actually) will resonate more upon re-watching, especially after seeing all 10 episodes. That was certainly true of BoB, after you got familiear with the different characters not only from what you see on-screen but also based on what you learn from blogs like this.

I am willing to give the documentary pieces a chance, because, like others, I am woefully uninformed about the war with Japan. I know of the names Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc, but I don’t know where they are relative to each other and relative to Japan, nor do I know their chronological order, nor do I know the particular importance or meaning of each locale/battle. For example, I never really connected that as Japan’s empire spread, they eventually would have invaded Australia (although it makes perfect sense now that I think about it).

One thing that stuck out to me (in a good way) is that with the night-time scenes, they’re not artificially lighting up the scene, so it’s harder to see what’s going on, which adds to the sense of fear and chaos. Compare the Alligator Creek battle with the nighttime battle in “Crossroads” from BoB, with its relatively well-lit conditions (apparently there was a full moon and not a cloud in the sky that night?).

Now for a stupid question – as the soldiers slowly walked past the dead American soldier(s) in the jungle, how many dead soldiers were there, and could we tell exactly what happened to the dead guy(s)? Between the briefness of the shots, and the poor picture quality of my non-HD TV, I couldn’t make out much other than some blood.

Stellar Drift said...

Yet another movie(ok, series) about this war - its been more than 70 years. When is enough enough?
Yes war is hell we get it - why repeat it again and again and again? Do they think its going to prevent future wars? They can't be that naive surely.
I so wonder why people find this interesting. A fascination with death and destruction? Well some clearly love it. I don't. I don't want to see a bunch of "realistic" strangers walking around swearing and shooting others or getting shot at.
Now if only the producers would have spent 15 million pr episode about world war 3 or even 4 - THAT might have been interesting.

J-rod said...

Stellar, if you don't understand why people are interested in this story I don't know what I can say to convince you otherwise. Personally I'm interested in it because my Grandfather served in the Pacific. I know he was on Peleliu although I don't know much more than that. I believe he also fought on Tarawa.

Some are drawn to the heroism of the war. We didn't ask to be there but we stood up and did what had to be done to stop Japanese and German imperialism. Some are drawn to a fascination with the capacity of the human spirit to wage and survive war. Others are interested in history in the hope that keeping the memory alive can help us learn lessons from the past to build a better future.

I feel pretty confident in saying that interest in this and other war movies is rarely based on a fascination with death and destruction though.

My thoughts on episode 1:

• I thought it was very very good. It establishes a cultural difference between Marines and Army.

• It is important to remember that the title tells us what this is about: the war in the Pacific. It isn't Band of Brothers, but will be as good if not better in it own way.

• I didn't see BoB when it first came out but I don't know if Curahee is better than this episode as a single stand-alone series debut. As far as the story-focus on the group of men in BoB, Curahee did a great job of introducing them and what they were. As far as the story-focus on the Pacific theater in The Pacific, I don't see what could have been done better in this episode. I don't want it to spend time talking about the characters or the people back in the US (watch Ken Burns' The War for that).

JW said...

Re: the language. Marines are notorius for using the foulest of foul language. In Leckie's book published in the 50s, he recounts how profane Marines are without using any of the actual language saying it was simply not fit for print.

Doubt that would happen today.

belinda said...

I purely watched it based on the reviews, since not a fan of shows about wars in general, but I'm actually enjoying this a whole lot more than I thought. (Also, at least I'm already recognizing the faces if not the names of the characters. btw, is it just me that the actor who plays Leckie looks like Mr. Schuster from Glee?)

And I'm glad to see Jaye from Wonderfalls in it (as the sole female thus far...).

As someone who hasn't watched Band of Brothers or Generation Kill, it was enjoyable to watch, and so far the acting is good and the production looks great, but I do wonder the general war stuff (outside of their location) comes across as a little generic or formulaic to those who do watch a lot of war shows.

Matthew said...

You know what Alan? thats a lovely bit of advice. I was pretty good at getting the characters in Band, as in i knew each and every one by the end of the *series, but certainly it took at least a few eps. So I will rewatch ep 1 of Pacific this evening just to get it right. But even just reading your recap has cemented who is who.

you know what was funny? i spent half the ep trying to make out who was the kid from J.Park, simply cuz you brought it up. I may never read season previews again. Kinda had me taken a bit away from what I was watching as I was like "is that him?" (with the machine gunner) before it was obvious that murmur kid was him, but that was after we saw the other 2 main guys.

