Black Mirror is back, thank God

blackmirror

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirrorbroadcast at the tail-end of 2011, was as satisfying as it was disturbing. Three hour-long episodes, in which the only recurring character was the theme of techno-doom, wove darkly satirical yarns of talent show dystopias, eyeball-mounted smartphones and Prime Ministerial pig-shagging. It was an angry thesis on our species and the technology to which we are now inextricably wedded, and its conclusion, broadly, was: “we’re all fucked”.

We continue to be fucked in Black Mirror‘s return, a comeback which could not be more welcome in the current plodding TV landscape. Last night’s premiere, ‘Be Right Back’, boasted perhaps the series’ most intriguing concept to date. Martha (Hayley Atwell) is shellshocked when her husband Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) is suddenly killed in a car accident. Stricken by grief, Martha signs up for a futuristic new service which creates an artificially intelligent replica of a lost loved one, using their Facebook statuses or Twitter updates as contributing data. Add old home movies and a synthetically-constructed body to the mix, and you have yourself have a clone almost smart enough to pass the Turing test – the measure by which computers can be believably human.

Like earlier episodes, the fictional reality presented is near-future rather than Futurama, with smatterings of small but recognisable advances in existing technologies, making the experience all the more effective and – as is no doubt intended – unsettling. Brooker’s satire is a bleak and cursory warning, extending today’s trends to their darkly logical conclusion.

As before, there’s an implicit comment on our desperate over-reliance on technology. Martha scolds Ash at the start of the episode for having his head buried in his phone; later, she becomes obsessed with her own phone when it offers an artificial version of her late husband. But there are also deeper, philosophical ideas about what it means to be human; that our imperfections and foibles could never be matched by the cold unblemished rigidity of machines.

‘Be Right Back’ is probably the series’ best entry yet – thoughtful, engaging, and sad, a melancholic romantic drama with technology as the unworthy shoulder to cry on. Brooker’s script is matched with the sort of directorial elegance and cinematic grandeur (from Owen Harris, whose credits also include the excellent Holy Flying Circus and a few Misfits episodes) that the material demands, and assisted no end by a brave and vulnerable performance from Hayley Atwell. Television is seldom this affecting or intelligent. Get Black Mirror in your life.

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Just Seen: Jackie Brown / Tyrannosaur / Mad Men

Jackie Brown

Tarantino’s third film was the only one of his I hadn’t yet seen. It’s a curious sidenote on his career, Tarantino at his most reserved and subtle. For some reason he Benjamin Buttoned his way back into homage-heavy gore-schlock – not necessarily a bad thing, but you wouldn’t predict a career trajectory like this. Jackie Brown is the kind of film a director might make towards the end of his career: a legacy piece. A measured, sprawling crime epic.

Sure, the pop cultural touchstones are there – the casting of Pam Grier, the blackspoitation soundtrack, Samuel L Jackson’s use of the word ‘motherfucker’ – but they’re definitively muzzled, in service to the meandrous plot. Elmore Leonard’s original story is so dense and meaty that Tarantino even has to eschew his trademark off-kilter narrative, playing it smooth and linear. The result is something quite unusual; you feel like you’re watching a David Fincher film from the 70s. Devoid of the expected tawdry bloody pleasures, I found a rather sweet middle-aged love story acted with lashings of heart and soul from Grier and Robert Forster. Here’s hoping Quentin’s got another one of these in him.

Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine’s debut was unforgivably overlooked by nearly every major award ceremony, and plenty of critics. Who the hell knows why – Tyrannosaur knocked me for six. I sincerely can’t remember the last time a British drama has affected me as much.  Peter Mullan plays Joseph, a lonely, violent drunk who befriends Hannah (Colman), a troubled Christian charity shop manager, and together they forge an unlikely allegiance confronting their respective pains. It’s something of a cliché to call a performance a ‘revelation’, but Olivia Colman really did reveal a great deal more than she had let on in the myriad of lighthearted sitcom roles she’s thus far been known for. (Bucking her film’s trend, she did win a much-deserved Empire award, and her tear-sodden acceptance speech is just lovely.)

Within such a modest framework, Considine’s astonishingly assured scope spans class, alcoholism, religion, marriage, domestic abuse, death, and murder. And beneath the grim kitchen-sink exterior it bears all the traits of a dark, surprising thriller. Few ‘character studies’ are are as gripping as this. I mean, quite frankly, Considine can piss off – seriously, no one man deserves that amount of talent, the bastard. Not only is he one of our greatest working actors, but he has the potential to be one of our greatest exports behind the camera, too. What a dick.

