Wednesday 9 September 2015

WWII Media: HBO Pacific Tin Box

Powerful, compelling, moving. You thought Band of Brothers was good? This is even better.

Having acquired the Band Of Brothers 'tin box' some years ago, I finally got around to getting this. And boy am I glad I did. Band of Brothers is excellent, but this is - in my view - even better. I've now watched both series numerous times, and will doubtless watch them again in the future.

The series follows the 1st Marine Division into battle in several key actions in the Pacific theatre - Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, and Okinawa. Chiefly, we follow the action via the experiences of Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge (whose memoirs formed the basis of the series, and which I have reviewed here on this blog). There’s also a smaller thread concerning the fate of gunnery sergeant John Basilone, whose actions at Guadalcanal lead to decoration and adulation, as he's cast as an all-American hero, sent home to raise war-bonds back in the U.S, before returning to combat at Iwo Jima. 

Decorated war hero John Basilone, wearing his Medal of Honor. Sent back to the U.S. to raise war bonds, Basilone starts to feel alienated and out of place, and yearns to return to his buddies, and ... combat.

Jon Seda as Basilone, rushing towards his destiny.

Pretty much all aspects of the campaign - leaving home, time en-route, combat, time behind the lines, home leave, injury and recuperation, etc, - are depicted, and the range of settings and scenarios is complemented by an equally diverse range of atmospheres, ranging from tender romance to brutal combat.

As is so well depicted here, the Pacific theatre could clearly be just as terrifying and intense as the European one: whilst Nazi racial policy in Europe was as extreme as such things can be, particularly on the Ostfront, it was being carried out predominantly against civilians, and with particular virulence in the East.

Obviously there was plenty of horrific brutality, even in the Western European combat theatre as well, but there was also a certain degree of fellow-feeling between some of the ordinary soldiery. I'm making these comments in relation to how both sides of this coin are portrayed in Band of Brothers.

Assault on Peleliu beach pinned down.

But, sadly, the Japanese had their own form of racial extremism, which appears to have run right the way through their military culture, such that not only was the 'death before dishonour' idea pursued  with ferovious intensity by all ranks, but also their contempt for both enemy soldiers and civilians was made frequently and appallingly manifest.

The Japanese fought rabidly, and were infamously brutal to their foes, frequently manifesting the same type of ferocious brutality that made the rape of Nanking so infamous. These traits were pretty common, it seems, amongst all levels of their soldiery, all over this theatre of combat.

The acting and direction, the scene-setting and special effects, the script and the overall arc of the narrative, all are superlatively well done. As well as obvious concern for historical accuracy, and, despite the brutality of the war, a clear intent to be even-handed, all make for a very, very good piece of long-form war-time storytelling. I was absolutely captivated, and riveted - albeit occasionally rather jumpily - to my seat. 

Leckie during the war.

Actor James Badge Dale as Leckie, in the series.

Sledge during the war.

Joseph Mazello, as Sledge.

This is compulsive viewing. I liked it so much I even watched some of the extras, which I don't normally bother with. I've also subsequently read a couple of the memoirs that formed the basis of the action: as with Band of Brothers, the series follows the fortunes of several key protagonists, chiefly Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie.It's their memoirs I read, and they are well worth reading, but the reading experience doesn't convey the visceral impact that this series achieves so spectacularly well.*

Truly brilliant watching this. I just wish someone would approach the Napoleonic Wars with a similar budget and seriousness of intent! When I bought this, at Amazon UK, it cost just £15. At this point (having just checked back on Amazon at the time of posting this) it's just £15.99... bargain!

* I'll be posting my short reviews of both books here ASAP).

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