PS: how come no mention of Seda's best fren JP Morgan? is it the same guy? Do i need to wiki this myself?

Adele said...

From February 1942 until the end of that year, the Japanese raided Australia over and over again. Darwin was hit pretty hard and there were many deaths and approximately 70 aircraft destroyed. The Japanese were most definitely on the doorstep and knocking pretty darned hard.

As an Aussie I am really interested to see the depicted of my country in this series. I do have to add that a good portion of the speaking roles were well known Australian actors and I felt they did a really good job of sounding authentically American...better than Sam Worthington at least :)

While some people had a Stifler moment, I was obsessed with the actor who played Hoosier Smith (Jacob Pitts). I knew the sly line delivery from somewhere but couldn't put my finger on it... Turns out he played Cooper in EuroTrip which cracked me up. I look forward to learning more about most of these unknown actors and following what will probably be long careers.

Matthew said...

Re: Toeknee
"Now for a stupid question – as the soldiers slowly walked past the dead American soldier(s) in the jungle, how many dead soldiers were there, and could we tell exactly what happened to the dead guy(s)? Between the briefness of the shots, and the poor picture quality of my non-HD TV, I couldn’t make out much other than some blood."


Well I was watching in HD and what they did was cut off the guys cocks. There were 2 as far as I saw, but the one on the right was decapitated, and his head set down on the root of the tree between both bodies. The cut off penis was in the guys mouth. There is a name for this particular "ensemble" but i dunno what it is. Thats the body they put the sheet on.

Clearly the bossman wanted the entire company to walk past this gruesome sight to understand what they were up against. gruesome stuff

Anonymous said...

I thought Eugene and that other dude were gonna make out when he gave him that book...

Toeknee said...

Thanks Adele for that info about Australia – I’ll have to read up on that.

And thanks Matthew for the clarification. I had read that incidents like that happened in the PTO, and I wondered how far the producers would go to depict such events. I’ll look more closely when I rewatch the episode.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I was obsessed with the actor who played Hoosier Smith (Jacob Pitts). I knew the sly line delivery from somewhere but couldn't put my finger on it... Turns out he played Cooper in EuroTrip which cracked me up. I look forward to learning more about most of these unknown actors and following what will probably be long careers.

You won't have to wait long to follow Pitts. He has a supporting role on FX's "Justified," which is produced by "Pacific" writer/director/producer Graham Yost.

Stav said...

Okay first episode. However...those are some very old Marines! Geez they look to be in their mid-30's...and their parents look more like great grandparents! In real-life these are guys who are 25, 21 and 18 so why cast old men for the roles?

Alan Sepinwall said...

First of all, thanks to Feinberg, I'm now going to be calling it "The Specific" in my head.

Blame me for that one. Dan's fake name for the show is "The Atlantic."

Alan Sepinwall said...

In real-life these are guys who are 25, 21 and 18 so why cast old men for the roles?

They did the same in Band of Brothers, where Damian Lewis and most of the others were much older than the actual paratroopers were at the time. Sometimes, good acting trumps age.

And Jon Seda still has kind of a babyface.

Anonymous said...

Small nit...the opening documentary was not captioned (although the body of the episode was). I had no idea what that part was about. Let's hope Part II gets the intro captioned.

paul said...

Craig Ranapia: What are you talking about? No one has argued that anything episode 1 showed was inappropriate or that history needs to be "white-washed." It perfectly appropriate to show actions by some Marines that we find cringe-worthy 70 years after the fact, so long as it is done accurately, in context, and without preachiness. That's the same way Band of Brothers did it.

If you think that the wartime racial policies of the US and Japan were equivalent, you've got a lot of reading to do on Japanese treatment of the populations in occupied Indonesia, China, Korea, the Philippines, New Guinea, and so on, not to mention its treatment of POWs and other Westerners. James Bradley set out to equate the two combatants in the book Hugh mentioned, and even he couldn't make it work.

mernaggie12 said...

Saw Tom Hanks on Colbert Report and he said that while the marines may not b foul-mouthed around mixed company, during the war they let the expletives fly. They wanted depict this in the series.

JanieJones said...

I have to say that I did enjoy hour #1. I enjoyed it more the second time I viewed it.

I thought the Hanks' little documentary in the beginning worked well.

I look forward to next week.

Randy said...

I watched it on demand, and didnt see the Hanks Documentary people are speaking about.

JCap said...

