As Christmas approaches it’s common to see swathes of DVD box sets filling up the shelves of shops around the country. Inevitably, many of these are the usual festive cash-ins, such as the obligatory Jeremy Clarkson and stand up comedy DVDs, or re-releases of TV shows and classic films. One such release (and a safe bet as a gift for Dads) is HBO’s combination set of Band of Brothers and The Pacific, released together for the first time in one deluxe edition box set.
While Band Of Brothers remains an undisputed TV classic – and rightly so – The Pacific has failed to click quite so well with many viewers. Critically the series has been unanimously well received, gaining its place on many ‘best of the year’ lists and receiving a handful of Emmy awards including best Mini-Series. Despite the glowing reviews, the response was a little more muted from the public – a glance at the mixed reviews on Amazon or IMDB highlight this fact.
Many enjoyed the show, but others unfairly held it in high comparison to Band of Brothers, refusing to acknowledge the show for its own achievements. In a similar way to how telling someone you like ‘The Shield’ is all too often greeted with a dull response of “It’s not as good as The Wire”, telling someone you loved The Pacific is pretty much guaranteed a reply along the lines of “It’s alright, but it’s no Band of Brothers.”
When I first watched the show on Sky Atlantic, my opinion of the series actually echoed these sentiments. The early episodes often move slowly, with what occasionally feels like a lack of focus on which characters it’s trying to establish. In actuality, like the very best HBO dramas, The Pacific, despite its frequent bouts of intense action, is more concerned with slowly building its characters and storylines like a novel – with everything coming together at the end to a satisfyingly rounded conclusion.
It’s a deeper and more profound show that its older brother, which deals as much with the lasting effect of war on its victims as much as it does the conflict itself. The Pacific is also notable for dealing with a side of WWII of which we’re not quite as accustomed to seeing as the European conflicts of Band of Brothers. This makes the series stand out as something more unique in its tone and educational content, while Band of Brothers often felt similar to producer Steven Spielberg’s own Saving Private Ryan.
Oddly, a criticism often labeled towards The Pacific is that it’s confusingly plotted and is often lacking in focus or a sense of cohesion. This seems strange to me. While Band Of Brothers dealt with a huge array of characters, and often lost its grip on their individual storylines, The Pacific aims its sights specifically at three characters, whose experiences showcase the war in different ways.
This allows the show to give us three distinctive pictures of warfare – from the surrealistic experiences of the poet Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) , the patriotic heroism of John Basilone (Jon Seda) and the loss of innocence for the young Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello). The three actors are outstanding in their roles (particularly Mazello, who has come a long way from his childhood role in Jurassic Park) while the narrative which satisfyingly weaves the lives of the three characters through its ten hour span is nothing short than epic.
The Pacific’s final episode is a devastating exploration of the lives of soldiers after the war, many of which were often forever haunted by their experiences. It’s this kind of depth and focus on an often glossed over aspect of warfare which makes the series such an impressive piece of work, with this final episode in particular managing to linger in the mind for long afterwards.
The Pacific is also notable for its depiction of war in all of its horror, complete with the xenophobic and racist attitudes of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. American soldiers aren’t depicted as pure clean-cut heroes and can be seen prying gold teeth out the mouths of dying Japanese soldiers, executing unarmed prisoners or even subjecting them to arduous deaths at the end of a flamethrower.
Elsewhere, the conditions of fighting in swampy areas like those of Peleliu and Guadalcanal are shown to be a enemy in themselves, often crippling soldiers and even driving them to suicide. The 9th episode, which focuses on the bloody battle of Okinawa – in which civilians are caught within the conflict – is about as harrowing and as moving an episode of TV you’ll ever see.
In all honesty, comparisons between the pair are futile, as both series are masterpieces which deserve to be cherished as two of the best explorations of World War II ever made. For all those who found The Pacific a disappointment or let down when compared to Band of Brothers, I urge you to go back and watch it again. It’s a deeper more reflective series, which benefits from multiple viewings to truly appreciate its merits.
Hopefully as the initial hype settles down The Pacific will come to be appreciated as an equally stunning work and a fine example of how TV can be just as cinematic – if not more so – than cinema itself. If you’ve not seen it yet, watch it with an open-mind and no preconceptions. It‘s not supposed to be Band of Brothers again, what would be the point ?