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The Pacific Blu-ray Review

by October 21, 2010
The Pacific Blu-ray Box Set

The Pacific Blu-ray Box Set

Producer: HBO Home Video
Release Date: November 2, 2010
Staring: Joseph Mazzello, James Badge Dale and Jon Seda
Executive Producers: Tom Hanks, Seven Spielberg
Narrated by Tom Hanks

This review is dedicated to veterans past and present - you are not forgotten.

The Series

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor 18-year-old Sidney Philips stands in a Navy recruitment line.

"Do you boys wanna’ kill Japs?" a recruiter for the US Marines asks. "All you’ll do in the Navy is swab decks. You belong in the Marines! We’ll put you eyeball to eyeball with them."

PFC Sidney Philips is just one of the real men portrayed in The Pacific, and his true story, along with others, are elegantly profiled among the special features of this masterpiece disc set by HBO Home Video.The Pacific

When it comes to World War II, the war in the Pacific rarely gets the kind of attention bestowed on the European theater. They fought on nameless dots of land upon an endless ocean in an alien terrain and the Marines fought a brutal war against a relentless enemy more than prepared and all too ready to die for his cause. Their battle is equally as important as any in the War and is deserving of equal attention.

HBO Films and the makers of Band of Brothers have saved their best effort for the war in The Pacific. Their ten-part presentation, made with an estimated $150 million budget, has won 8 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries – it easily ranks as the most important television of 2010.

The miniseries is made in the modern filmmaking tradition where war is shown as human tragedy rather than simply a vehicle for action. Following the high standards set out by executive-production duo Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, The Pacific is a worthy successor to both Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.

Don’t expect a simple retread of Band of Brothers, however.  Basing itself partly on memoirs written by two Marines featured in the series – With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie – The Pacific takes a more personal approach. We see much more of the home front than we did in Band of Brothers, and are given reflections of the national mood following Pearl Harbor, including the racist dehumanization and caricaturizing of the enemy that was committed on both sides of the ocean. We also see naivety of youth and the contagious spirit of unity that spread across a nation mobilized into action.

The story of The Pacific is presented through three main characters: PFC Eugene Sledge, PFC Robert Leckie and Sgt. John Basilone. One of the common complaints of the series when it was airing on HBO was that the characters seemed to keep changing, making it hard to follow. Where Band of Brothers had the consistency of Maj. Winters and Capt. Nixon to ground the story through many historic events, the connections between the main players in The Pacific are subtle.

This is where the volumes of background information found in the special features add real value. Knowing more about the people who lived these experiences and hearing their stories in their own words brings the series closer to heart and allows it transcend mere entertainment. The Pacific is an ambitious masterpiece of film that hits the mark – at once an action-packed adventure and a journey of self-discovery, not only for the Marines but for an entire nation that found itself ill-prepared for war.

The tales of Leckie, Sledge and Basilone play out as separate-but-intertwined stories told through their exploits in the First Marine Division. Their stories cover not only the war but family life and personal connections. They start with their motivations for joining the Marines and don’t end until we’re shown how each of them coped after the war.The Pacific 3

Narrative musings lifted from letters and other written works from Marines are translated into film to create introspective moments that put you inside a hellish existence on Guadacanal, Peleliu and Iwo Jima. On Guadalcanal, young men barely out of boot camp are forced to set aside their basic humanity as they face a brutal enemy  and commit acts they would have previously thought unimaginable – acts that will haunt many of them for the rest of their lives. The Marines of the First Division earn their reputation across the Pacific as blood-and-guts warriors prepared to do whatever it takes to win. But in the words of PFC Robert Leckie: 

“It’s one thing to reconcile these things with God, it’s another to square them with yourself.”

Special Features

In all the years I’ve been reviewing media, I seldom report that added features bring anything of substance; but if all you’ve done is watch the series on HBO, you haven’t experienced the full impact of The Pacific.

If I were rating this disc set, it would get a maximum score. There is no perceptible weakness in the presentation, from the video and audio quality to the story itself. I’m even particularly impressed with the way the special features truly support and enhance the enjoyment of the main feature.