It took a while to grab me, in the way the first episode of Band of Brothers did in about five minutes. But when it did in the scene with the Japanese soldier being shot up, tortured really, by the marines. Band of Brothers never really had a moment like this, which is not a criticism of it; Saving Private Ryan did, with the Germans surrendering being shot down by laughing Americans. This, for me, is the moment where I knew The Pacific had the courage to engage the absolute moral messiness of war. I wanted Leckie or one of his men to shoot the soldier, to end his misery. But when he did, as Alan wrote, it was without any catharsis. At that moment, I trusted the vision of the creators of the series, and to only be reinforced by that great "Happy Birthday" ditty at the end.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The docs are a separate entity (HBO even sent them on a separate DVD from the ones containing the episodes), so I'm not entirely shocked they weren't included in the On Demand version of the episodes. But I would assume they exist somewhere On Demand.

Joe Cobb said...

I found the first episode to be intense but unsatisfying... of course it's just the 1st episode, but it was way too short (only 41ish minutes by my count).

The Good: The scenes of the navy fleet withstanding bombardment in the pacific was all too real.

The Bad: Some of the acting is almost cliche. Granted it's hard to be original when you are portraying a WWII soldier... as there've been 100s of movies depicting the same... but I'm not blown away by any one acting job yet... not like I was with some of the guys in BOB.

The Forgettable: target practice with a lone Japanese survivor of a gun battle. I understand the dynamic of that scene, but it plays poorly as we've seen nothing from the enemy to gage that reaction. Sure it's implied, but it was weighted in the direction of "crazy blood thirsty US soldiers toy with lone survivor until level headed ivory tower smart guy shoots him to end it."

Will said...

@timmyhawken -
1. The guy in the foxhole was the gung-ho Captain seen on the ship in the chow hall trying to psych the men up.
2. The promotion was to Corporal, I thought. And that kind of thing happened all the time, especially in the PTO. You didn't have great communications back to an HQ, and you needed to be able to place men into positions on the fly as needed.

loosecanyn said...

Though I thought the home front scenes in this episode were a bit tedious and cliche, I like that aspect being incorporated more.

Thinking of "Band", imagine the amazing potential of showing Babe and Guarnere tearing up the town in South Philly, or Malarky and Martin in London. Or even if we got to meet Harry Welsh's sweetheart Kitty. By establishing a home front aspect to the "Pacific" series, we not only get what terror and anxiety these brave soldiers had to deal with in battle, but also what inspired them from back home. A sense of longing is apparent from Leckie as he begins writing his letters to Vera. We never truly felt the boy's longing for their families and sweethearts in Band. We do here and I believe the series will be the better for it.

Mamba's Messenger said...

Alan, I had a hard time watching the first episode and NOT comparing it to "BOB." Could you blame me? I don't want to compare them because it's not fair to "The Pacific" so I will take your advice and re-watch the first episode. But I do have one issue with the series early on. I found it difficult to jump into the scenes on Guadacanal. I think what I was missing was the camaraderie we get to see in "BOB" in the first few episodes. The training, the train ride, the anticipation of War on that air field... all of it gave us a look inside the relationships of these men and why they volunteered as a paratrooper. It got me much more invested into who lives and who dies. I just didn't have that watching the battle scenes in "The Pacific." I'm sure someone will argue that we didn't get that in "Saving Private Ryan" either and that was a great movie; and they would be right. Just an observation.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Mamba's Messenger, as the different titles suggest, the cameraderie of the men isn't nearly as important a theme to this story as it was to BoB. You'll certainly see some friendships (as we already see with Basilone and his two buddies, and to a lesser extent with the guys in Leckie's unit), but it's primarily a story about the psychological toll war takes on the three main characters.

If you're expecting lots of male bonding scenes (most of which I loved in Band), you're going to be disappointed. Different animals.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Just a comment about the comments on MY previous comment...as far as "whitewashing"- indeed, Japanese-Americans received, to say the least, the rawest of raw deals when they were denied the rights afforded all American citizens. Relatively few Germans or Italians were interred.

But to deny that racism was present in the Pacific theater would be like saying our Civil War was just about states rights.

Americans dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing tens of thousands of civilians. But was even more horrific was the allied fire bombing of Tokyo, where there was more loss of life than Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined. To secure islands like Iwo Jima and Okinawa entire Japanese garrisons were slaughtered, because of their refusal to surrender

The Japanese treatment of conquered civilians and of POW's was criminal and barbaric. I won't go into details, but I urge anyone who wants to know what went on to read Bradley's FLYBOYS, and then go on to read his latest, THE IMPERIAL CRUISE, on how the stage was set for the rise of imperial Japan- with the blessing and aid of the United States and its president....FDR's cousin, Theodore.

