'Pacific' looks at Marines during World War II

March 12, 2010


LOS ANGELES -- After working together on "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan," Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg knew they'd have to take a different approach to the war in the Pacific.

"In Europe, an enemy soldier could throw up his hands and his war would be over," says Hanks. "The war in the Pacific was more like the wars we've seen ever since -- a war of racism and terror, a war of absolute horrors, both on the battlefield and in the regular living conditions."

Instead of intersecting dramas, Spielberg and Hanks decided to focus on more intimate stories. In "The Pacific," their HBO follow-up to "Band of Brothers," they look at three soldiers. Two of the stories are based on memoirs -- Eugene Sledge's "With the Old Breed" and Robert Leckie's "Helmet on My Pillow." The third story -- that of John Basilone -- is taken from public record.

"The challenges that we put forward to ourself at the beginning of all this was to take human beings and put them through hell and wonder how in the world they would approach the world when they came back," Hanks says.

For Spielberg, the stories required a different cinematic approach. "Band of Brothers" had a "desaturated" look. "In 'The Pacific,' they weren't fighting in overcast weather...it was a blue-sky war, so there are more vivid colors."

To help viewers understand the situations, the producers added a primer before each episode in order to put battles in context. "We took the need for context and turned it into one of the fingerprints (of the series)," Hanks says.

Places like Peleliu, for example, might not resonate with viewers. But if they understood how important the battles were, they'd get a better sense of the war.

"A hundred miles from where 'Saving Private Ryan' took place, more or less, is the Eiffel Tower," says Hanks. "A hundred miles from Peleliu is an empty spot of ocean in the middle of the Pacific. It doesn't fall into the same cognizant recognizability that the war in Europe does. That's why, in this, we have much more individual stories of three Marines. It almost doesn't matter where they were."

Spielberg says the miniseries enables audiences to see what happens to the human soul during the war. Soldiers in Europe fought differently than soldiers in the Pacific. The were "trained by the enemy...they trained us how to fight like them. To see what happens to those individuals throughout the entire course of events is something that was very, very hard for the actors and the writers and all of us to put on the screen."

John Seda, who plays Basilone, says he and the other actors realized how important it was to get things right. "This isn't just to make another film or television show. This is to be the voice for so many men, the real heroes."

Dr. Sidney Phillips, one of the characters in the miniseries, says the filmmakers have done a good job. "The Marine Corps is all about discipline," he says. "The general idea is that if every man does his job with his weapon to the best of his ability, everything will be all right. When you finally get through boot camp, you're prepared for the rest of your life. Nothing could ever equal this again."

What many people don't realize about World War II is the degree of humor involved, Phillips adds. "I imagine every military unit has its comedian. But a lot of fear and all was hidden behind endless American wisecracks and, for some reason, that is still outstanding in my memory. It did help all of us a whole lot. It really did."

By Bruce Miller

Source : Scioux City Journal