'The Pacific' - 'Guadalcanal/Leckie' Recap (mini-series premiere)
by Jason Hughes, posted Mar 15th 2010 9:00AM
(E01) Just as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks collaborated with HBO in 2001 to bring us the European World War II epic 'Band of Brothers,' they've joined forces again to take us to the other side of the war with 'The Pacific.' Another ten-part series, like 'Brothers,' 'Pacific' is based on true military figures and events depicted with some dramatic license, but with attempts to be as accurate as possible.
One of the first things the production team did was establish just how different the Pacific front was from the European one. The image that dominates most dramatic presentations about the fight against the Nazi forces of Germany is the military arrival on the beaches of Normandy; a veritable trip into hell.
In contrast, the 1st Marine Regiment's arrival on the beaches of Guadalcanal is a temporary reprieve from the hell of the naval warfare going on just offshore. Everything about this first episode established the atmosphere, tension, anxiety, beauty and horrors of fighting in a tropical paradise.
The visuals throughout the episode were absolutely stunning, but the epic panorama of the naval battle surrounding the troop transport ships heading to the shores of Guadalcanal was nothing short of breathtaking. Looking at that, we felt our own pulses rise, anticipating what the troops were going to face when that ramp crashed down and they got their first look at the shore. Expecting Normandy, it was a shock to see Marines loafing about with nothing to do, while explosions rocked the sea.
PFC Robert Leckie was the primary focus of the episode, though before we settled into his less-than-horrific arrival with the 1st Marines at Guadalcanal, we took a moment to meet the other guys who will make up the extended cast of 'The Pacific' before all is said and done.
Sgt. John Basilone is shipping out with the 7th Marines, alongside his buddies Sgt. J.P. Morgan and Sgt. Manuel Rodriguez. They'll arrive in time to miss the first major offensive, but should feature more prominently in events next week.
We then spent a few scenes with Eugene Sledge, a young man who desperately wants to sign up for the military and get into the war, but is barred from doing so because of a heart murmur. His best friend Sidney Phillips, however, winds up fighting alongside PFC Leckie. Leckie had signed up in response to Pearl Harbor.
Immediately, Leckie strikes the audience as a different kind of Private. He takes a little bit of time to think before he acts in any way, rather than just blindly following orders. He offers words of wisdom, and philosophical ideas to the point he is called "Professor Leckie" by some of his fellow marines.
But much to their chagrin, he also seems to be unable to de-humanize the enemy enough so that the killing doesn't affect him. Some soldiers can kill without remorse, understanding their duty, while others must not think about the enemy as human beings just like them. Leckie, however, is able to do his job while being fully aware that the Japanese soldiers he faces are every bit as human as he is.
He shows compassion for one poor Japanese soldier by fatally shooting him in the chest. After he'd been disarmed and was the last Japanese soldier standing, the Americans began taking pot-shots at him, while he stood there defiant and crying. Seeing the man's life turned into a cruel game of sport was something Leckie couldn't endure.
We endured six days and nights with the 1st Marines, and only one night did they experience a battle with Japanese forces. Until that point, there were long scenes of silence as the Marines made their way across the island, experiencing the beauty of their surroundings, all the while living with the anxiety and paranoia that the enemy was hiding all around them.
It was a brilliant way to emphasize the psychological aspects of warfare between the battles. That can be just as draining an experience, not knowing where the enemy is or when the first shots will be fire. It's as intense as being in the middle of a bloodbath. Hell, the first shots fired killed their own medic when he was coming back from taking a piss, they were all so on edge.
The Marines built defenses, and fortified their positions. They watched a massive naval battle one night, only to find their own ships gone by the next day, and worse yet replaced by Japanese ships the following day, creating a terrifying sense of isolation. At that point, they couldn't have felt more alone, and yet committed to taking the island and stopping the Japanese offensive.
The battle at Alligator Creek erupted so abruptly, it was shocking how many enemy soldiers were firing. In the dim lighting, it was appropriately difficult for the audience to easily discern what was going on, adding to the sense of chaos the Marines must have felt during those skirmishes. Leckie kept his cool, with Juergens by his side helping him man and run the gatling-style gun he was using (apologies to the military buffs out there who recognized exactly what it was), and eliminated plenty of enemy combatants.
Enough, along with his fellow Marines, to create the aftermath of bodies littering the beach and shallow waters by morning's light. The aftermath of a military battle is just as brutal to see as the battle itself. It was here that Leckie found a family photo and child's doll belonging to one slain soldier. The photo he burned, perhaps as a gesture of respect or kinship to the slain soldier.
'The Pacific' definitely looks to be a thoughtful examination of the lesser-known side of World War II. Even though there hasn't been much action so far, I can already see that the foundation has been laid for a monumental piece of work: one that will certainly stand proudly next to 'Band of Brothers' and other great military films.