Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘combat

The Pacific

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Until more than three-quarters of the way through, I was so, so disappointed in “The Pacific”.  Of course, it had an awful lot to live up to.  “Band Of Brothers”, its forerunner, although produced as  a TV series, has to be one of the very best war movies of all time.  “The Pacific” doesn’t even come close.   That’s not to say that it isn’t excellent in its own right because it is but it isn’t in the same league, battalion or regiment as “Band Of Brothers”.

It’s a ten part series and until epsiode five I was bored.   That’s not just because there’s a lack of action – there is – but there’s also very little characterisation or story.  In “Band Of Brothers” you feel like you’re part of the platoon yourself. You grow to know and love each individual and you experience fear, grief, tension, terror alongside all of them.  It wasn’t until epsiode eight of “The Pacific” when Sergeant Basilone falls in love with Lena, marries her and is then shipped to Iwo Jima that I felt the same searing emotional intensity.  I remember when I first watched “Band Of Brothers”, each epsiode was like experiencing an intense personal tragedy.  I would feel drained, exhausted and traumatised.  It was almost too much but although it finishes well, “The Pacific” is not quite enough.  Perhaps the most moving scene of all is in epsiode nine when Eugene comforts a dying Japanese woman.  This is magnificent film making.

I think war is the ultimate movie genre.  It describes the human condition at the very edge. Like all men, I am fascinated with horror, doubt and uncertainty about how I would behave in combat.  I deplore violent films but when the story requires it, realism is essential.  A war movie should make you understand the reality in detail, explicitly and make you turn away from violence.

My old friend Bruce won an Emmy and a Golden Globe working as a producer on “Band Of Brothers” and I remember talking to him about the sound of gunfire.  He explained the effort involved in achieving a more realistic sound than ever before.  You can hear how in every movie thereafter it’s been picked up and enhanced.

“The Pacific” does take realism even further.  The spray of blood that bursts from a soldier’s body as he is hit, the red mist that appears around a group of soldiers as shrapnel lacerates them is horrifying.  The graphic dismemberment and vile, grotesque injury that nowadays we see soldiers survive is beyond words.  At times the cast is wading through a sea of body parts, of arms, legs, hands, feet.  I think we now accept the shocking reality of this because today we see the survivors of such injury. At last, in the battle for Iwo Jima, “The Pacific” begins to communicate the deeply distressing heroism, the humbling, horrifying courage that these young men, our forefathers, summoned up to free the world from tyranny and allow us to enjoy the freedom that we do today.

There is a real mistake in some of the earlier episodes when many of the scenes are just too dark.  There isn’t even the excuse of it being made for the big screen.  It’s just wrong.  Also some of the CGI, particularly in wide shots of amphibious landings for instance, doesn’t work.  It’s not as convincing as the more primitive, model based effects in “Band Of Brothers”

There is one part of “The Pacific” that deserves the very highest praise.  The titles are quite simply one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on television or at the cinema.  They consist of extreme close ups of an artist drawing battle scenes with charcoal.  As the charcoal disintegrates into dust and splinters on the page it mixes through to become the detritus of battle, the dirt, dust and shrapnel of combat.  The backgrounds merge with finely textured, laid paper, with live action, graphics and animation.  It really is quite breathtakingly, achingly beautiful.  All the more so so because its subject is precisely the opposite.  The wonderful, haunting theme music is the same as “Band Of Brothers”.  At least that’s the way I hear it.  If it isn’t then it’s been composed to be so similar that they might as well have stuck with the original.

All in all, I did, eventually, greatly enjoy “The Pacific”.  Most of all though it shows just how bloody marvellous  “Band Of Brothers” is.

Yet Again the MOD Fails Our Heroes

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Hercules XV179, Call Sign "Hilton 22"

Hercules XV179, Call Sign Hilton 22

I hope that I never have to experience the reality of war. but, I think like every man, I am fascinated with how I would behave in combat.  We all want to be heroes and, as I have read, courage is often forged from the fear of disgrace.  The idea of letting down one’s comrades can be more frightening than bullets or explosions.

Even during the Second World War, I would now be deemed too old to fight.  They won’t even have me in the TA, much as I would love to volunteer.  Yet every day, right this very minute, there are men and women younger than my own children, who are being called on to put themselves in mortal danger on our behalf.

Our Hercules Heroes

Our Hercules Heroes

These people deserve the very, very best that we can do for them.  Clearly, the reality of combat means that there will be times when circumstances are less than ideal.  Ammunition may run out.  It might have been preferable to have larger calibre weapons given the force that the enemy deployed.  If air cover had arrived earlier, lives may have been saved. The very nature of combat is that it is unpredictable but when there are lessons to be learned it is imperative that they are studied in depth and acted upon.

Why, oh why, is there episode after episode where the MOD refuses to acknowledge its failings and seems to duck and dive to avoid responsibility? This isn’t about civil service office politics, about covering one’s back or manouvering for promotion.  This is about death and pain and blood and grief.  It’s about mothers who will never see their sons again, about fit, healthy, beautiful bodies and minds that are broken, twisted and consigned to the scrapheap with – yet another scandal – insultingly inadequate financial support.

The Steve Jones Memorial Bench

Steve Jones was an SAS Lance Corporal on board the Hercules shot down over Baghdad in 2005. When I first came across the memorial bench on Thorney Island (see http://pjroldblog.wordpress.com/2008/06/22/walking-the-dog-2/) I was deeply moved and when I returned there a few months later to find a memorial book full of glowing tributes and commendations, I felt that this story was one I wanted to take further.

So I made contact with the MOD press office and very tentatively enquired what support they might be able to offer me with a further story, perhaps even a documentary.  A very charming female Wing Commander seemed interested and said that two of the men on the Hercules had been personal friends.  The Army though were different.  I received a courteous but frosty reception and was told that there was no question of being put in touch with the victims’ families.

I can understand, of course, that some of the families will just want to move on and that journalistic investigation may prolong their grief.  In the end it was made clear to me that while the MOD wouldn’t stand in my way, it believed that the story had already been exhausted and wouldn’t offer me any support.

I have been an MOD spin doctor myself.  Some years ago I was the communications advisor to the Assistant Chief of Staff, UK Support Command on the launch of the British Forces in Germany Health Service. The year that I spent working at Joint Headquarters in Rheindahlen gave me an insight into the services that I am very grateful for.  One memory is of the extraordinary combination of austerity and luxury that I experienced while staying in the Officers Mess.  My room was like a prison cell but in the morning there was silver service at breakfast as I sat at a huge four inch thick mahogany table surrounded by oil paintings, regimental colours and memorabilia. There was no menu.  I could just order whatever it was that took my fancy.

My overwhelming memory though is of the incomparable integrity of the people I worked with.  It left me with a feeling (entirely undeserved) of connection with the military and an understanding of how one really could trust the man next to you with your life.

In the extraordinary age in which we live, when cocaine-fuelled w**nker bankers abuse their customers and the taxpayer, when venal politicians grub around in the muck on billionaires’ yachts, whilst in Afghanistan our boys lay their lives on the line in medieval conditions, it is time that the MOD displayed a fraction of the courage that men like Steve Jones have and admitted its failings to start the process of putting them right.

For the full story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7683909.stm