Wednesday, June 02, 2010

[TV] The Pacific

The Pacific: This was the counterpart to the Dreamworks/Playtone WW2 European theatre triumph from a few years back, Band of Brothers. I had high hopes for it, having read one of the two books on which it was based. Sadly, it didn't come close to measuring up.

One of the great things about Band of Brothers was the broad brush strokes. You saw good leaders and bad leaders. Some of the fighting men made it through, some didn't. All the while, it never descended into cliche and cynicism. It showed a military that, despite errors and setbacks, wasn't dysfunctional. Bad leaders were ousted. Good leaders were revered. Some soldiers cracked up. Some soldiers overcame. Horrors were balanced with camaraderie and joy.

Whether intentional or not, The Pacific turned out just the opposite. It was a one note samba of degradation. The three main characters were grunts serving in some of the most harrowing fighting ever seen. The images and action in these scenes was monstrous beyond imagination, leaving you feeling gut punched and astounded anyone could survive. But that doesn't make it good drama. Man is thrust into a harrowing world -- it gets worse -- then even worse -- then indescribably bad is not a good plot outline no matter how skilled the presentation. Effectively, they pushed the theme to the point where it was impossible to relate to. It may have been an honest and accurate historical representation of the situation, but if it is pushed beyond the audience's ability to personalize, it fails as drama.

Any respite from the carnage involved the characters trying to interact with the normal world after their awful experiences. Pursuing women on leave; struggling with being understood by family; unable to put their experiences in words. That's fine, but it's been done to death over the years and The Pacific adds nothing new. The result of all this is a story so overwhelmed with showing the effects of war in general, that it fails to personalize it for the characters, and by extension, personalize it for us through our connection to them.

At the end of Band of Brothers we were introduced to the actual survivors they had portrayed. Despite their typical-of-the-breed humility, they expressed a great range of feelings -- sorrow, loss, pride, and numerous variations of gratitude. We only get to meet but a couple of the subjects of the Pacific, neither of whom is a principal character, and they aren't very talkative. All we are left with is the portrayal and their attitude towards their experiences seems to contain a single sentiment: disgust.

Again, it's possible to argue that the relentless carnage in these battles made for a different experience than in Europe and therefore it's an accurate portrayal. Apart from that not being a good excuse for mediocre drama, it's untrue. I have read With the Old Breed, the memoir of Pvt. Eugene Sledge, one of the main characters. His emotions as portrayed in print are anything but simple or single-minded. More importantly, his humanity leaps off every page. The Pacific does his memoir no justice. You're better off spending a few hours with With the Old Breed than ten hours in The Pacific.