Posted on 3/04/13 10:54 AM
A Different War; a Different Miniseries
Despite the fact that it's from the same people, and despite the fact that the marketing wants to remind us of the commonality every time we think of the new miniseries, it simply is not fair to compare this to Band of Brothers. I'm going to try to avoid doing it. For one thing, Band of Brothers was based on a single book, and this was based on several of them. For another, the experiences of the men who fought in Europe were hugely different from the experiences of the men who fought in the Pacific. By the time the Allies invaded Italy, the "island-hopping" of the Pacific was already well underway. It was also considerably harder to take people out of fighting for a bit of a break in the Pacific. Leave just basically didn't happen in the Pacific. There are also ethnic issues, which we'll get into in a bit, and a very different situation all the way around. So of course the pair wouldn't have a lot in common.
The main thing the two have in common is that both are the stories of real people. Among others, this includes Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzelo), and John Basilone (John Seda). Because of the oddities of how recruitment worked in World War II, there are very few draftees in the stories. The three men were not together the whole of the war; they, like most of the Marines in the Pacific, participated in most of the major battles, one or another of them, but they were not always together. Basilone earned the Medal of Honor, went on war bond promotion tours, taught at Camp Pendleton, and went back into combat at Iwo Jima. Sledge, a replacement in his unit, served at Peleliu and Okinawa. Leckie was at Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu. Through their eyes, and others, we see pretty much the entirety of the Pacific War, and boy, it is not a pretty sight. There are several other recurring characters, but these three are the main focus.
To be perfectly honest, the combat scenes kind of dragged for me. It's difficult to keep track of who the muddy, yelling guy in the fatigues is from one scene to the next, and I didn't feel as though most of the recurring characters were very well developed. This meant I didn't always recognize them when they were in camp, or even in Melbourne, much less when they were in the rain of one Pacific island or another. I generally recognized "Snafu" (Rami Malek) in the non-battle scenes, because there was something vaguely unsettling about him most of the time, but I don't think I always recognized him in combat. I imagine the scenes don't do a terrible job of capturing the actual experience of combat--in that they are loud, frantic, and confusing. However, that doesn't make for the most gripping television, at least so far as I am concerned. I'm sure there are plenty of people who were interested through the whole thing, but I wasn't.
I was much more interested in watching what happened to the characters when they weren't in combat. We see various of the characters fall in love, and I really liked that. I'm glad that, while showing us why Basilone was the most decorated enlisted Marine, they also showed his courtship and marriage with Lena (Annie Parisse). I liked the episode about the leave in Melbourne, because it lets us really explore the men--and the conflict between going to war and those who stay at home. I like the moment when Snafu prevents Sledge from being as hardened as he is. I like the fact that we explore the difficulty in separating the native Okinawans from "Japs." I like that there are moments when the personalities of the men fighting those battles are more vivid than the battles themselves. I can get the details of the battle from any source, but the personality of those fighting any given war has always been more interesting to me. These were young men, most of them, some so young that they had to get permission to enlist, and that's worth discussing.
I didn't like that the DVDs did not automatically play the historical segments when you hit "play all"; in order to get them, you had to go into the individual menus and watch the episodes separately. There isn't even an option for it--"play all with" and "play all without" would have been fine. Actually, one of the most interesting things to me about the whole thing comes from one of the only ones I actually watched. One of the veterans, I don't know who, kept referring to "Japanese soldiers" in a way that made it quite clear that he was preventing himself from instinctively leaving off all but the first syllable. Remember that US propaganda of the time basically implied that the Japanese were subhuman; the Nazis were evil, but you couldn't say all Germans were evil. Too many Americans were part-German. The Japanese were different, in several senses. They weren't Like Us, and that was another thing that made the two theatres very different. Note that hardly a word of Japanese is spoken all the way through this.