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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Pacific (HBO Miniseries) [Blu-ray]

 

(Created by Bruce C. McKenna , 2010)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Production:

Theatrical: Dreamworks SKG & Playtone

Blu-ray: Home Box Office

 

Disc:

Region: FREE!

Runtime: approx. 530 minutes

Disc One Size: 42,438,188,668 bytes

Average Feature Size: 15,112,237,056 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.05 Mbps

Chapters: 10

Case: Gatefold Box in “Band of Brothers” Tin: BRD x 6

Release date: November 2nd, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080P / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48 kHz / 4177 kbps / 24-bit)
French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Polish DTS Audio 2.0
Spanish DTS Audio 2.0
English DTS Express 2.0

 

Subtitles:

English, French, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese & Swedish and none

 

Extras:

• Enhanced Viewing

• Field Guide

• Historical Backgrounds - Tom Hanks

• Profiles of The Pacific - in HD (approx 48 min.)

• Making The Pacific - in HD (22.35)

• Anatomy of the Pacific War - in HD (10.00)

 

Description: The Pacific is the ten-part sister series to HBO’s Band of Brothers: a portrait of WWII's Pacific Theatre as seen through the eyes and hearts of three U.S. Marines - Robert Leckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge. We follow them from Guadalcanal to Cape Gloucester, Pavavu, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and their triumphant, yet uneasy, return home after V-J Day. HBO is releasing the series simultaneously on both Hi-Def Blu-ray and DVD, each with six discs.

 

 

The Film: 9
A war movie stands or falls on it ability to portray the thousand-yard stare. It’s that look that a soldier will have after only a couple of days of continuous combat, that shellshocked gaze that stares into an infinity beyond the horrific reality that they have endured and must endure again, and again.

The young Marines that are sent Guadalcanal, many on their first combat mission, are pumped up for action, giddy with the fantasy of the battle to come and with that peculiar sprit de corps that only the American Marine can conjure. As the reality of battle settles in, their faces reflect some nameless contradiction. Disturbing beyond measure is not only the sudden, irrational death of their comrades, but the fanatical pursuit of death by their enemy. It strikes the Marine as appallingly unnatural that Japanese soldiers would fling themselves into the face of relentless machine gun defenses whose end can only be certain death.

The camera fixes on the faces of the battle weary Marine as he contemplates such otherworldly moments that seem to last forever, then on a sea of corpses that was the night’s work. The faces look familiar, not because we recognize the actors (in many cases, we aren’t likely to) but because we know them from photographs of war correspondents. Yes, I would say that HBO nails the thousand-yard stare down pretty well.

A great deal, of course, depends on casting (for which the series won the Emmy in their category): In the principle roles are Joseph Mazzello, James Badge Dale and Jon Seda as the real-life Marines PFC Eugene Sledge, PFC Robert Leckie and Sgt. John Basilone, respectively. These men, together with the many supporting actors who portrayed the soldiers of the 1st Marines, have that wide-eyed, can-do look that we associate with mid-century Americans, and that spirit of invincibility that is inculcated into every Marine, only to have those expressions seared off in the continuous hours and days of battle and unexpected heavy casualties. Special mention to an extensive supporting cast, including Zoe Carides as the open-hearted mother of a girl that gets involved with Leckie in Melbourne, Tom Budge as a soldier very much at the end of his candle, Rami Malek as “Snafu” Shelton, William Sadler at Lt. Col. “Chesty” Puller, and Matt Craven as a Navy psychiatrist - five among many that leap to mind.

Comparisons are inevitable, invited I should say, to HBO most popular TV-to-video series, Band of Brothers. It was created by Bruce McKenna (who also wore writing and producing hats), one of the main writers on Band of Brothers. Hanks and Spielberg exec-produced both series; and Remi Adefarasin was responsible for principal photography. The key difference lies in their titles: In Band of Brothers we follow a single company of the 101st Airborne throughout the European campaign of WWII. In The Pacific, while three men are central, they meet only tangentially. Platoons are broken up and members reassigned rather more frequently than we are used to seeing in stories such as this. The sense of chaos at all levels is primary, each episode has scarcely a narrative thread to hang onto before it is left and picked up loosely elsewhere.

 


The impressions are subjective and more intimate than in Band of Brothers. We are as much in the heads of the Marines as we are in the war, from the jungles of Guadalcanal to the rocky landscapes of Okinawa, from the black sands of Iwo Jima to the coral beaches of Peleliu, from the incessant rains of Pavavu to the emotionally complex return home. The soldiers fight the enemy without and within: the relentless Japanese, of course, but also their own psyche and sometimes their comrades. And always the jungle: the rains, heat, dysentery, malaria, fatigue, madness.

A key decision in respect to the video version of the series is the reassignment of Tom Hanks’ introductory remarks that preceded and set the stage for the televised episodes. (They are now relegated to an optional choice of Play.) The effect of his comments created a more documentary feel to the series. Watching the series without them, there is more of a build-up, and more importantly, the glue that Hanks offered in the way of perspective, now absent, drives home the grunt’s point of view: to carry out the orders of their commanding officers without knowing the whys or the big picture. And while they often have a pretty good idea of what sort of enemy force is arrayed before them at any moment, the camera only pulls back for fleeting moments to tell us where we are in the pacific, if not why.

My only criticism of the series (besides the long-accepted designation “miniseries” - now part of the HBO logo - which, to my ear, makes less of the experience and the investment) is the price paid for coverage and authenticity: namely, a compelling narrative coherence. I’m not suggesting the filmmakers should have done this, but you can easily grasp how much less scattered and more driven The Pacific would have been if it had settled on one Marine, with asides to several others. It’s a judgment call, and I don’t really feel we are much the worse for it.


