Saturday, May 8

War is Hell

A whole new theater of operations...

I loved HBO's Band of Brothers. No, that's a lie. I freakin' ADORED it. It was pretty much Saving Private Ryan the TV series, but in becoming that it was so much more. The Men of Easy Company were a great bunch of soldiers and characters to follow through America's war against Nazi Germany, from the iconic Richard Winters to foot soldiers like Shifty Powers, each episode was a mini-masterpiece of the horrors, highs and lows of war, from Market Garden to Bastogne to the Eagle's Nest. To this day I can still watch any episode ('cept maybe the Doc-centric one...) repeatedly with anticipation. And so it was that I expected HBO's follow-up series, The Pacific, with great anticipation. I mean, how could it fail? The same production team and philosophy, just with a whole different setting and enemy for the US soldiers to face. It is, supposedly, the most expensive mini-series by HBO and Tom Hanks' production so far, and it shows in the cinematic epicness and grimy, bloody texture of the whole story of the US marines and their efforts to defeat a suicidal, brutal enemy in the Imperial Japanese empire.

That said... I have to say... it has come up short.

As much as I would like it to be as great as BOB was, it just isn't. The Pacific has the same quality production values, a cast that gives their all to convey the terror and filth and horror that was the war against the 'Japs'... but it just doesn't get to me as well. Which is weird since this series is set in a place closer to home, within the theater of World War II in Asia.

Perhaps it's in the characters- the series centers on three main soldiers, none of whom resonate with me that much. Most everyone else is either forgettable or looks the same as everyone else, too covered in blood, dirt, mud and grime to be identifiable. There is little company or banter in the marines, not like it was with Easy Company's likable band of grunts, not enough humor to balance the heavy weight of near psychotic fear, constant dread and manic depressiveness each soldier seems to evoke as they fight against a ruthless enemy willing to fight tooth and nail for every inch of soil in the islands they defend.

Then there's the action. For the most part the first several action setpieces are set in darkness, with the Americans' guns blazing away at an enemy we rarely ever see. The Japanese are voices in the distance, silhouettes that appear in a flash, then melt into piles of corpses in the morning. There is little thrill, cinematically, in these scenes for me. It's like this isn't a war between equals, between men of opposing beliefs- it's more a bloody face-off between hunters and packs of wild animals that need to be exterminated. instead of the thrilling, tactics-laden and brilliant encounters in Brothers, such as Easy's initial capture of Nazi cannons, or even the helter-skelter rush for safety in the chaos of Market Garden, we get smaller skirmishes and shadowy run-ins in the jungle, with the action obscured by darkness or the simple confusion of who's onscreen or what the heck is happening. And really, there's not much excitement in watching machine gunners or mortar crews (who seem to make up most of the cast) at work. The airstrip battle (which was portrayed in the videogame Call of Duty World at War) is one rare point so far where we actually see a stand-up, real battle. Still, there are two episodes left unseen which will hopefully have at least one or two more sequences of considerable action.

I guess it's to be expected that the Japanese are nowhere near the same enemy as the Germans were. Where the Nazis were more tactical, strategic enemies who used heavy armor and efficiency, the Imperial Japanese were known more for savagery, brutality and fanatical zeal... hence suicidal Banzai charges into machine gunfire. They were totally different psychologically, which in some aspects makes them a more terrifying enemy. However, I guess it makes it a bit of a backfire on The Pacific as a whole since you kinda need to be a bit masochistic to want to watch it repeatedly (unlike Band of Brothers)... the replay value gets killed a bit.

In the end, The Pacific isn't horrible or bad by any means- in terms of production values it's right there with it's brother series. Perhaps it's just in the simple fact that compared to Band of Brothers, the war in Asia is just not as palatable or 'pleasant' to watch. War is hell indeed in the Pacific. Perhaps too hellish, even for the small screen. I guess fighting the Nazis is just a lot easier to watch.