page added: 12/2/10
Blu-ray Disc review by Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits
2010 (2010) - HBO (Warner Home Video)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 2nd, 2010
Also available on DVD.
The Pacific Blu-ray also available from Amazon.ca.
Program Rating: A+
Video (1-20): 20
Audio (1-20): 20
In 2001, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg made their second joint cinematic foray into depicting important events of World War II (the first had been Saving Private Ryan) with the superb HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. It seemed impossible that they could match or top that admirable effort, but HBO's ten-part The Pacific achieves that impossibility.
|The approach this time is slightly different. Whereas Band of Brothers had focused on an infantry unit and followed the ebb and flow of the Allied invasion of Europe through its collective eyes, The Pacific focuses on the Pacific war's impact on three individuals, all marines who were involved in the retaking of various islands from their Japanese invaders, from Guadalcanal through Peleliu and Iwo Yima up to Okinawa. The three men are Corporal Eugene Sledge, PFC Robert Leckie, and Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone and their stories are based on memoirs written by or about them in the postwar years. We also come to know several other individuals very well too, although less intimately than the three principals.
Western Europe has always been the more well-known of the World War II theatres of operation - certainly more extensively documented and dramatized than the Pacific one. As a result, few people who were not directly involved know the true nature of the Pacific war - the degree of ferocity and brutality of the fighting (imagine the Normandy D-Day landing experience being repeated numerous times as the marines advanced from island to island, and each time followed by fanatical, bloody defensive holdouts by the Japanese), the debilitating effects of rain, heat, humidity, and mud upon the marines' mental and physical well-being, and the callous use of the civilian populations by the Japanese. All of these aspects are captured in realistic detail by The Pacific. It's an intense, relentless, and humbling experience that really brings the degree of sacrifice by the young men who made up the vast majority of the marine forces into sharp relief.
The focus of the series on three individuals helps to temper the harrowing nature of some of the footage, though, for we frequently see the retrospective sides of their nature during the occasional lulls in the fighting. Yet those scenes also illustrate the impact of the fighting and its constant air of impending death on their equanimity. Some seem able to take it in stride, but many are deeply affected and become increasingly different men as a result. The series also provides some relief from the fighting through interludes in the marines' lives either recovering from wounds or on leave (one such episode set in Australia is particularly well done). The final episode of the series provides an extremely moving picture of the return to civilian life in America.
Effectively every aspect of this immense production deserves unqualified praise. The acting is consistently impressive, with Joseph Mazzello (as Sledge) and James Badge Dale (as Leckie) standing out. The writing is consistent in style and tone despite the involvement of six different individuals, although Bruce McKenna handles the lion's share of the work. Similarly, the series has a strong directorial unity despite six different directors being involved (Tim Van Patten and Jeremy Podeswa each handle three episodes). The music by Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli, and Blake Neely proves to be an emotionally satisfying accompaniment throughout.
HBO's 1.78:1 Blu-ray presentation is delivered on six discs housed in a fold-out digipak, itself contained in a classy metal box. Image sharpness is uniformly impressive throughout. Most noticeable is the incredible detail apparent in uniform textures, soil and vegetation surfaces, and facial features. The colour palette is beautifully rendered whether the lush greens of some of the islands, the muted browns and greys of terrain and mud, the various red shades of blood, or the even more vibrant colours characteristic of the homefront in both America and Australia. Skin tones are right on the money, skillfully blended with the dirt, sweat, and grime of battle. The amazing detail of the daytime scenes is of course lessened in scenes at dusk and night, as one expect in real life. Yet one always has the sense that one is seeing just exactly what would be possible at those times of day. There is absolutely no evidence of untoward digital manipulation and a very mild sheen of grain is apparent.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound is reference quality. It's the best mix of the year on Blu-ray, perhaps the best ever on Blu-ray. The surround effects are deeply immersive, with directionality and movement second to none. The engagement of LFE is frequent and perfectly balanced with the rest of the channels. As a result, the battle sequences envelop the listener and deepen the sense they convey of a hell and chaos from which any survival is mere happenstance. Amidst all the mayhem, dialogue is crisp and clear, mainly focused on the centre but with directionality and volume modulation as appropriate. The at-times moving and at-others majestic score grips and moves one as it cascades and worms itself into one's mind from all speakers. French, Spanish, and Polish audio tracks (none lossless) are provided as well as sub-titling in more than a dozen languages including English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The supplement package is quite extensive. It does leave one wanting more, but I suspect that's just a consequence of a series so superb that one would be likely to feel sorry not to have more to look at no matter how much was provided. I must admit that the making-of featurette at just a bit over 20 minutes in length was a little skimpy and a bit rah-rah at times for the magnitude of the production it was about. Otherwise though we get a ¾-hour Profiles of The Pacific documentary that provides much detail on the lives of the real soldiers depicted in The Pacific and a 10-minute overview of the Pacific war. All three of these extras appear alone on the sixth disc of the set. Each episode (two per disc on the first five discs of the set) is accompanied by an "Enhanced Viewing" picture-in-picture experience that explains what's going on in the words of historians and real veterans of the war. There's also a Field Guide that provides lots of historical background by way of animated maps, interviews, historical footage, photographs and more. The package overall provides a wealth of information for those interested to know more.
The Pacific is a superb piece of dramatic entertainment and its presentation on Blu-ray by HBO is certainly the best TV series Blu-ray release of the year and vies to be the best Blu-ray release of the year period. Unreservedly recommended.