Friday, March 18, 2011

The Pacific Blu-ray Review

My all time favorite mini-series is Band of Brothers hands down.  So when I heard that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks were gearing up to make The Pacific, I was ecstatic.  While Band of Brothers took place in the European Theater, The Pacific focuses on our war with Japan and the brutal fighting done island by island on the way to Japan.  When the series was finally released, I signed up for a trial period with HBO just to watch it.  The Pacific ended up being nominated for twenty-three Emmy Award nominations and won eight of them for: Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Sound Editing, Outstanding Sound Mixing, Outstanding Special Visual Effects, Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup, Outstanding Makeup (Non-Prosthetic), Outstanding Casting, and Outstanding Art Direction.  It also received twelve Golden Globe nominations.

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

While Band of Brothers followed an ensemble cast representing the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment through the course of the war, The Pacific instead follows the lives of three marines, Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), John Basilone (John Seda), and Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale).  In fact, the series is based the memoirs from two of those marines:  With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge and Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie.  This change in focus allowed The Pacific to show the home life of the marines before and after the war and provides a closer examination of the physical and psychological effects of war on these men.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many young men were eager to sign up for military service to mete out some revenge.  Among those men, were John Basilone, Robert Leckie immediately signed up while teenage Eugene Sledge was told by his physician father that he couldn’t join any service due to a heart murmur which left him devastated.  especially since his best friend Sidney Phillips (Ashton Holmes) enlisted in the Marines.
After some abbreviated combat training, the young marines are sent to Guadalcanal where they quickly learn that war isn’t quite the heroic enterprise they imagined it to be.  After landing unopposed on the beach they venture forth into the jungle and discover mutilated corpses of other marines.  This brutality shown by their enemy is unlike any experienced before.  When the 1st Marine Division participate in the Battle of Tenaru, which was the first of three major offensives made by the Japanese who were determined to recapture the airfield they had lost to the Allies.  Back home, Eugene finally convinces his parents to let him join the war and he enlists as a marine.  John Basilone and the 7th Marines soon arrive at Guadalcanal to bolster the defenses at the airfield.
By September 1944, Sledge is able to join the 1st Marine Division before the Battle of Peleliu which was predicted to last four days but ended up taking two months to win.  The battle proved to be the most costly because Peleliu had the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific War and it was for a island that had no real strategic value.  From there the marines were sent to Iwo Jima which was the first direct attack on the Japanese home islands which provided the Japanese even more of a desire to do all they could to stop the Allied advance.
By the time the marines are sent to Okinawa, the intensity level of the fighting has increased beyond imagination as the Japanese have nothing to lose at this point and the kamikaze attacks increase even more.  The Battle at Okinawa resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 Japanese troops while the Allies lost 50,000 men.  There was an additional tens of thousands civilians that were either wounded, killed, or committed suicide.  This was the first time the marines had encountered Japanese civilians and they were horrified to see the civilians be used by the Japanese military as shields.  At this point in the war, even the once compassionate Sledge has no problem shooting man in the back which shows just how much the war has changed him.
With the dropping of the Atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the war is declared over and the survivors are shipped home.  Unlike Band of Brothers, we follow the marines home to see how their lives have changed by their wartime experiences.  None of them will ever be the same as they were before the war, and each of them must discover a way to cope with the loss of their comrades and what they’ve done and seen.  In the end, World War II resulted in at least 50 million deaths and it’s highly likely that the final toll is closer to 70 million deaths.
This series has a larger scope than Band of Brothers but at the same time also takes the time to follow the three main characters from the start of the war to the end and back home again.  Although I didn’t think the performances in The Pacificwere as good as the ones in Band of Brothers, the sheer scope of this series was phenomenal.  I can only imagine the logistics involved in putting this all together and then coordinating so many different actors and stunt-men, not to mention all of the explosions and the rest of it.  Much like it’s predecessor, The Pacific puts the viewer right into the thick of it and shows what kind of experiences that the marines had to survive and at what cost.
The series also brilliantly showed how the two Theaters of war were so different.  The Japanese soldiers followed a code of Bushido where their deaths were seen as purifying and as a duty, a concept not something seen in the European Theater, where outnumbered soldiers surrendered and were placed in POW camps.  For the Japanese, surrender was not an option and every man was supposed to die for the good of the nation and their Emperor, whether it be from a suicide kamikaze attack or a banzai charge.  American soldiers had never experienced this kind of mindset or savagery and this alien kind of thinking triggered an equally brutal response back from the many of the marines.  As bad as the war was in Europe (and it was terrible), this new level of brutality combined with the weather conditions made the war in the Pacific barbarous and horrifying.
By once again making the series as realistic and accurate as possible, Spielberg and Hanks and the rest of the production have created another perfect look at an imperfect war.  I would have preferred to lose the scenes at home and just continued the the successful format used for Brothers, but I can understand why it was made this way since it was based on their memoirs.  It’s just unfortunate because those scenes really slow down the series every time the story returns to the United States.  It may not be as good as Band of Brothers, but The Pacific is another towering achievement that pays tribute to the men who fought in in World War II and especially those in the Pacific Theater, for the betterment of mankind.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is flawless. Colors pop off the screen whether it’s the lush jungle or the gushing blood, but it’s consistently vibrant and brilliant.  The image has an amazing amount of detail and it’s so sharp you can make out small print in books. Black levels are solid and inky as they should be and the contrast level is fantastic.  I have a few minor quibbles about a couple of low light scenes but when viewed as a whole they are so negligible that it would almost seem petty to complain about them. HBO did a fantastic job on this transfer especially for all of the daylight scenes that are so good and have such depth that it feels like you are in the jungle with them.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

