‘The Pacific’ Ultimately Disappointing
HBO’s Band of Brothers stands out as probably one of the best television mini-series of all time. The true story of soldiers in the 101st Airborne struggling to stay alive and win a war against tyranny before attempting to return to normal lives was engrossing, mesmerizing, and a thorough depiction not only of the war but all the atrocities that went along with it. Dreamworks and Playtone immediately promised a second mini-series covering the other front, the war against the Japanese, and then took several long years to deliver. The result is a confusing mess with a disjointed narrative and a hackneyed anti-war message.
“Any war film is an anti-war film.” I remember hearing someone say that years ago, and I’ve been searching all morning trying to find the source. But even after no luck finding any record, I’m going to leave it here anyhow because I believe it to be true. The statement also conveys the very accurate aesthetic that to depict the act of war on film is to show how gross and abhorrent it truly is. When it comes to making war films, writers and directors must always understand that merely recreating a real battle in itself is an anti-war statement. The violence, the pooling blood, the screaming young soldiers, the deafening explosions, the non-stop zips and pops of weapons fire all serve on their own to show us that war is no place for any sane person. Once that’s accomplished, of what use is any further dwelling or character extolling on the nature of war? Yet the characters in The Pacific never miss an opportunity to comment on how horrible war is and how crappy the conditions are. “Show, don’t tell,” is a fundamental of good storytelling these days. But for ten hours The Pacific shows AND tells us the same thing over and over; at that point, you’re only spoon-feeding and brow-beating your audience with an anti-war sentiment, when your visuals should do it for you. This is another way in which Band of Brothers excelled whereas The Pacific bores the viewer.
The viewer must also question The Pacific’s choice of real-life subjects; why these particular soldiers? Whereas Band of Brothers focused on an ensemble group attempting to fight together and bolster each other’s morale, The Pacific’s heroes are a detached group of individuals, almost the loners of their squads. As a result, the story lines also become isolated from one another and at times hard to even connect to the situation of WWII. These soldiers are not in command, not making dramatic decisions. They hang near the back, hiding in their foxholes. Several times this causes you to lose track of what’s going on in the fight, and then for the rest of the battle you’re stuck at the back of the lines not knowing what’s going on. While this may be the true situation of most soldiers, these are not the soldiers I want to follow while I’m watching a recreation. Several times commanders run in and announce something, or send someone to the rear. The soldier sent to the rear is the one that’s followed, and we lose track of how the battle’s progressing. Why don’t we stick with the commander? What’s his story? How does he deploy his men in the fight? Do they succeed or all die trying? As a result, all of the battle scenes start off great and almost immediately become boring or uninteresting. You wait for the fighting to recommence, or for the series to show you how the soldiers win out, and you just keep waiting. Then suddenly the battle is over, and everyone’s sailing to another island. Did we win WWII? I’m not sure anymore.
And don’t get me started on the night combat scenes, which are presented in such utter darkness that you cannot figure out what’s going on until the scene is over. Several of the early battles take place at night, and cannot be viewed on a flatscreen television in a bright room or during daylight hours; absolutely nothing can be seen. While I realize the soldiers were fighting in the jungle and the darkness would be true to the situation, the director still has an obligation to show us what’s going on regardless of reality.
Even in The Pacific’s final hours, the series continues to focus on demoralized and traumatized soldiers who have trouble adjusting to normal life at home, instead of the soldiers who return victorious and celebrate America’s victory. We did win the war, right? I mean I know it was hard and there was a lot to shake off, such as widespread malaria, Japanese soldiers using civilians as shields, and crispy skeletons everywhere, but The Pacific seems to focus more on how the war against the Japanese was a prelude to wars like Vietnam, and especially Iraq (a scene involving an Okinawan woman strapped with dynamite immediately brings to mind today’s suicide bombers). How about we stick to WWII, and celebrate what these soldiers sacrificed for us rather than dwell on more recent events?
In the end, The Pacific retreads territory paved with much greater success by previous films, such as Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (which coincidentally is releasing in Criterion Collection format Sept. 28th). The Pacific releases on DVD and blu-ray November 2, 2010.