Mad Men (season 5)

[HERE BE SPOILERS] After five seasons, I remain to be convinced that AMC’s awards-laden drama isn’t much more than a glossy, big-budget, high-production-value soap; the issues of 1960s America continue to be handled a little too heavily (it’s as if the word ISSUES flashes up on the screen sometimes), and precedence continues to be given to soapy relationship dramas and over-sensationalised storylines. Lane’s tragic exit from the series is yet another rather stagey incident to take place in the SCDP offices – remember this?.

But, Lord help me, soap or not, I’m hooked. Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison. It is one of the slickest, sharpest things it’s possible to watch on telly, and every element – from costume to acting – is of premium quality. I just wonder whether Don Draper’s marital problems is the fleshiest plotline they can muster. I’ll still wait with baited breath for season 6, of course.

Just Seen: God Bless America / Jackass 3D / Futurama

God Bless America

Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray) is a depressive middle-aged loner with Larry David-esque grievances. When he’s diagnosed with cancer, Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as Frank takes revenge on society’s ills, or as Chris Morris once put it: “they don’t deserve punishment…they deserve GUNISHMENT“.  Bobcat Goldthwaite’s self-indulgent wish-fulfilment fantasy is essentially a platform to air his misgivings with the state of 21st-century America, and through Frank imagines how he could right some of these perceived wrongs.

It’s capably made, but the script is overrun with stilted, preachy soapbox-style dialogue. And its central argument – that civillisation is uncivil – is flawed. Most of Frank’s irks are found on television. Can’t he just turn the telly off? I hate most of the stuff Frank hates too, but I try not to worry about such fripperies by actively avoiding reality TV. And he labours under the ever-enduring misconception that things used to better – “golden age thinking” as Michael Sheen put it in Midnight In Paris. Such wistful sentimentality of a better yesterday forgets the barbarism and bigotry of earlier civilisations – traits far more deplorable than the ‘annoying habits’ of Frank’s ire. (Is talking in a cinema really worthy of a death sentence?).

Jackass 3D

After an absurdly heavy Friday night (finishing up at around 7am), I found myself in the market for a specific grade of brainless hangover viewing, come Saturday afternoon. Well, they don’t make ’em more brainless than Jackass, that ragtag bunch of gleeful idiots who willingly fling their bodies (and their dignity) into the line of fire – be it paintballs, dildos or feces – all in the name of preposterous, grotesque, hilariously juvenile entertainment.

The Jackass formula remains largely unchanged since its MTV days, though the budget is a little more swollen and an extra dimension was added for the theatrical release of this third outing. Like the first two movies, this is essentially a feature-length episode of the TV show, without the spectre of censorship looming. And by God, it still ticks the boxes. It’s horrendously puerile, scraping below the lowest of all denominators, and about as cinematically lucid as a portaloo full of dogshit (such a toilet makes an appearance in the movie, incidentally), but barely a minute went by where I wasn’t guffawing like an idiot or screaming in disbelief. Unsophisticated gut-level gratification at its most distilled level.

Futurama (season 7)

Getting cancelled by Fox and reincarnated by Comedy Central was maybe the best thing to happen to Futurama. Whilst Matt Groening’s crankier, older creation languishes on into perpetual staleness, its younger cousin remains in rude health, shark definitively unjumped. There’s been some golden moments in this first half of season 7 (the second half airs next year).

Though I’d hesitate to call it a golden age, the writers have flexed some lofty ambition in their sci-fi storylines (Bender confronting his own lack of free will a particular highlight), along with some of the best puns and wordplay you’ll find on the small screen. (“There’s a damn!” “Damn!” “There’s a grate!” “Great!”) The season finale which re-imagines all the characters as animals in a nature documentary is perhaps a bold experiment too far, but it remains the only animated sitcom to fully utilise the limitless possibilities of its medium, to glorious effect.

The Pacific is not quite as good as I thought it would be

Way back in March 2010 I wrote a five-star, 1000-word, gushingingly sycophantic review of the first two episodes of The Pacific, the latest mega-budget World War II-set mini-series from premium cable quality-telly merchants HBO.  Being an unabashed diehard fan of the series’ earlier companion piece, Band of Brothers, my anticipation was extremely high, so when the offer came to attend the UK premiere of the first two episodes, I jumped frenziedly at the chance.

Now, well over a year later, I’m finally catching up on the rest of the series, and with hindsight, I may have been a little bit premature to describe it as a “classic in the making”.  (In my defence, the premiere was very exciting, and I was still new to the glitz and glamour of journalistic perks.  It was at the O2! It was on a massive screen!  The vice-president of Sky Movies HD did a little talk! I got a free goody bag!  PR companies: if you provide any or all of the above, you are guaranteed an effusive, integrity-be-damned, five-star review from this writer.)  I’m up to episode six, out of a total of ten, and it’s yet to grab me in the way it’s sister managed so well.