As for "the potty mouthed Marines"...guys get real. Anybody who's been in the military has heard that and, much, much, worse. You haven't lived until you've had a drill sergeant two inches from your face questioning your manhood and parentage, all because your razor was dirty at inspection.

I can laugh at it now... but it wasn't a lot of fun at the time.

www.hollywoodaholic said...

The DVD/BD is coming out on Father's Day in June for anyone who doesn't get HBO and is interested or is anxious to watch them more closely together. Very appropriate date considering the good-byes depicted in this episode. And, personally, that I'm watching with my teenage son, and can talk to him about my father who fought in Europe with the 2nd Army (D-Day+6), and my uncle, who was one of these marines in the Pacific. It is a legacy of sacrifice all fathers need to honor by passing these stories on.

Anonymous said...

What's the cost of the DVD? (Best Guess based upon past ones?)

I cancelled HBO a while ago since nothing seemed to keep my interest.

Hollywoodaholic said...

Price for the DVD or BD have not been announced, but going by Band of Brothers, it had a MSRP of $99 for the BD and sold retail for about $69 when it first came out, with lower price deals here and there. The release date for The Pacific is June 15. And if you have a BD player, you know the image is even better than the HD broadcast version (BoB looked amazing).

Watch The Pacific Online said...

The thing that Band of Brothers did really well was create a connection for the audience with all the characters and we really felt for them throughout each episode. I just didn't feel that same conenction at all in the first episode of The Pacific. I guess I can blame it on how rushed everything was but it's because we didnt see them grow as marines from basic training like in Band of Brothers. I guess my standards have been set to high, BoB was just an epic series.

Craig Ranapia said...

If you think that the wartime racial policies of the US and Japan were equivalent, you've got a lot of reading to do on Japanese treatment of the populations in occupied Indonesia, China, Korea, the Philippines, New Guinea, and so on, not to mention its treatment of POWs and other Westerners. James Bradley set out to equate the two combatants in the book Hugh mentioned, and even he couldn't make it work.

Paul: I know quite a bit of the subject at first hand: I have a grand aunt who was interred after the fall of Singapore. (Yes, the war in Pacific started long before Pearl Harbour.) My father served in the 28th (Maori) Batallion in North Africa and Europe, but I had many members of my family who enjoyed the hospitality of the armed forced of Japan as prisoners of war.

Their near-total silence about the experience spoke volumes, don't you think?

But an "equivalence" is precisely what I reject. I'm sorry if it's uncomfortable hearing some home truths about the less than ideal conduct of the Allies, but I don't accept "they did it first!" or "they did it worse" as an excuse for malfeasance from children. I'm certainly not going to accept it as history.

The only honour we can pay the dead is to tell the truth -- all of it.

Sru said...

What do you all make of that medic getting shot? It looked like it was friendly fire. I'll have to watch it again.

LeroyYonderboy said...

While I liked band of brothers it's not my favorite show and it's been a couple of years sine I last viewed BoB so I don't really sit and compare them the same way as most of you guys do, I instead compare it to my favorite show (the wire) and my favorite war-drama (generation kill) that i have been re-watching lately. Obviously the subject matter is quite different so many aren't comparable, the filthy language is so much filthier in generation kill but then thats probably accurate and so it goes with most things. So now to my main point, I don't really enjoy the music... it's beautiful and sort of sets the mood but I would prefer if the mood was strictly set my visual cues and the story itself. I think both the wire and GK benefited greatly from not having any music inserted in the scenes (with exception of music from sources within the scene itself and a few other exceptions), I think for instance the paranoia of walking through rain forest where you know there are enemy soldiers would be strengthened by having the only sound being the soldiers movement and the sound of the forest. It's still a minor point and overall this looks like the qualitative programming that I have come to expect from HBO and I am all in all fully satisfied with it, but I like to whine...

Anonymous said...

Please read "War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War" to get an idea of how race played a part in the atrocities that were committed by both sides during The Pacific.

SJ said...

Anyone else notice that George Pelecanos (writer on The Wire and of several great novels) was listed as one of the co-producers?

SJ said...

