LIKE ALL GOOD THINGS, WORLD WAR II MUST COME TO AN END
By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, March 11, 2010 — “The Pacific” just might be the last word on World War II because, really, what more do we need to learn here?
I’m as big a fan of World War II and World War II movies as the next person, but I have a feeling the subject is played, at least for now, and especially as far as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are concerned.
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With “The Pacific,” their 10-part miniseries about the war against Japan (premiering Sunday, March 14, at 9 p.m. on HBO), it would seem that the World War II itch that these two have been scratching since “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998 has now been sufficiently relieved.
And with this last effort (or so it would seem to be their last since the great war ends at this miniseries’ conclusion), the current era of World War II revivalism, spearheaded mainly by Spielberg and Tom Hanks, comes to a close. It’s an era that’s been around at least as long as 1998, the year “Saving Private Ryan” was released and Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation,” was published. Or you could antedate the era to the 1992 publication of Stephen Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers,” about the European theater of World War II, that begat the 2001 HBO miniseries of the same name by Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
Then, of course, there was Ken Burns’ epic 2007 documentary on World War II, “The War,” that aired for 14-plus hours on PBS. Talk about the last word on World War II — that documentary was so comprehensive, engrossing and emotionally draining that you would have thought TV would be done with the Second World War for a good generation or two after that thing came along (especially since it already covered some of the same stories told in “The Pacific”).
But no. “The Pacific” has apparently been long in the planning and production stages, ever since “Band of Brothers” made a splash in 2001 (premiering two days before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11) and then Spielberg and Tom Hanks came up with a plan to devote the same kind of attention to the war in the Pacific.
As it happens, “The Pacific” is a fine piece of made-for-TV filmmaking, and fans of “Band of Brothers” — men, mostly — will likely flock to it. And they will likely be well- satisfied. It has all the gore, grit, male bonding and f-words you would expect to find in a piece of filmed entertainment about World War II. “The Pacific” looks expensive and you can tell that great care and effort went into rounding up vintage vehicles (both American and Japanese), weaponry and other equipment in order to make this production as “realistic” as the producers could make it.
“The Pacific” tells the story of a group of young Marines fighting the Japanese on the remote islands of the Pacific that the allies (the Americans, mostly) needed for the establishment of air and naval bases from which to stage the eventual invasion of the Japanese mainland.
You’ve likely never heard of most of the fighting men profiled here, but the experiences of two of them — Sid Phillips and Eugene Sledge of Mobile, Ala. — were related in great detail in Ken Burns’ documentary, which means anyone who remembers that miniseries (and no one who watched it will ever forget it) will already know the fates of Sid and Eugene (played in “The Pacific” by Ashton Holmes and Joe Mazzello, respectively).
While that doesn’t exactly spoil “The Pacific,” it does qualify as a scoop for Ken Burns, who gets credit for popularizing the story of Sid and Eugene before Spielberg and Tom Hanks. As a newspaperman, I know such a situation would rankle me, though I have no idea how Spielberg and Tom Hanks feel about it.
In the end, “The Pacific” might leave you with the same feeling of loss that other high-quality productions about World War II have left you with. You watch these things — whether fictional or documentary or a combination of both — with a sense of awe over what the United States and its fighting men accomplished in two parts of the world against some of the toughest foes in the history of civilization. And then you realize we likely aren’t capable of doing that again. All we really know how to do these days is make great movies about war, though we have forgotten how to actually fight them.
Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com