If you thought I gushed over the video quality then this part will be downright embarrassing!  This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is reference quality! And I don’t mean one of the movies you pull out to show off your system. I’m saying that this is the only disc you will ever need to pull out. As much as I love the mix for Saving Private Ryan, this mix blows that one away.  If the video quality made me feel like I was standing in the jungle with the troops, then this surround track had me convinced that I was standing in the middle of an all out war! I’ve heard some active mixes before but nothing like this.  The panning across channels was the most convincing and stirring mix that I’ve ever heard. The rear channels are in constant use providing atmosphere, effects and music while the the rest of the channels completely envelop you into a cocoon of combat.  LFE is a constant companion and hits you with every explosion, plane flyby, and every mortar attack. This is a mix that will rattle the windows and shake the house and I loved it. Whether it’s bullets whizzing by, or planes zooming across the room, or battleships bombarding an entrenched position, this track has it all and it has set the bar for every other movie to try to beat.  If I could give it more than a five rating I would!

Special Features (5 out of 5 stars) 

As to be expected, all of the special features are informative, thorough, and very entertaining especially if you are as fascinated by World War II as I am. Not only do none of these extras contain any EPK fluff, but they are all extremely well done and even better, in high definition.

  • Enhanced Viewing Experience – Every episode of The Pacific has an optional Picture-in-Picture companion track which is very like the one offered on the Band of Brothers Blu-ray set.  The enhanced experience offers interviews with some of the surviving veterans and also some of the family members.  There’s also a lot of other information offered as we hear from a group of historians, other accounts of what it was like to fight in the Pacific Theater and there’s also some interesting pop-up facts, biographies, and photos.
    This is extremely extensive and well worth buying the set for if you want to learn more.

  • Field Guide – As if the enhanced viewing experience wasn’t enough, each episode also has an interactive field guide which is comprised of  animated maps, interviews with veterans and historians, more archive material that includes photos, newsreel footage, biographies, and more. Between this and the enhanced viewing experience, I think just about every detail is covered.  This is so comprehensive it could qualify as a history course.

  • Profiles of The Pacific –  A look at the lives of some of the marines depicted inThe Pacific.  What I liked is that it continued the story from where the series left off. We learn what happened to the surviving marines and what they did with their lives and also hear about those that didn’t make it.  With a look at John Basilone, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie, Sidney Phillips, R.V. Burgin and Chuck Tatum we learn the full story.  Only Sidney Phillips, R.V. Burgin and Chuck Tatum were still alive to participate in recent interviews but we get to see either newsreel footage of the others, or past interviews done while they were still alive so none of them are shortchanged.  We also get to hear from some of their family members as well.

  • Making The Pacific – The only featurette on the set that’s devoted to making of the movie.  Despite only being thirty minutes, it packs in a lot of information as we hear from Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and the cast and crew of the series.  We get to see the preparation of battle scenes, the boot camp experience that the actors did before filming, and a candid discussion on the differences between this and Band of Brothers.

  • Anatomy of the Pacific War – A discussion on the cultural differences there were between the United States and Japan and how that played a role in the conflict.  There’s talk about how Japanese culture made kamikaze attacks possible and how relations between the two countries changed after the war.

Final Thoughts (5 out of 5 stars) 

This is an amazing set! Drop whatever you are doing and run out and buy this set or at the very least click on the link below and buy it!  Not only is this series remarkable all on it’s own, but this Blu-ray set put together by HBO is simply stunning! The set comes in a nicely detailed tin that matched my Band of Brothersset nicely and the slightly re-worked packaging gives each disc it’s own tray which I liked.  It’s been a really long time since I gave out a perfect score in every category, but The Pacific not only deserves it, but it also would have been my number one Blu-ray pick of 2010 if I had seen this set in time.
Order your copy today!

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