@Leroy

I completely agree with you on the music. I think it should be used sparingly, but Band Of Brothers also used a lot of dramatic music so I'm not surprised it's used here. Agreed on how The Wire and Generation Kill set a better mood by having just the sounds and nothing else.

timmyhawken said...

Anyone else recognize Joseph Mazzello (Eugene Sledge)as the kid from "Jurassic Park?" What I actually remember him from is "Radio Flyer" which is kind of interesting because not only did Tom Hanks narrate the film but he also play's Bobby's (Mazzello) older brother Mikey at the very end of the film. I actually thought "Radio Flyer" was a pretty good movie, but I don't it was very well received.

AaronMT said...

Any Japanese speakers able to translate what the poor defenceless japanese soldier was saying at the end?

Anonymous said...

AaronMT said...
Any Japanese speakers able to translate what the poor defenceless japanese soldier was saying at the end?

I wouldn't characterize that soldier as defenceless, I would charaterize him as miserable, strung out, broken yet defiant. If the sides were changed in that scene, the lone soldier would be the anti-hero walking into the fire because of the senselessness of the whole affair.

TinMann0715 said...

There is nary a person alive who is a bigger BoB fan than me. However, I reminded myself for the past 18 months that these are 2 very different stories. BoB was intentionally close, intimate, engaging and compassionate with the soldiers and the viewers. Also, the time and events of the ETO are well known, not as much in the PTO. The PTO was a sadistic meatgrinder for both sides. As the series continues we will come to realize that if we weren't Americans we would be disgusted by what we see. This series is about how these men coped with the brutality and depravity of their survival. You have to keep this in mind to appreciate the story. Lastly, the docu-intro: I don't like Hanks narrating, get a famous PTO vet to do it instead. Also, the exclusion of the fall of the Philipines and the resounding victory at Midway was somewhat insulting to those wo suffered and previaled, respectively.

themightypuck said...

Top notch production values but I'm not sold on the story yet. Regardless, it will still be worth watching just for PTO history.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, the exclusion of the fall of the Philipines and the resounding victory at Midway was somewhat insulting to those wo suffered and previaled, respectively.

There's only so much you can show, given that the series is told through the eyes of these three characters.

Originally, there were going to be two additional episodes folding in two more POV characters, both Naval aviators, and one of those eps was going to depict Midway. But the expense was just too high, even with computer effects, and the story started to get too diffuse, so they downshifted to the three Marines.

You're not going to see every battle of the PTO - just the ones attended by one or more of Basilone, Leckie and Sledge - but the hope is that they'll give you a sense of what many of the other battles were like.

Dave said...

There appears to be a whole new genre of war films and tv along the Private Ryan mould. I loved that film and Band of Brothers was one of those series that leaves you with a tinge of sadness.Now Pacific....just what the doctor ordered!

TinMann0715 said...

Alan, perhaps I should clarify. There was no mention of the Philipines and Midway during the docu-intro. I agree that there is no time to add everything. However, they did mention Japan's plans to isolate the entire South Pacific, Midway opened the door and allowed for the island hopping campaign to begin.

Anonymous said...

An FYI for those who have DirectTV, Part 1 is showing all week on the 101 channel.

Anonymous said...

Was the one vet in the intro also featured in the Ken Burn's documentary? He looks so familiar...

Vic C said...

I know there's not much that I can be done about this, but the Marines were WAY too clean and not rough enough. In real life, they were a ROUGH bunch. Unfortunately, that's the feminine nature of the men from Hollywood, though. Nothing we can do to replicate that with the talent we have to work with. I want some grease and blood under the fingernails! At least a zit here and there.

Also, reading 1,000's of pages on the fighting in the Pacific, I am a little worried about Hanks' liberal and personal "definition" of the "racist" issues between the Japanese and Americans. If we wanted to cover race atrocities, Episode 1 should have focused on the Rape of Nanking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanking_Massacre) where the Japanese TORTURED not only Chinese men, but Chinese women and children! Killed, stabbed, bled out, and RAPED thousands and thousands of Chinese. Horrific! But, we'll never hear about that. Unfortunately for Japanese, what comes around goes around! I get sick of Americans being "labeled" the bad guys all the time. For as sad as it was, they deserved everything they got. I mean for God's sake --- who BANZAI charges a machine gun placement??? That's not heroic, that's STUPID!

TinMann0715 said...

I finished watching it for the 2nd time. Random thoughts:

1. Yes, Sidney Phillips was in Ken Burns documentary.

2. The music and score is growing on me, just like BoB's did. And the opening is superb.

3. The Higgins boat landing was well done. Man, did I go back to Saving Private Ryan and build up my own anticipation! Well played Spielberg.

