Spielberg & Hanks return to WWII battlefield in ‘Pacific’

March 11, 2010


You might think after “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks would have nothing left to say about World War II.

You would be wrong.

In “The Pacific,” a 10-part miniseries beginning Sunday on HBO, executive producers Spielberg and Hanks turn their attention to the true stories of the Marines who fought in the Pacific Theater - most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands.

The first episode, taking place in the days following the attack at Pearl Harbor, is an admittedly rough introduction to what seems like a platoon of characters.

Relax.

The miniseries eventually settles its focus on three men. Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) is the poet of the group, a guy who stops his neighborhood crush and asks if he can write to her. He barely registers on her radar.

John Basilone (Jon Seda, perhaps the most recognizable face in the cast) emerges as a reluctant hero, drafted to sell war bonds.

Eugene B. Sledge (Joe Mazzello) overcomes a heart murmur and defies his family’s wishes to join the war effort. They all at one time or another end up serving in the 1st Marine Division.

The first stop for most of the men is Guadalcanal, a place most can’t pronounce, much less locate on a map.

Their marching orders: “When you see the Japs, kill them all.”

There are no easy heroics.

The first casualty is a victim of friendly fire, a man who wandered off in the night to urinate. Later, an act of mercy to a wounded enemy soldier has lethal consequences.

For those who can’t wait for the debut of 3-D TV, tune in March 21 for one of the most harrowing battles captured on the small screen.

As the Marines try to defend themselves against a barrage of gunfire that cuts across the night, you might find yourself thinking about ducking behind the sofa. You’re that much in the war zone. Which will run out first, the Marines’ ammo or the seemingly endless supply of enemy warriors?

For those tempted to dismiss this as war propaganda, watch the March 28 episode, in which the exhausted men take leave in Australia. To their amazement, they are embraced as heroes. Two Marines find love, though one romance ends wrenchingly. Nary a shot is fired and not a single enemy makes an appearance.

With a reported budget of $100 million, “The Pacific” is the most expensive miniseries ever filmed, and the care and detail are apparent in every scene.

By dramatizing the true stories of the men who fought there, Spielberg and Hanks craft perhaps their most psychologically grounded work. Even the combatants in this, “the good war,” are forever changed by their experiences.

As Eugene’s kindly physician father advises him in the March 21 episode, “The worst thing about treating those combat boys (during World War I) wasn’t that they’d had their flesh torn - it was that they had had their souls torn out.”

“The Pacific” just might be the TV event of the spring, if not the year. Dive in.

Series premiere Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

By Mark A. Perigard

Source : Boston Herald