I suppose it's the whole mythos of World War II as "the Good War" that has captivated me for so long. There's something so (understandably) vaunted and revered about this generation of kids, average age was 23, who just up and went off and fought for something real and true and important. Though we've become acquainted, through the whir of modern cinema, with the surreally bloody terror of the battlefield, the conflict still has that patina of old American glory, of valor and bravery in the face of some very real and very bad enemies. It's a wholesome and rousing narrative with a hard-won victory at the end. There's none of the sinister ambiguity of Vietnam, or the old-timey remoteness of WWI. It's just right. Terrible, but just right.
So I loved the jittery and stripped lens finish of Saving Private Ryan and swooned at the poetic and jungle-dark The Thin Red Line when they came to theaters twelve years ago. (I will admit to contemplating, not terribly seriously and only for a week or so, joining the Army after my third viewing of SPR.) And then Band of Brothers came to HBO in 2001 and we got ten whole hours of heart swelling WWII drama. Though not a perfect series — it relied too heavily at times on easy sentiment and "hey, we're talkin' like we're in the '40s!" banter — Band of Brothers did exactly the job it set out to do; it thrilled and saddened us and paid somber yet warm-hearted respect to those brave fellows who helped put an end to terrifying injustices and, in a very real sense, secured our homeland. After the war ended, Band of Brothers was over and there was no more, one half of the American WWII narrative left unexamined (in the premium TV miniseries format, at least).
But then, nearly a decade later, we heard of The Pacific, another ten-hour miniseries that cost a staggering $200 million to produce and once again features the producing talent of Steven Spielberg and his old buddy Tom Hanks. Expectations were high and, sadly, still are. I mean that last night's premiere was just a tad disappointing, but I still have high hopes that the rest of the series will deliver. There was just something lacking in the premiere episode — maybe it was too much of a retread of other things or maybe it was too hyped. (Sorry, guys!) I also didn't love the structure and pacing. I'm not sure it was all that necessary to see the soldiers at home, pre-ship-off. It was too hard an attempt to yank the heartstrings or something. And then to go from that to a near-immediate landing on some blasted beach in the South Pacific felt rushed. I liked that in Band of Brothers we got an entire episode of training and waiting before any shots were fired. The battle seemed to loom a lot larger in that first episode than it did on The Pacific last night, which pretty quickly treated us to whiz-bang gunfire and mortar explosions and, with strange elegance, lots of gore.
The show is shot beautifully and acted well in most cases. William Sadler did nice pipe-smoking, gentlemanly Southern grizzle and The Departed's James Badge Dale acquitted himself nicely in the requisite role of soulful college boy viewing the war as both a visceral and intellectual horror (think Eion Bailey in Brothers). I'm not so won-over by Ashton Holmes' boyish dopiness or Jon Seda's wisecrackin' — they seem straight out of central WW2 casting in the same way the most frustrating characters from Band of Brothers did. Most of these characters are based on real people, and I just wish they were all written and performed as such. And what to make of the curious Joseph Mazzello, returning to us after child stardom and a bout of obscurity still gangly and awkward but uncomfortably older? We've yet to figure out how his character goes from being banned from enlisting due to his heart murmur to joining his friend (Holmes — anyone else get a little homoeroticism in that bicycle scene?) in the South Pacific, but for now I'm loving neither his fussy earnestness nor his embarrassing peach fuzz.
Of course I'll watch every installment and will tear up at all the soaring Hans Zimmer music (those opening credits! was already welling last night), but the first episode just didn't grab me in the way I was hoping it would. Maybe I was asking for too much, or maybe I'm just finally sick of all this war.
What'd you think?