4. Just like BoB I am having a very hard time remembering the secondary characters. I knew Winters, Sobel, Nixon and Sink after BoB's first episode. I know Chesty, Leckie, Ledge and Phillips.

5. Wikipedia's page has a picture of the aftermath of Alligator Creek. The show got it right with the dead bodies strewn.

6. A lot of gripe over their appearance. By the end of the episode they all look ragged and disheveled. Even one of the reinforcements commented on their appearance.

Sister T said...

I just watched it a second time too.

I too enjoyed watching the beach landing. I especially loved when Leckie climbed down the ropes into the landing boat. I've read his memoir, and I could be mis-remembering the book, but I feel like I'd visualized that scene before in my head and the camera work and acting did an excellent job of realizing that moment for me.

Other things I loved: the oranges and the marines' perspective while watching the naval battle.

I watched with a friend who hadn't read Leckie's memoir and didn't know the specifics of Guadalcanal history. I thought the episode moved too fast. She thought it was just perfect. She did get thrown off by the time jump from January 1942 to August 1943. And at the end of the episode she assumed the battle for Guadalcanal was over and won. So I'd say the episode failed to communicate a clear or smooth sense of time passing and also a sense that the battle at Alligator Creek was a piece in the larger effort to defend and extend control of the airfield/island. I have a hunch that watching this episode back-to-back with next week's would fix the rushed feeling I had and time lapse issues my friend experienced.

Re: Midway. I'd love to see a TV movie about Midway. There was a 1970s movie about Midway with an A-list cast and I assume The Winds of War miniseries also portrayed the battle. But Midway is fascinating and I've love to see a 21st century special-effect assisted version, especially since Bruce McKenna just has a finished script lying around......

I'm very excited for the next episode!

Sister T said...

Correction to the above, I should have written War and Remembrance instead of the Winds of War. Herman Wouk wrote about Midway in War and Remembrance.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who wants a detailed take on the racism and "otherness" involved in the Pacific War, read "War Without Mercy" by John Dower, who won the Pulitzer. It would be difficult to overstate the race hatred on both sides, who compared each other to various forms of vermin at every opportunity. A truly realistic portrayal would be borderline unwatchable, even on HBO.

As for the show itself, am I the only one who would have preferred a sea-based, rather than land-based, take on the Pacific War? The nature of the island fighting was different and more grueling and extreme than the European theater, yes. But the thing that was truly different about the Pacific war was the naval action, the first and last campaign on such a vast canvas. At the end, Leckie, et al's experience isn't hugely different than Dick Winters', etc. But the war on a destroyer or carrier or PT boat against the Japanese, and the amazing opportunities open to the filmmakers, would have made a more fascinating series, imho.
RW

Alan Sepinwall said...

A Naval-based series might also have been prohibitively expensive. (Again, see my comment above about how they had to dump the Naval aviator characters and the Midway episode because of the cost.) Every scene on land is shot practically (i.e., no computer effects), but whenever you see water and boats, the CGI starts to come into play.

Rebecca Jill said...

For someone looking for a naval perspective, Herman Wouk's mini-series War and Remembrance does a very good job portraying a handful of naval battles in the Pacific and from different ship perspectives -- submarine, battleship, naval air, etc.

So glad DirectTV is re-airing this on 101, since I don't have HBO. This series is a review from my U.S. Military History class in college, where we island-hopped across the Pacific in that class. My professor got way more into the Pacific Theater than the European Theater, but I don't remember specifics.

Also, not surprised by the foul-mouthed language as these are Marines.

This series already makes me more on edge as the soldiers were traipsing across the island, not knowing where the Japanese were hiding out amongst the jungle. I like that aspect of it so far. Also, the landing on the beach surprised me, though I feel like it should not have.

Already know I have to watch the episodes more than once to get a feel for who everyone is/in relation to what's going on, etc. as I had to do with Band of Brothers.

Julia Mathias said...

I think it's interesting that you thought the island looked alien cause I didn't get that at all. Maybe because I'm from Rio, and everytime I see palm trees it feels like home.

As for the episode, for me it's really hard not to compare it to BoB, since I finished watching it three days ago, so I have to say that I'm not as hooked as I was at the end of "Curahee", but I try to remind myself that the love I have for BoB comes largely from the series as a whole, and that I can't compare a first episode to that.