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Why The Pacific is not a Patch on Band of Brothers

I watched the pilot episode of HBO’s The Pacific and all my fears of the same run off the mill macho war film were somehow true. As a follow up to Band of Brothers it lacks a lot of characterisation that made the 2002 10 part series a groundbreaking multi character epic. It is still a powerful piece of television with it’s visceral carnage but the characters revert to that macho American attitude that harks back to clichéd war films.

Band of Brothers on the other hand, when it came out, dealt with the war not just with bravery but also with the brutal inhumane and pointless side of combat from adrenaline rush to boredom. The characters were well rounded and multi faceted. They were stripped of all the mechanics of what Hollywood producers would insert into the cinematic American grunt and was more reminiscent of films like Platoon. What was one of the ingredients that made one great and the other manufactured cliché? One strong answer is the directors chosen. They were British and managed to bring more dimensions to the characters motivation. British directors compared to their American counterparts bring the darker cynical aspects of defeat in combat much the same as Attenborough’s Bridge too Far. Back to The Pacific.

The directors, being American, seem to revert back to the “War Movie” stance of making their actors look into the distance longingly and talking to their comrades in the clichéd of dialogue. The  Japanese soldiers weren’t represented beyond canon fodder and I know you are thinking that this is a story about the US soldiers but again backtrack to Band of Brothers and you’ll see a small scene where one of the captured Nazi soldiers was from an American town. Small nuances like this made the enemy more human and slot them conveniently between the Hollywood producers notes. One criminal act was to show one of the leads in mid fire fight holding a tripod mounted machine gun on a fallen tree and fending off the myriad Japanese which would be straight out of The Green beret’s school of mowing-down-the-enemy. Events like this may have happened in real life but the way it is represented is more gung ho. That filmic structure of showing overwhelming enemy superiority is the same as Saving Private Ryan’s end fight scene in the way they show the onslaught of Japanese and the few brave Americans Custer style.

Even the end of the pilot episode where they sit on the ship after fierce combat and drink coffee and ask if anyone has heard of Guadalcanal is straight from those 20th Century Fox war films of the 50’s that would have made Darryl F Zanuck proud.

Military advisor Dale Dye should know better than let the producers twist history back to propaganda seeing as he was an advisor on seminal war movies such as Platoon and Band of Brothers and helped bring a brutal realism to war.

Things might change with each new episode but I don’t think so. I am disappointed but it could have been a whole lot worse. With films like Oscar winning Hurt Locker creating awareness this one has reverted back to Audie Murphy.