Profiles of The Pacific

These are bios of the real-life individuals portrayed in the series that take you into their families, their home towns, what led them to Marine recruitment and what life was like for them after the war. This will change the way you view the ten-episode series. Even if you’ve already watched it, you’ll instantly want to watch it again after seeing these bios. You’ll be overwhelmed by the sense that these are real people, your grandfathers and your grandmothers. The individual profiles give the story a heart and soul you just don’t get in fiction.

Enhanced Viewing Mode

Enhanced Viewing mode uses a secondary audio and video feed to produce a picture-in-picture or text pop-up in the lower part of the screen. There is loads of extra content that explains behind-the-scenes details of the events covered in the series. From strategies being employed by the Marines and the Japanese to the inside anecdotes that inspired individual scenes, watching the series in Enhanced Viewing Mode creates yet another unique experience. Some of the content for Enhanced Viewing Mode is taken from the featurettes found on the Special Features disc, but an overwhelming majority is unique and can only be viewed through this mode.

Historical Backgrounds

This feature simply turns on or off the five-minute prologues at the start of each episode. You have seen these if you watched the series on HBO; they’re an abbreviated version of what you get when you watch the series in Enhanced Viewing Mode.

Anatomy of The Pacific War

A very short HD featurette that explores the history and clash of cultures that ensued during the war in the Pacific.

The Pacific Field Guide

This is similar to the Field Guide on the Band of Brother discs. It provides a timeline for each episode and marks it with both historic and personal events in the lives of the characters. You can access some video from here, but it’s mostly a text-based experience.

Video

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Using a 58-inch Panasonic Viera plasma monitor as reference, it is with no hyperbole that I attest to  the excellence in video quality in this production. Having studied each second of episode one and two twice already and inserted random scenes across the other discs to monitor consistency, there is no doubt that HBO Home Video has set the benchmark for video quality with The Pacific.

Detailed & Dark

The opening scene where Leckie goes to church at night and meets the girl next door is an exercise in contrasts between colorful stained glass, the shadowy front-door of the cathedral and the flakes of an early December snowfall. Nighttime is a challenge for any camera, but HBO Home Video provides relentless attention to detail. There is almost no hint of grain inside the inky dark levels. This will become critical during upcoming night scenes in the jungle.

As impressive as the dark scenes are in this disc set, the real payoff is in the bright daylight on the islands. The panoramic scenes where blue ocean and blue sky converge on green jungle are positively eye-popping. After weeks in the jungles of Guadalcanal, the Marines are smeared with grime, sweat and gore, and you’re spared none of the explicit detail. The color palette and contrast in each scene is an endless delight to behold, and scenes in bright sunshine seem almost hyper-real. The overall look of the series won’t win over anyone who prefers the traditional film-stock look of faded or washed out colors.

Band of Brothers Comparison

For a reality check, I had to pop in an episode of Band of Brothers. At the time of its release I thought it was state-of-the-art quality video for high-def. But comparison reveals the series' age, filmed over ten years ago. Night scenes seem overcome by murkiness and in scenes where planes flew through grey clouds there was evidence of video compression. Even the CGI in The Pacific struts a certain superiority over Band of Brothers. The scene in the latter where fire overtakes an engine on a 101st Airborne Division plane looks like… CGI. By comparison, the scene in which Marines in The Pacific witness a naval battle from the shores of Guadalcanal gives you the impression of actually witnessing something you shouldn’t. It looks crisp and colorful explosions and sound fill the night air.

Warning: The same jaw-dropping, amazing video quality – encompassing the natural landscape of jungles and beaches, the delicate beauty of the girl-next-door and the sensitive and often jovial scenes of wartime home and family – also does not flinch from gore and brutality in the field. You may see detail that you wish you hadn’t.

Audio

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
French: DTS Digital Surround 5.1
Spanish: 2.0
Castellano: DTS Digital Surround 5.1
Polski Lektor: 2.0

The Score

Before I start up a new Blu-ray disc I always burrow through Audio and Language settings looking for it –“DTS-HD Master Audio”. When I see it, a streak of warm excitement runs through my blood.The Pacific Sledge

My first seconds with The Pacific Blu-ray disc were spent with episode one. The Historical Background option is turned off by default so my initial viewing skipped Tom Hanks’ narration and went straight to series’ main theme by Hans Zimmer. On first hearing it, I had one of those “eureka moments” – now I get it! The rich strings, drawing thick lines across sonic fields in my media room mirror perfectly the thick charcoal lines being drawn by the artist in the intro.

