The Humanity of HBO’s Pacific

Everyone knew that HBO’s new 10-part miniseries The Pacific was going to have big shoes to fill in the wake of Band of Brothers, but after viewing the first two episodes, there is no doubt that The Pacific will continue to carry proudly the flag for this new amazing era in war cinema.

The Emmy award-winning team of directors of Hanks, Spielberg and Goetzman has clearly learned some lessons from their experience with Band of Brothers. There are no widely recognized actors here to distract the viewer from the intensely personal experience of going to war; and while the series may chronicle the stories of three young Marines (Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), Eugene B. Sledge (Joe Mazzello) and John Basilone (Jon Seda)), we are not overly inclined to get caught up in their individual personalities. Rather, we are immediately absorbed into the struggle of a nation at war through the collective lives of the Marines. Of course, as the series progresses we will indeed become attached to Bob, Eugene and John, but if the first two episodes are any indication, the overarching complexity of the inhumane nature of war will surely remain present.

The use of dramatic archival footage and vintage maps of the Japanese expansion throughout the Pacific rouses a strikingly nostalgic feel during the prelude of each episode . The charcoal drawings, reminiscent of Ken Riley’s skillful renditions of American soldiers in the Pacific come to life as if reaching right out of 1942. (If you are not yet familiar with Ken Riley’s drawings, stay tuned for an up-coming blog on his work that has been featured in Ken Wiley’s D-Days in the Pacific.) Not only does such an effect carry us right into 1942, it more importantly prohibits us from being detached viewers. We feel the apprehension and anxiety of the soldiers and their families along with the disquiet of the entire nation. In my view this is where the talent of The Pacific’s directors shines through—they have done an exceptional job at balancing our desire to become involved in the lives of the soldiers and acknowledging that we too are part of the greater whole, heightening our understanding of both the individual citizen’s sincere desire to defend one’s country and the nation’s desire to preserve and disseminate democracy while protecting its borders and those of her allies.

The horrific scenes of carnage that take place in Guadalcanal are not there simply for dramatic Hollywood effect. Alongside these new green soldiers, we feel the rage of conflicting emotions when confronted with the enemy. The directors have clearly succeeded at situating us not in a position to judge the actions of the Marines faced with the lone Japanese soldier stunned and paralyzed with the incompatible emotions of conceit and fear. Like the Marines, we are flooded with American pride, anger towards the menace that this lone Japanese soldier represents of his country, and the profound sadness and emptiness in the face of such inhumanity. As the first episode comes to a close, it is fitting that that the unit sings happy birthday to one of their brothers-in-arms—along with these young men, we have all undergone a symbolic rebirth.

I recently read a highly critical review of the series which characterized Tom Hanks and the others as Hollywood anti-war types who have used the series as a vehicle to express their ultra-liberal views. While their politics may lean to the left, the idea that Hanks, Spielberg and Goetzman have used these heroic men to tout their own agendas is far from the truth. In today’s politicized environment one may be driven to regard The Pacific in a certain light, but this would clearly be a disservice to our Veterans who went to war.

This award-winning team has clearly achieved what Nancy Dewolf calls in her Wall Street Journal review of the Pacific the “perfect trinity of action, emotion and intellect.” If you have not yet had the chance to see The Pacific  make sure to watch it and the following eight episodes on HBO, Sunday nights at 9PM EST. And don’t forget to share your comments with us here on the blog!

6 thoughts on “The Humanity of HBO’s Pacific

  1. What an amazing series. Have watched several episodes more than once.

    The charcoal drawings in the beginning just take my breath away.
    Do you know if copies can be purchased. If so, where would you find them?

  2. I too have been searching around for his drawings, to no avail unfortunately. I have looked in the credits to see if any names have been referenced and there aren’t any. Like I promised in my blog, I will be posting a blog about Ken Riley’s drawings, so if I find anything out during my research I will certainly keep everyone posted. And if anyone has any leads, please let us know.

  3. I’m not very good at research online, but see if this site helps.

    I believe Steve Fuller made the opening title screen for The Pacific.

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