Television Review: “The Pacific: Part One”

3/23/2010 Posted by Admin

Television Review

“The Pacific: Part One”

By our guest blogger, Tim Strain

Time recently ran a cover story on HBO’s newest miniseries, “The Pacific.” For one, they need to, financially speaking. The article reports the production has a $250 million price tag. The article’s focus was on executive producer Tom Hanks’s desire to tell a history lesson. The most effective way to pass history down to our children, he says, is to tell personal accounts during tumultuous times.

This, then, explains the formula that appears to be behind the new epic. Hanks and co-executive producer Steven Spielberg are gunning for the same audience that turned their “Band of Brothers” into one of the great successes, creatively and financially, in television history. The creative forces at be seem content with showcasing the same aww-shucks, pure of heart sentimentality of pre-war America that was prevalent in “BOB” in “Part One.” This is invariably disrupted in harsh dichotomy when the boys in blue head into battle and quickly discover that war is hell.

If this sounds like hyperbole, it is because the script falls prey to hyperbole. In the first half, the writing paints some broad, broad strokes. It introduces the viewer to the series’ three main characters whose stories will unfold over the ten-episode series. Sergeant Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) enlists in the Marine Corps as a machine gunner, Sergeant John Basilone (Jon Seda) prepares to ship out to the Pacific, and Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), unable to enlist because of a heart murmur, says farewell to his best friend, who is about to leave for boot camp.

Bruce C. McKenna, who is co-executive producing as he did on “BOB,” wrote “Part One” as well as several other episodes in “The Pacific.” If the first episode is any indication of the overall series, the viewer is in for heavy-handed metaphors and imagery throughout. In order to emphasize how pure of heart these soldiers were before shipping off to battle, the opening shot of the series is Philips lighting a candle in a sanctuary, freshly shaved and in his crisply ironed uniform. Sledge and Basilone eat dinner with Basilone’s family, a fun occasion turned awkward when his brother tells the boys to “just come back home.” The scene should inspire tears, but got nothing but chuckles from this far-from-cynical writer.

Here the focus of the episode shifts from Sledge and Basilone to Leckie, and it takes off. Leckie is a part of the 1st Marines, whose mission it is to take the island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese in order to stop the empire from taking over the entire Pacific Theater. The apparent theme of the series--that the Pacific front of the war was a series of battles based on a deceptive enemy that forced the Americans to adapt to their enemies’ style of fighting--begins to poke its head around the corner.

The viewer is plunged into battle along with Leckie and Co. There is no basic training montage to ease our way into the atmosphere of war or the look of battle. The cinematography is comprised of mostly hand-held shots that heighten then sense of realism. The scenery is vivid, mostly greens and blues, in stark contrast with the look of “BOB.” There is a sense of immediacy once the Marines land on Guadalcanal that was not there in the scenes leading up to it. The company is woefully under informed about their mission, pumped with military propaganda that likens the Japanese military to a bug that needs to be squished by the boot of Uncle Sam. The men aren’t even sure of the name of their destination--Guadawhat? Somethingcanal? Once they reach the mainland after a head-scratching first encounter with another company of Marines, a feeling of apprehension and paranoia is felt but never explicitly spoken about. The enemy is nowhere to be found, but everyone knows that they are not so far away that they can breathe easily.

And when the Japanese make their appearance, they come out of nowhere. The battle scenes are remarkable--terrifically paced, well-staged, and totally immersive thanks to the sound work. The Marines learn all too quickly what they are up against, but the viewer only gets a sneak peak. The episode ends with a lot of promise for the remaining nine hours of the series, one that will hopefully rely on the intensity orchestrated so beautifully in “Part One’s” second half instead of the corniness of its first half.

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