My main qualm is that I haven’t connected with the characters yet.  Like most war stories, the focus is on a few heroic privates. One of the great strengths of Band of Brothers was an immediate array of recognisable, likeable, distinct protagonists (all, like The Pacific, based on real soldiers).  The gun-ho-ness of Sgt Bill Guarnere contrasted wonderfully with the softly-spoken heroics of Damien Lewis’ Major Richard Winters, or the slow descent into alcoholism of Cpt Lewis Nixon.  This close relationship between character and viewer is all but lost in The Pacific.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the source is more scattershot.  Brothers was entirely based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Steven E Ambrose (which I am not in the least bit ashamed to say I have read twice), focussing on the exploits of one company in the Paratroopers, from training to VE-Day, via Normandy, the Bulge and Hitler’s Austrian hideaway.  The Pacific, meanwhile, takes its source from the diaries and memoirs of three separate Marines, whose paths occasionally cross as they battle in Australasia.  We don’t focus on one hero, but three, and never spend enough time with any to befriend them properly as an audience.   Only Leckie, the erudite writer played with skill by James Badge Dale, comes close, and even then he is too schizophrenic, flitting between personalities and character traits.

The three-strand narrative makes things a little convoluted, and all too often, incoherent.  War is messy, violent, disorganised, and choatic, and it takes storytellers of real skill to fashion a well-constructed narrative out of it.  The makers of The Pacific flirt with genius – the gobsmackingly visceral battle scenes remain absolutely unrivalled, in television or cinema – but they fail to tell a story with a clearly defined vision of what they’re trying to say (beyond the regulation ‘war is hell’ boilerplate), or who they’re trying to communicate it through.  I’ll hold out final opinion until I’ve seen the whole series, but unfortunately I can’t see The Pacific holding the same sacred place it occupies on my DVD shelf, rolled out every six months for a weekend marathon.

A TV show about how TV shows are rubbish

I’ve been enjoying How TV Ruined Your Life, the new show from writer, comedian and miserablist Charlie Brooker.  The latest episode was shown last night on BBC 2 and continued in the same vein as its predecessors.  As its pessimistic title suggests, every week Brooker casts his weary, misanthropic eye on the legacy of television and its largely negative influence on the world.  It’s an excellent and appropriate vehicle for the satirist’s acerbic sense of humour, and a strong debut for Brooker on a terrestrial channel, but it’s not without it’s problems.

Perhaps its biggest fault is that it’s too self-consciously bleak.  From the title screen onwards, How TV Ruined Your Life aims to look only at everything wrong with the medium.  This is in contrast to his first onscreen offering Screenwipe (and its News and Games spin-offs), which took a similarly cynical look at its subjects, and offered similarly wry clips packages with a ranty narration.  But those earlier programmes, whilst derisive, were also celebratory.  As host, Brooker was obviously as much a fan of good TV as he was the scourge of rubbish TV, and his evangelical praise of quality shows like The Wire and Deadwood was as entertaining and informative as his damning indictments of dross like My Super Sweet 16.

This new show is a little more one-track-minded.  It treads a familiar path, and the montages are as snappy and well-edited as ever, but the tone is unrelenting.  Brooker’s fanbase will be gratified, but he seems to be playing up to his grouchy public persona (a character also seen on the almost-good 10 O’Clock Live).  He is scathing in his assessment of television’s ultimate effect on society; the conclusion always reached is that TV’s contributions have given us, as a people, a net loss.  It’s a conclusion which is not only ironic given the medium that the message is delivered, but self-evidently untrue, as Brooker himself would probably attest, if put on the spot.

The writer’s rising profile has seemingly afforded him a marginally bigger budget, transferring his commentary HQ from his own poky London flat to a studio mock-up, and peppering the clips with some comedy sketches.  This is a new addition, and it only occasionally works.  Having had no formal comedy background beyond writing hilarious diatribes in the Guardian, Brooker’s comedy sensibilities are hit-and-miss.  The most successful sketches invariably boast the talents of the superb Kevin Eldon, one of the best comic performers working today, and his appearances spruce up even the weakest bits of writing.  Without him, it sometimes falls flat, as it did last night with a skit about a robot being an X-Factor style judge.  (Just so you know, TV writers, as a general rule, robots aren’t all that funny.  Silly computer voices ≠ comedy gold.)

