By Neil McCormick
Do not forget, that the HBO mini series starts on SKY Movies tonight at 9pm with episodes 1 and 2. I will shy away from the debate on whether SKY can justify putting this onto their premium movie channels as opposed to SKY 1.
Much as Band of Brothers told the tale of Easy Company of the 101 Airborne in the European Campaign in World War 2, Pacific recreates the experiences of three men belonging to the !st Marine Corp:- Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone. It covers their enlistment and the war against the Japanese Empire.
Makin, Peleliu, Okinawa, Guadalcanal to a lot of young folk today represent levels in a video game :- Call of Duty : World at War to be precise. However to the young folk of a different generation it represents something a lot worse – War at its most horrible and dangerous. For, in the period 1942 – 45, the Pacific Campaign of World War 2 was fought in these very same places. For the young folk of that generation saw things we in this generation can hardly imagine, let alone comprehend. For while the video game generation can restart a level when their character dies, the previous generation did not have this luxury.
An Electro-candy preview and thoughts regarding the first Two episodes.
Episode 1 – Guadacanal / Leckie
Directly following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Seargent John Basilone ships out to fight the enemy somewhere in the Pacific, and a young journalist called Robert Leckie enlists in the Marine Corps. Sidney Phillips ships off to boot camp after saying farewell to his friend Eugene Sledge, who cannot go with him due to a heart murmur. Eight months later, Phillips and Leckie, having completed boot camp are sent to secure a airfield on Guadalcanal, and to help defend it against counterattack.
I like the symbolism contained in the opening credits, the use of the charcoal crayon with bits of it being cast astray as it marks the paper is a wonderful metaphor of the casualty of war.
The first episode works well, we meet the main characters and start to bond with them quite quickly. Leckie comes across as a deep thinking man, I can predict the war will have a profound affect on him – possibly he will suffer some form of psychological wound at some point during the series? Though it is guilty of cliche in places, Leckie offering to write to a neighbour. Even our first encounter, he is an Irish American so we first get to meet him in a chapel lighting a mass candle. Eugene Sledge is unable to enlist due to a heart murmur and is absolutely gutted. I predict that this murmur will miraculously disappear before too long and he will be able to enlist.
After watching the frightening beach landings in Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, watching the landing craft approach Guadacanal, I was expecting something similar, but no our marines land with no resistance. This works even better as the marines have to deal with a greater enemy – fear itself. You can see the effect that their surroundings had on them, as they approach the jungle line they stop, it is as if they are reaching a barrier to some unknown.
It is actually not until three quarters of the way through the episode that our protagonists actually encounter the Japanese when they are attacked at night. It is not till morning when you see the beach in front of their position strewn with dead japanese bodies that I truelly appreciated what they had encountered – It is such a brutal exchange as time and time again the Japanese soldiers charged at the line. As Leckie said afterwards “It was like a turkey shoot.”
What follows is one of the most harrowing scenes I have watched so far. Three Japanese soldiers come out of the tree line and whilst two are killed out right. The marines play with the third shooting around him or on minor parts of his body. This is nothing short of torture – he wanted to be killed but they make him suffer until Leckie can watch no more and puts him out of his misery.
I will finish with the words of Leckie to Vera the woman he met in the opening scenes:-
“It is a garden of Evil, the jungle holds both beauty and terror in its depths, most terrible of which is man, we have met the enemy and have learned nothing more about him. I have however learned some things about myself. There are things that men can do to one another that are sobering to the soul. it is one thing to reconcile these things with God, another to square it with yourself.”
Episode 2 – Basilone
Back-up lands on Guadalcanal in the form of the 7th marines including Basilone to help defend the airfield. Basilone helps defend against a Japanese night raid, suffering a loss in the process. The marines, after four months of fighting enemies and disease are evacuated off the island.
Those two sentences above, do not come close to explaining the events of episode 2. Bastogne in Band of Brothers was my favourite episode, so if an episode in Pacific has now eclipsed it – it must be pretty special.
By jove this episode delivered. From the harsh realities of war to the heroics on the battlefield, to the sobering reality of how life can end in a split second due to fate. This was humanity in one episode.
Our chief protagonist in this episode is John Basilone, his actions in the battle in this episode was to earn him a place in American Military History. His heroicism is nothing short of that seen in Commando comics time and time again. The stuff of legend.
From the opening scene, Hanks et al manage to convey the sense of tension as the marines awaited the japanese attack.
This episode certainly hits you hard, from the suffering the marines endured with a lack of equipment and food, to the bonding between the characters. Even in the harshness of coming under artillery attack, the marines show their humanity, by ensuring a stray dog is kept safe.
The actual main battle only lasts for a mere 8 minutes on screen, but it feels a life time. Basilone was to earn a medal of honor for his actions, moving a machine gun whilst suffering third degree burns, then going out into no man’s land to clear the japanese bodies that had piled up so his fellow marines could maintain a line of fire. Reports of the battle indicate that he would have killed well over 38 japanese soldiers. But all of this had a terrible consequence as Basilone’s friend – Manny Rodriquez who was acting as a runner gets killed.
Basilone would also discover in the next episode that the events of that night would ensure that his role in the war would be very different.
As for Eugene Sledge, back home in America? Well surprise surprise, that heart murmur did clear up. Theren follows a very touching scene between his father and him. The father reveals why he is so opposed to him going to war. His father had been a doctor during the great War:-
“The Worst thing about treating those combat wounds, it was not that they had had their flesh torn, it was that they had had their souls torn out. I dont want to look in your eye some day and see no spark, no love no life. That would break my heart.”