HBO's 'Pacific' tells darker, brutal story of soldiers at war

March 14, 2010


When "Band of Brothers" arrived, it drew praise, six Emmy awards and an obvious question: Hey, what about the rest of World War II? What about the war in the Pacific?

Now the 10-part "The Pacific" is ready. "It's been like six years in the making," Tom Hanks said.

He and Steven Spielberg produced both epic miniseries, but this one was tougher to pull off.

The "Band of Brothers" story had already been honed in Stephen Ambrose's book about one unit's battles across Europe. By comparison, "The Pacific" has been cobbled together via:

Eugene Sledge's "With the Old Breed." "It is considered perhaps as great a combat memoir as has ever been (written)," Hanks says.

Robert Leckie's "Helmet On My Pillow." Hanks calls it "more like a prose poem about what it means to be young and alive and involved in a quite hideous adventure."

Other books by Sledge ("China Marine") and Chuck Tatum ("Red Blood, Black Sand"). Also, news stories about Marine John Basilone, plus interviews.

The result is darker emotionally than "Band of Brothers," with moments of fierce brutality. Still, Spielberg said, it's brighter visually. "It was a blue-sky war ... so there were more vivid colors."

Young actors spent 10 months in Australia, re-creating their grandfathers' war and almost feeling like a Marine unit. "We had to rely on each other," said Joe Mazzello, who plays Sledge.

There was no time for "all the actor-y stuff that we can go through in our minds," said James Badge Dale, who plays Leckie. "You show up to work and your only objective ... is to not get blown up."

Some actors even met the people they portray. That includes Ashton Holmes, playing Sid Phillips.

That's Dr. Sidney Phillips now. He's 85, a retired general practitioner and a semi-celebrity, thanks to the attention Ken Burns' "The War" gave to his hometown (Mobile, Ala.) and his sister Katherine.

In the war, however, Phillips was far from fame. "I was a 17-year-old PFC, a real nobody in the rear ranks of the Marine Corps," he says.

His life coincided with those key figures: Leckie was his colleague in the 1st Marine Division, landing on Guadalcanal ... Basilone was with the 7th Marines, re-enforcing them .... And the bond with Sledge was stronger; he "was my life-long, close friend," Phillips said.

The two had gone to grade-school and high school together. Phillips enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor; Sledge - held back because of a heart problem - eventually joined him in Pavavu.

All were scrambling to keep up, Phillips said. "It became kill or be killed .... We were 17 years old and we didn't know anything about the military."

At first Guadalcanal was easy: The Japanese withdrew into the jungle; the landing was uncontested.

Then, the U.S. ships were defeated at sea and left, taking any immediate hope of food or supplies. "There was no panic," Phillips says. "We thought, 'Somehow, we'll get it done.'"

It wasn't one of those wars where cities could be freed and capitals rescued, Hanks said.

For the actors, this was also a chance to be personally satisfied.

Mazzello is a former child star, again working for Spielberg - who was his hero even before casting him in the two "Jurassic Park" films. "I cherished 'E.T.,'" he said.

And for Jon Seda, this was a chance to play Basilone, a hero from his home state.

By Mike Hughes

Source : Enquirer