The Pacific: Blu-ray Review

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Title: The Pacific
Genre: War/Action/Drama
Starring: James Badge Dale,
Joseph Mazzello,
Jon Seda
Certificate: US: Not Rated
UK: 15
Picture: 1080p
(1.78:1)
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English,
Danish,
Dutch,
Finnish,
French,
Czech
Runtime: 10 Episodes,
8 Hours 54 mins
Extras: Making Of,
Historical Introductions,
Featurettes,
Enhanced Viewing modes, & more.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Release Date: USA: November 2 2010
UK: November 1 2010
See If You Like: Band of Brothers,
Saving Private Ryan

Back in 1998, Steven Speilberg (Back to the Future), and Tom Hanks (Toy Story), produced the seminal war film, Saving Private Ryan; which differed from many earlier war movies in that its telling of World War II was ultra-gritty, and hyper-realistic, yet strayed away from the tradition of conveying a heavy anti-war sentiment, and instead focussed on the humble human tales the war produced, and a strong sense of duty and patriotism; something they later replicated with the epic, 10-part, HBO Miniseries, Band of Brothers, and which they again hoped to replicate with their second, 10-part, HBO Miniseries, The Pacific.

While Saving Private Ryan focussed on a group of soldiers involved in the Normandy landings on D-Day, and their subsequent mission into occupied France, and Band of Brothers traced the journey of the men of Easy Company (part of the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion) across Europe, during the war, The Pacific chooses to once again shift its focus to another branch of the armed forces; specifically the Marines; and follows the exploits of three individual Marines, as they engage the Japanese army in the Pacific War.

Those Marines are the still famous John Basilone (Jon Seda, Twelve Monkeys), the intellectual Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale, The Departed), and the young Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park); all of whom faced the Japanese on multiple occasions, and experienced the full horrors of battle first hand, on numerous occasions.

By following the three Marines (who served during slightly different time periods, and sometimes experienced different battles than one another), we get to see what the war was like from three separate perspectives; as John Basilone was recognized as a hero for his service at Guadalcanal, and used as a political tool to sell war bonds afterwards, Robert Leckie was involved from the beginning (and served with Basilone at Guadalcanal),  saw many battles, a bit of downtime in Australia, and had to cope with some of the most fierce jungle conditions in the entire war, and Eugene Sledge joined mid-war (due to a medical condition), but experienced some of the most severe fighting in the history of the Marine Corps, and had little chance for rest; and experience the war as fully as is possible within a ten-part miniseries.

Watching The Pacific is as close as anyone can come to experiencing what the Marine’s actually went through during their time in the Pacific theatre; as the stories are real, the people are real (and also perfectly rounded due to the fact that they aren’t shown as perfect, and are portrayed by actors who literally become their living counterparts), and the emotions are real; and it’s the emotional connection that drives a series such as The Pacific, and makes you care for the Marine’s begin shown, and want them to make it through alive.

Anybody can look up which of the men made it out alive, or find out who fell during one of The Pacific’s many battles (the fact that the series is based on memoirs from one or two of the leading characters suggests that someone’s going to be okay), but for anyone who doesn’t know, it can be really shocking, and quite unnerving, to see a character who you have grown to respect, admire, and care for, get cut down on the field of battle, and even more affecting due to the fact that it’s all true, but The Pacific shows just how easily a man could be killed in the war, and that it didn’t matter how proficient the Marine’s were, they could fall victim to a Japanese bullet, or grenade, just as easily as any new recruit.

The Japanese Army isn’t actually seen in that much detail; largely due to the fact that the series is presented from an American point of view; but it’s clear when watching just how relentless the Japanese could be, how they refused to surrender, and the lengths at which they would go to inflict casualties (including sacrificing themselves, to injure one or two Americans, when they had clearly lost the battle some time ago); making it just as easy to see why the Americans were so scared of them, and how they could be pushed to committing some truly horrific acts against their Asian enemy.

While many history books would have you believe that no American soldier ever struggled to cope in the jungle, or intentionally harmed an enemy combatant when it was unnecessary, The Pacific clearly shows that there were atrocities committed on both sides; and makes no effort to hide the fact that American’s toyed with dying Japanese soldiers, and kept them alive just to inflict more pain, tortured prisoners, killed those that could have been saved, and desecrated any number of corpses for both profit, and amusement; but does a great job of helping the viewers understand how the awful conditions, and constant stress, could push ordinary men, to act in such cruel and unusual ways.