 

Image: 9/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The Pacific was shot on 35 mm film and subjected to a modest amount of processing for the battle sequences before finding its way onto HDTV and Blu-ray . The look for The Pacific changes subtly depending on the location, with moderately grainy, somewhat filtered and desaturated, higher contrast images for the battle sequences and crisp, liquid, filmlike, yet somewhat glossy images away from the heat of battle at the home front and on R&R. The transfer reliably presents these distinctions with very few difficulties (I noticed only a smidgen of edge enhancement), no DNR or noise to speak of despite extended night scenes.

The color and contrast for the daytime war scenes harkens back to familiar documentary photography of the period without actually imitating it, thus making the transitions to peaceable scenes less jarring and more of a piece. The Pacific is not Soderbergh’s Traffic. Even so, the color for the scenes at home and in Melbourne have a ripe, luscious color that enhances the reds, as if a reminder of the bloody war the Marines must return to.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 10/8
In scenes of chaos, such as battles big and small, it’s so easy for the mixing engineer to simply spread effects left, right and behind to convey the impression of mayhem, taking care to offer a few correctly fixed locational cues. I usually permit a certain degree of laxity, figuring that to get all of the effects in their correct locations is more work than is necessary or, in some case, useful. Add a little LFE, some screaming mortars, some screaming soldiers, the whiz of bullets and that should sell the program pretty well.

In my opinion those responsible for the sound design for The Pacific have earned the High Definition Video Oscar for Best Sound not only for this year, but perhaps for all years up until now. Indeed the series won and/or was nominated for a number of sound-related Emmys. (Sound Mixer Michael Minkler was also on board for Black Hawk Down – ‘nuf said!) More care was taken to make precise the myriad of arms fire than I have ever heard before in a home theatre experience. Especially effective are the night battles where we can’t see what is hit, but only where the fire has started from and the occasional tracing round to understand its trajectory. The effect with a properly tuned high definition audio playback system is as frightening as it is riveting.

It is not only the locational cues that hold our attention, but more important: the size, shape, timbre and bone-crunching impact of all manner of firepower, from hand guns and M1 rifles and carbines to BAR’s and 50 mm machine guns to mortars and other explosives, to the muffled cough of distant canon and small arms fire. LFE is properly judged and never exaggerated just to prove itself.

And that’s just the big stuff. We haven’t even got to the beach landing at Pelelui, which will knock your proverbial socks off.

When the Marines enter the jungles of Guadalcanal they are met with a living, enveloping organism of insects, birds, rain (the distinction between falling rain on the ground, on the trees and suspended canvas is appreciated). Thunderstorms have a haunting magic. There is nothing living that does not contribute its unique sound to the magical cacophony that is the jungle. There is no way to distinguish the enemy from the trees. The jungle would suddenly open fire, several Marines scream out, then you knew.

Dialogue is another instance of movie magic. I was unable – and, by this time, unwilling – to tell if the dialogue during the scenes during, before and after a battle was live or looped. I noticed no telltale signs of soundstage effect. It all seemed to work, even if what we hear might not have been the way voices sound in that particular landscape.

In the big moments, the music tends to become generic: like James Horner meets Randy Newman. But in the more subtle scenes, the music enhances the material instead of trying to compete with it.

 

 

Operations: 4
I didn’t much care for the menu layout in general. Too many things are hidden, for example Hank’s historical backgrounds, and we sometimes suffer a circuitous route to get from one place to another. Subtitles cannot be accessed from the remote. God help you if the language you wish to see is at the top of a list of thirteen where you have to go through each one until you reach yours. Nor can you get in and out of Enhanced Viewing mode directly from your remote as you could with Universal’s U-Control. Instruction for the Enhanced View include this murky travel advisory: “Press the < and > buttons on your remote control to skip forward and backward between picture-in-picture content.” I tested this instruction and never quite fugured out what was meant by it. A minor detail to some: considering the fact the Japanese figure prominently in this series, there are no subtitles for those speak only that language!

Make sure your player has the most up to date firmware, as it may be necessary to access the Enhanced Mode feature as well as the Field Guide.

 

 

 

Extras: 8
HBO offers no audio commentaries for The Pacific. Instead there are several options for learning about production and background: The first are the three bonus features that comprise the final disc in the set: “Profiles of the Pacific” (interviews with people intimately acquainted with six of the Marines depicted in the series), “Making The Pacific” (a brief documentary about production issues and special effects, authenticity, and training of the actors) and “Anatomy of the Pacific War” (a discussion of Japanese and American attitudes and propaganda going into the war. Who thinks up these titles! Then there are the scattered pop up banners and PIP comments that crop up throughout each episode in a feature called “Enhanced Viewing” – another one of those terms that reinvents the meaning of language - that offers plenty of ongoing commentary by historians and those involved with the making of the series. Finally we can find Tom Hanks’ Historical Background introductions to several of the episodes hidden under the Play Episode button.

 

 

Bottom line: 9
The Pacific is an ideal series for home theatre viewing. With front projection or sizeable flat screens and a serious high-definition surround sound system we are transported, safely, into a world that few of us now living ever knew, even if our fathers did. There is much to learn - in many instances, to learn all over again. There is comment in the Extra Features that - rather unwittingly, I should think - warns against the tyranny of a colonial power whose manifesto is the domination of lesser peoples.

Taken at face value, the drama that is the lives of Bob Leckie, John Basilone and Gene Sledge as they played their part in that great war is powerful stuff. As with Band of Brothers, cliche is rare (war, after all, is something of a cliche, is it not; sentimentality is left at the door altogether. Bombs really do burst in the air and we are hurt as are they.

As for the high definition part of the package: The Pacific looks great and will likely become a benchmark for sound reproduction.

Highly recommended, despite the clumsy menus.

Leonard Norwitz
October 16th, 2010

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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