Thursday, November 4, 2010
This past winter we changed our cable company and took advantage of a promotional package that boasts the best rates... of course, those rates only apply for a year. After that they show up at your front door and demand your firstborn. I've seen it a hundred times.... Anyway, along with this promotional package came a complimentary subscription to HBO. This was about the same time they were just starting to promote The Pacific - their epic follow up to Band of Brothers. Tears were streaming down my face just watching the promos.
As was mentioned in my first post in this series, BoB follows a company of soldiers through the war in Europe against Nazi Germany. The Pacific, however, follows three Marines through the entire war in the Pacific (hence the clever title) fighting the relentless Japanese soldier.
I want to be very clear about something. I've already stated my views on what war movies should embody. The simple fact of the matter is that Band of Brothers and The Pacific set the standard. Period. The Pacific went immediately to my top three as I made my way through each episode earlier this year. Like it's predecessor, The Pacific went to painstaking details to recreate each conflict and character vignette. Again, the characters on screen represent real people - names have not been changed. And once again, Hanks and Spielberg collaborated to bring unbelievably life-like production. It really feels like you're watching each battle as it's happening.
The Pacific, by its very nature, however, faced some challenges right off the bat that make it hard to live up to its big (band of) brother(s). First of all, the timing of the production created a challenge in finding surviving veterans to provide the setup for each episode. As was mentioned, that was such a rich part of the experience in BoB. It wasn't altogether missing, here, but lacked the overall participation from some of the leading characters - most of whom had passed away years before the film was made.
Second of all was the scope of the story. The U.S. involvement in the Pacific war lasted from 1942 to 1945. And within that timeframe, there were a number of campaigns launched, and even more battles fought on numerous islands. It was a big war in and of itself.... huge.
The final challenge for this movie was the lack of an existing cohesive story. What made Band of Brothers so great was that the story was packaged and ready to go. Steven Ambrose had already written the book about Easy Company in the 501st Airborne. From their training days to the end of the war, which was only a little over a year, their story was ideal to tell in miniseries format. The Pacific, however, was missing that. Instead of having one literary piece to inspire the movie, they drew from a few memoires written by Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, two of the main characters; and then well documented historical data on the well-known war hero John Basilone. And because of that, the story is a bit fragmented and the characters are harder to connect with.
What The Pacific did for me, however, was reveal in a very vivid manner the horrific nature of war. There's nothing glamorous about it. What these men and women endured in their service to our country literally - at the risk of sounding very serious - broke my heart. Fighting a relentless enemy who would not surrender; fighting in extreme heat, constant rain, and mud that was knee-deep; fighting off malaria; being under-supplied and cut off; seeing women and children used as weapons against them. The atrocities that were depicted in The Pacific were absolutely appalling - many of them things I had not seen or heard of before. And you watched how these dehumanizing conditions began to affect each one of them.
These three movies - Band of Brothers, Black Hawk Down, and The Pacific - remind us that war is absolute hell. They tell the stories of brave men and women who fought for our country out of a sense of patriotic duty. These men didn't step up seeking a fight or wanting to kill. They answered a call in a time of need. Each time I watch one of these movies, I ask myself, "Could I do that?" And I'm not so sure I could. You may be against war. I don't like it, either. Regardless, the bravery and the sacrifice of these soldiers is something I deeply, deeply respect. And I'm thankful we have these movies to tell their stories.
I've said what I needed to say.