The Pacific: The End

Back in April, I put up a piece discussing the first two episodes of the Stephen Spielberg/Tom Hanks World War II co-production The Pacific. As I noted in that blog, I was a huge fan of Band of Brothers, and had been eagerly anticipating this series ever since I had first heard of plans for it. To be frank, it was a disappointment. I’ve had the last episode ready to watch for about a month, and only just did so, and that in itself is a reflection of a lukewarm response to the show. In short, it failed to engage you as successfully as Band of Brothers did. It’s difficult to make direct comparisons, given the different nature of the shows, but they are inevitable, and can’t be ignored when writing or even thinking about The Pacific. The Pacific concentrated on a much smaller numbers of individuals, and had much more on the home front, including a final episode about the return of the Marines to the US. It told the three invididuals’ stories more strongly, especially that of John Basilone, but the consequence was that the surrounding characters were much less developed. I think that was a large part of the problem. Band of Brothers had a large range of engaging characters and an ensemble of brilliant actors. The Pacific simply paled in comparison.

The Pacific was tremendous at showing the horrors of the war in the Pacific, and the sufferings of the troops involved there (as usual with this sort of thing, not a great deal of how the civilians were affected). Whether it was the horror and brutality of combat, the food and water shortages, or the humiliating and debilitating diseases the Marines were afflicted by, it gave a much rounder picture of the soldier’s experience than did Band of Brothers, which was pretty much the soldier-as-uncomplicated-hero. But, with the smaller number of characters properly sketched and the amount of space devoted to time away from the war, it didn’t have the same impact as the combat scenes in Band of Brothers, being to an extent more about the spectacle than the effects. That was a key, and disappointing, difference. I think the film-makers made a mistake there. The home front stuff was interesting, and well done; but again, being focused largely on Basilone, detrimental to the impact of the show. I can understand that it was important to show the experiences of the Marines in Australia and the like (not least with Australia because it was obviously so important to the men themselves), but you don’t really watch a programme about World War II for the love stories. That may well be my problem, rather than the producers’, but it slowed everything down, and added not a lot.

At least until the final episode, which I thought sent the series out on a high, dealing with the different experiences of the veterans, and their different attitudes. The return to work, the search for women, the attempt to understand survival, and to fit back in to the community and civilian life. These are common themes I suppose of people returning from war, but they were handled effectively, especially Sledge’s experiences at the Polytechnic when he explained to the young lady behind the desk what the Marine Corps had trained him to do, and then his relationship with his parents.

Maybe part of my different reaction is due to the smaller number of veterans interviewed, inevitable after another decade had taken its toll. But watching the documentary at the end of Band of Brothers I think did re-cast the experience of the previous episodes and give them an added depth, that the lack of a similar one for The Pacific failed to do. This could of course be Sky’s fault for not showing it if it exists. One quick point about some of the spin coming from Hanks and co, that I alluded to before, which was the point about the programme reflecting a racial element to the struggle. I still felt this was dealt with in a tokenistic manner, and there is of course the question of whether thinking that the word “japs” is automatically more racist than “krauts” during wartime. This is not to deny that there was a large racial element in the conduct of the war, just to say that didn’t come out as strongly as expected from the hype. Despite the strong finish, it’s hard not to agree with Bakunin’s comment on the previous thread where he said:

I’m six episodes in and I think it is nowhere near as good as BoB. The acting, stories, and writing are not as sharp nor interesting. I think The Pacific drops off the longer it goes on.

Which is a shame. None of us can deny the importance of the sacrifice of those who fought against fascism in whatever theatre and in whatever way, and that it is a good thing to see their experiences recorded in this way. It’s just unfortunate to come away feeling that it could have been done better given what we had seen this team do before with Band of Brothers. I felt there were more interesting stories lurking there that failed to come out because of the decision of the producers to concentrate on a much smaller number of men.

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5 Responses to “The Pacific: The End”

  1. joe Says:

    Thanks for your take. I am a Marine and feel a little cheated by “The Pacific”. I feel like they short changed the Marine Corps. I agree it did a great job of showing the brutality of personal combat and I certainly can sympathize with how they felt when they came home, it is at least very surreal when your not in a combat zone anymore and everyone around you is “normal”. I thought the series at the end did a good job of showing this.
    I would be interested to hear some of the BoB vets take on the Marines in the Pacific. They fought an enemy that would surrender when they knew it was hopeless not so with the Japanese.
    I agree that they could have done a much better job with “The Pacific”. I wish they would have.

  2. Garibaldy Says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for your comment. Very interesting to hear that you feel they shortchanged the Marine Corps. Agree with you about the end of the show. I’d love to hear the Band of Brother vets too, but I haven’t seen anything from them. Agree with you this was a bit of a missed opportunity.

  3. Bakunin Says:

    Garibaldy —

    I was wondering if you had finished the series. I agree with your take on the Pacific — flashes of brilliance, but disappointing in many respects.

    I wonder if Spielberg and Hanks just forced the project in ways that they didn’t with BoB. While the struggle in the Pacific is as important and interesting as that seen in Europe, their story seemed superficial and forced. I think the problem was more fundamental than a too narrow range of characters. For example, I’m not sure I connected at all with Sledge — I followed the change in him and understood it, but it was written in such a way that I didn’t really care about him. Too much of his internal struggle remained internal. What we were left with is another version of soldier-as-tortured-hero — it all happened quickly and the viewer was forced to fill in the blanks.

    The BoB was a special series, the Pacific should have been — yet wasn’t.

    At the end, I wondered whether S&H were cashing in to some extent. I bought a friend the BOB series as a gift — it was that good.

    Was the Pacific more about profit than art?

  4. Garibaldy Says:

    Bakunin,

    Just realised I had meant to say hard not to agree rather than disagree with you above. Fixed that now.

    I think I would agree with what you are saying in your comment too – it should have been special, but wasn’t. I’m not really sure why that was. I do think you’re right to point to a difference in the writing and character development seeming superficial. Just thinking about it, you are talking about 4 years rather than a year as BoB was, maybe that was part of it.

    The cashing in idea is interesting. I think they probably felt obligated to do it after BoB, as well as trying to make extra cash. I think the memorialising/commemorative aspect was important. I wonder if they would have gone ahead with it without that – they had to have known the stories weren’t as strong, and the reaction would be much less favourable.

    Then again, like you say, the profit motive would have been of the utmost importance. I do think the art lost out in the end.

  5. Garibaldy Says:

    Just caught a bit of Band of Brothers on TV. Episode 7. The Breaking Poinnt. Set in Bastogne. The death of not one of the major characters, Hoobler – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Hoobler – carried as much emotional impact as basically anything within The Pacific, including Basilone. That exemplifies the difference.

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