Watching the intro through a PRV/Cable Box never gave me that feeling. I experienced the intro as if it were my first time, watching it in high-def. In the opening music there is just a hint of triumph, but it’s tainted by a somber loss. Maybe it’s the childhood of these Marines that is lost in this epic story. I have to admit to getting a bit choked up thinking about it.

The Battles

During the feature, every one of your 5.1 audio channels will get a workout. The front, rear, left and right channels deftly coordinate sonic-environments that mimic wild gunfire beneath a canopy of wilderness.

With other movies, I’ve borne unfortunate witness to the home theater audio issue where the payoff just isn’t there. What should be minor sound effects on the way to a climactic explosion are delivered at too-high levels, diminishing a pay-off that should rock your socks off. I am pleased to report that great pains were taken with The Pacific to ensure balanced volumes across all channels. Whispers are faint, heavy caliber fire is front and center and the musical score is never intrusive.

The 5.1 audio for The Pacific has that rare ability, found in only the best soundtracks played back on a well-honed audio-system, to produce sounds in between your front and rear channels. It literally puts natural environmental audio cues into your living room, whether it’s an echo of distant gunfire, an exotic jungle bird, a scream or a musical score.

Overall

If I were rating this disc set, it would get a maximum score. There is no perceptible weakness in the presentation, from the video and audio quality to the story itself. I’m even particularly impressed with the way the special features truly support and enhance the enjoyment of the main feature. Hanks Spielberg

There is a lot of viewing here, enough to keep anyone busy for months. Ten episodes at an hour apiece, plus five-minute prologues, plus extra viewings of the entire feature in Enhanced Viewing mode, not to mention reading and exploring the little gems you’ll find in the Field Guide – it’s a veritable orgy of World War II and military history.

The Pacific Blu-ray set is an automatic must-have for the World War II history buff or fans of historically accurate war movies. But the real audience for this series is so much wider. All the classic elements that make a good drama are contained within each episode. The treatment of this story is as sensitive as it is brutal. It neither glorifies war nor berates an enemy.

The Pacific is the result of Spielberg and Hanks plying a trade they seem to have mastered over the years – shredding the pages of impersonal history books to tell the tales of the greatest generation, through the eyes and worlds of the people who lived it.

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About the author:

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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Recent Forum Posts:

GO-NAD! posts on March 18, 2011 19:47
Just finished watching Parts 1 & 2 of the BD version. Man - that is a well-made production! The combat scenes really gave the RX-V1800's amp section a workout. It didn't get hot, per se, but she got pretty warm! Then again, the girls were out of the house and I was able to bring up the SPLs “a bit”. Almost felt myself ducking the flying bullets! Great PQ too! Me like!
Frans posts on November 13, 2010 20:48
Just had it delivered! Now I need a day or two off. Fat chance, so I guess it has to wait 'till Christmas.
Talktolee posts on November 11, 2010 15:54
I would imagine this would look amazing on BR…watched it on HBO regular and I was thrilled…not as good as B.O.B. but still pretty good.
cvcgolf posts on November 09, 2010 23:32
I have no idea how to watch the extras on my Oppo player. The two just don't mix I guess. It really is a good series and the sound is absolutely amazing. My poor sub is working overtime on these discs. Nice job HBO!
Wayde Robson posts on October 23, 2010 07:15
Thanks Maple Syrup.

The series did a difficult thing, using real people. The special features really drives it home that these are people not unlike your granparents. It really makes you think of the troops today.

More and more are coming home and they'll be looking for jobs in this economy. I hope ‘veteran’ resumes get a extra attention. I know if one passes my way I will give it a solid look as I am a veteran of the US Army.

It was hard not to put in any Marine jokes but - all rivalry aside, I liked how the series dealt with serious subjects.

I think, you're thinking of the other guy that was also a write - PFC Sledge. He was the younger guy. At the very end of the series - the scene where he and his father went hunting … gosh it brings a tear to my eye.

If only all our vets could have such an understanding (and well-off) parent to come home to.
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