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'The Pacific,' a triumphant miniseries on HBO


WHEN | WHERE Ten-part series airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO, starting this weekend.

REASON TO WATCH Produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman, this is the bookend to 2001's "Band of Brothers," which followed "E" Company before and after D-Day. This is largely based on the memoirs of former Marines Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie, a veteran Associated Press correspondent, both of whom died in 2001.

THE BACKGROUND The 1st Marine division took Guadalcanal (1942) to stop the Japanese advance toward Australia, while Gen. Douglas MacArthur wanted to invade Peleliu (1944) to take the Philippines. Peleliu was a death trap as Marines confronted devastating new Japanese tactics of retrenchment and attrition. Casualties in Okinawa (1945) - taken to stage the invasion of Japan - were the worst of the entire war (12,513 U.S. soldiers killed.)

WHAT THE MINISERIES IS ABOUT "The Pacific" is essentially two separate films, as the first several hours track Pfc. Robert Leckie (played by James Badge Dale) in Guadalcanal, and Pfc. Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello) through campaigns in Peleliu and Okinawa. A third and less central narrative is the famous story of Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone (Jon Seda), who got the Medal of Honor for his actions at Guadalcanal and was later shipped back stateside to sell war bonds. Basilone was later killed at Iwo Jima.

THE FIRST EPISODE After Pearl Harbor, new recruits Basilone and Leckie ship out to Guadalcanal, while Sledge is prevented from enlisting due to a heart murmur. At Guadalcanal, the 1st Marine Division confronts massed Japanese assaults - so-called Banzai attacks - that result in 100 percent casualties for the enemy.

Without question, "The Pacific" is one of the stellar TV events of the year - of many years. There is some spectacular filmmaking here, and most viewers will have never seen battlefield footage quite as vivid as this - or as horrific; it's raw, shocking and intensely visceral. You almost want to wipe the mud off your face, or the blood from your brow, and when bullets hit flesh, the percussive impact extends from the TV set right into your pith and marrow. Men die and they die horribly. There are many fine performances, but the standouts are Mazzello - who turns Sledge from a willowy romantic into a leatherneck killer - and especially Rami Malek ("Night at the Museum"). Malek's Merriell "Snafu" Shelton - the drawling, cynical good ol' boy from the Louisiana backwoods - steals the entire show.

That said, "Band of Brothers" was a more consistent and cohesive film; "The Pacific" is weaker in the beginning, then grows in power.

BOTTOM LINE From this, you will gain a keen understanding of what lies beneath those endless rows of markers at any military cemetery. This is an honest and often magnificent tribute to the 1st Marine Division.



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