The efforts of the Marines at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, are all shown, as are smaller, or less well known engagements; such as those at Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu; and while they may not have been depicted in quite as much detail as some people would have liked, the depictions are even more brutal, just as graphic, and just as photo-realistic as the engagements seen in both Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers; often seeming as if they are being conducted on a much grander scale, yet failing to lose their poignancy, relevance, and heart.

The Pacific isn’t Band of Brothers, and it isn’t Saving Private Ryan; it depicts a very different theatre of war, fought at the same time as the one in Europe, but one that contained starkly different experiences for those involved; it’s jungle-rot, malaria, and constant showers of rain and bullets that make it look like a Vietnam movie, but truly showcases the hardships that the Marines went through, and accurately presents them as realistic characters that have very human flaws, and all struggle to cope, as their inner demons, and fears, begin to take hold; making viewers care about them, and understand not only how they came to commit some terrible acts, but how they rose through adversity to become heroes, and why they are fully deserving of remembrance.

Unlike Band of Brothers, there are many more emotional connections made during The Pacific, and actually quite a bit of air-time dedicated to viewing non-battle related events; as three or four episodes are used to present a view of the downtime in Australia, the terrible jungle conditions (where consistent rain, a lack of decent food or water, and the presence of rats, could easily lead to numerous illnesses), what it was like inside a psychiatric evaluation center, and how the men attempted to cope when they returned home after the war; and while that had the potential to stall the series’ momentum, the episodes worked well by fully exploring the characters personalities, and providing some much needed depth, as well as making it easier for female viewers to relate to.

Brilliant is a word that perfectly sums up The Pacific; as not only is it a masterclass in modern television making, that includes flawless production design, excellent storytelling, and some real heart (even though it’s difficult to remember many of the characters by name); it’s thoroughly absorbing, utterly realistic, easier for women to get along with than Band of Brothers, and although possibly not as easy to revisit as Band of Brothers, is a historically accurate, totally breathtaking, piece of storytelling that is a true piece of must see TV.

Picture:

The first thing that will strike anyone watching The Pacific on Blu-ray is the level of fine detail; the sheer scale of which is amazing, has to be seen to be believed, and is basically unbeatable; as every speck of dirt, dust, and grime, is infinitely visible, and presented with such clarity that it’s hard to ignore, easy to admire, and constantly breathtaking.

Textures are superb, fleshtones are natural and lifelike, and every colour from the dominant and commanding greens that make up the majority of the jungle landscape, to the dark red sprays of blood that populate so many scenes, is excellently represented, and faithfully reproduced, as are the deep and inky blacks, which are themselves complimented by superb delineation that only adds to the impressive level of detail.

Delineation does however take a slight knock in some of the more lowly lit scenes; meaning that there’s a slight dip in the level of detail, and a slightly flatter feeling to some of the night time shots that take place in the U.S. (as the apparent lack of depth, and dimmed detail, actually serve to heighten the visual impairment, and the fear, felt during the battle scenes); but is a very small drop, and one that is easy to ignore.

All evidence of digital manipulation and print errors are also absent; meaning that there’s is no noise reduction, no edge enhancement, no ringing, and no aliasing to be found; making for an even more impressive transfer that is extremely difficult to fault, and thoroughly plunges the viewer into the brutal and gritty reality of the war in The Pacific; just as the producers intended to do.

Audio:

With visuals as impressive as these, The Pacific really demanded an excellent soundtrack; something that the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix undoubtedly provides, as it’s so impressive, encompassing, and clear, it even manages to dwarf the visuals, in terms of scale, precision, and in the all important wow-factor.

It’s impossible to explain just how good The Pacific sounds, without actually letting you listen to how well placed, precise, and perfectly clear every little nuance is, how aggressive the battle scenes sound; thanks to the LFE’s immense rumbles (which are so thunderous, so commanding, and so convincingly real, that they make it feel as if any number of bombs are being detonated right in your living room), superb directionality, and an huge amount of pans that are simply the best pans ever heard on a Blu-ray mix; and just how well the rear channels are used; seen as how they are every bit as active as the front channels, and burst with not only bullets, screams, explosions, and the thud of men hitting the dirt, but remain just as thoroughly used during the quieter scenes, and the scenes away from the heat of battle (in hospitals, the U.S. or Australia), and help to create a thoroughly enveloping soundscape that sounds every bit as convincing as real life.

While the new score may not be quite as easily recognizable, or memorable, as Michael Kamen’s Band of Brothers score was, it’s used to good effect, and effectively plays through every available channel, and like the rest of the mix, and the pitch-perfect dialogue, remains perfectly prioritized; as every word, spoken or screamed on the battlefield, can be heard exactly how it was meant to heard, appropriately finding its place within the chaos of battle, and the only times a sentence or syllable becomes lost, is when it’s loss is wholly appropriate, and fully intentional.

There’s really not enough good that can be said about this mix, as it creates a soundfield that’s so real, so lifelike, and so enveloping, that it not only sounds completely convincing, fully engrosses the listener, and will still be astounding them at the close of the series, but totally adds to the experience, drawing the listener further into the world of the Marine in the Pacific, and helping to provide an even deeper understanding of the experience, and isn’t just reference quality (which is most assuredly is; and means it will undoubtedly become most people’s ‘go-to’ disc of choice for displaying their system at its best); the DTS-HD Master Audio mix awarded to The Pacific, is audio perfection.

Extras:

Opening with a series of optional, short, historical introductions to each episode (which provide some background to each of the ten episodes) The Pacific’s special features don’t sound to extensive when listed, but contain a wealth of information that should more than satisfy its fans, and anyone even slightly interested in the history of World War II.

There’s the usual making of featurette; which despite containing interviews from all the major cast and crew (including producers Tom Hanks and Steven Speilberg), discussing the war, the production, the characters, recreating the battles, and the boot camp the actors attended, seems just a little too short; and a short feature titled Anatomy of the War; which provides an interesting discussion of the background to why the Japanese wished to expanded their empire, and how propaganda was used by both sides; as well as profiles of six of the Marines depicted; consisting of accounts of their deeds and personalities, told by themselves, or their families.

But the main features on the Blu-ray release of The Pacific, are the different picture-in-picture modes, that begin with Enhanced Viewing; a track that’s littered with interviews from war veterans and their family members, discussions from historians, first hand accounts of the events, and a number of small bios and photographs, as well as a large amount of interesting factoids, that all pop up at appropriate times, or can be easily skipped to; and ending with the Field Guide; a track that includes plenty of animated maps,  a wealth of historical information, more interviews with veterans and historians, and some servings of actual archive footage, that all make for an interesting look; providing an extra reason to re-watch the episodes, and adding to the understanding of the war.

So while it may not appear as if The Pacific has the greatest amount of bonus materials upon first glance, it soon becomes clear that not only is everything that has been included an extremely worthy inclusion, but that there’s so much information available, and easily accessible, that anyone with an interest in the series, or the war, no matter how great or small, will take something positive from these well made extras. It’s a shame that the making of featurette wasn’t slightly more in-depth, and a little longer, but overall, it’s difficult to think of a release with a more appropriate, and easy to watch, selection of special features.

The Bottom Line:

It’s safe to say that The Pacific will not be as easy for most viewers to revisit as Band of Brothers; because despite being produced by the same people, having the same impeccable production values, and being a fine example of truly must see TV, The Pacific depicts a war that was totally different, and in many ways much more fierce, than the one fought in Europe (as seen in Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan); but there’s no denying that it’s truly gripping, and that The Pacific is still television at its best.

Blu-ray is also the only the way to go with this series; as the release houses nearly flawless video, perfect audio, and an excellent selection of extras, that make it not only the most engrossing experience possible; bringing the viewer further into the war, taking them as close as it is possible to get without actually being there, and giving the anyone who wasn’t there the best possible understanding of what the Marines actually went through.

The Pacific is an exceptionally well made series that’s filled with great performances, supremely accurate battle recreations, and a good deal of heart, that makes it an emotional, gritty, and thoroughly raw experience that should be seen by everyone; and as the quality of the Blu-ray release is so high, it’s guaranteed to be the demo-disc of choice for almost all high-definition enthusiasts, and is the definitive Blu-ray must own.

Matt Wheeldon@TheMattWheeldon.

Film:
Ratings 09 Buy from Amazon.co.uk Buy from Amazon.com
Video:
Ratings 09
Audio:
Ratings 10
Extras:
Ratings 08
Overall:
Ratings 09




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Matt Wheeldon is the Founder, and Editor in Chief of Good Film Guide. He still refers to the cinema as “the pictures”, and has what some would describe as a misguided appreciation for Waterworld.