But it’s still good.  The host is still on form, and though he piles it on a little too much, his brand of exaggerated cynicism and dry wit remains refreshing in a schedule which would otherwise continue to pour glossy smiles and unalloyed optimism on a confusing world.  The best of his journalistic writing has made it to his onscreen persona, and he remains the high priest of biting put-downs, e.g. “a show which already looks so insanely dated, it might as well have been presented by George VI”, or “When you first encoutered wi-fi it was like magic.  Now you’ll moan like an oppressed dissident if you can’t get a 20mb download speed on your novelty ****ing teaspoon.”   Charlie Brooker remains a unique and brilliant figure in broadcasting, and whilst this show is not his best, he remains a shining beacon of comic genius, and miles ahead of any competition – if indeed he has any.

Review: ‘Not Going Out’ Season 3

In the final episode of Not Going Out’s third season, now out on DVD, the BBC1 sitcom lands a special guest star to play the lead character’s long lost father: Bobby Ball.  It speaks a great deal about a programme that its creators would look to seventies teatime stalwarts Cannon and Ball as inspiration, let alone as a choice of guest star.  Perhaps it is a comfort to some that this brand of bland, old-fashioned comedy still has a place in our television schedules amongst edgier, more modern fare like Peep Show or The Office.  Such comforts do not make sitting through a whole season of cheap puns and cheeky put-downs while a BBC audience politely chuckles any more entertaining or any less exhausting.

At best, it’s a mixed bag.  The show has a Seinfeld-y premise – a bunch of mates get into capers – and stars Lee Mack and Tim Vine, ostensibly playing versions of their stand up personas (as with many US sitcoms, they share their characters’ names).  Mack is the cheeky northerner, Vine the posh bloke with the penchant for one-liners.  On a stage each are a master of their craft. Within the confines of BBC1 primetime and its conventional three-wall multi-camera studio-audience setup, the humour is toned down, the madcap situations more implausible, the hit rate considerably lower and the groan rate considerably higher.

Occasionally they’ll strike gold with some rather deft wordplay – “He had a tough life – he had to go down the mine at 11.” “11? That’s a lie in!” – but for every decent line of dialogue, there’s ten lame ones, e.g., “You know that expression ‘be yourself’? Well, don’t.”  The studio audience laugh, irritatingly obediently, even at such toe-curlingly vapid writing and hammy delivery.

That’s not to say it won’t please anyone – broad humour is broad for a reason, and the BBC has made an unusual U-turn in cancelling the show only to commission a fourth season, signalling that there must be a willing audience out there.   But sitcoms of this genus seem almost unpalatable in a comedy landscape where shows like Peep Show and The Inbetweeners rule the roost.  And Graham Linehan’s excellent The IT Crowd has proved that the old-school studio format can still work if the characters are strong, the plotlines clever and the jokes funny – a formula severely lacking here.

Not Going Out has a wealth of writing talent behind it who, like Mack and Vine, are wonderful, well-respected stand-ups, among them Simon Evans, Milton Jones and Andrew Collins.  But they cannot bring to life a show which brings no spark to a tired old format, and which offers no unique reason why any potential viewer should not indeed go out, instead of watching this rubbish.

DVD Extras

Conversely, the single DVD extra (aside from a trailer) is often funnier and more entertaining than most of the episodes on these two discs.  A thirty minute behind-the-scenes look at the various locations shoots provides an interesting, laid-back look at the cast and crew’s habits.  Unrestricted by their lame scripts, Mack and Vine show themselves to be a giggly, chummy pair who enjoy each other’s company.  Mack in particular is hugely entertaining, letting loose with his quick-fire wit on all manner of targets in an effort to avoid boredom on set.  Citing budget cuts and wielding a torch, he claims at one point “I have to do my own lighting.”  You only wish they’d written a show as funny as this.

A version of this article originally appeared on ObsessedWithFilm.

Review: ‘Modern Family’ Season 1

Now here’s a surprise: a schmaltzy US family sitcom which is actually rather funny.  The first season of Modern Family has arrived in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD (after relative inexposure on Sky1) and the wind of audience and critical acclaim on which is rides is not entirely unjustified.

A family-based sitcom is hardly an original idea, and Modern Family will win no points for brave new ideas.  Most of these 24 episodes feature familiar sitcom conceits – comedies of error, awkward misunderstandings, the eternal need for some sort of feeble life lesson.  Nor is it entirely brave, style-wise, though its fly-on-the-wall mockumentary format might suggest so.  Taking its cue from shows like Arrested Development and the US version of The Office, creators Chris Lloyd and Steven Levitan go for realism, incorporating faint elements of postmodernism.  All the while, however, they retain trad-com sensibilities content-wise, never broaching anything especially controversial or radical.

What it will win points for is how genuinely, consistently funny it is.  Boasting a writing team with Frasier, King of the Hill and The Larry Sanders Show on their collective CVs, Modern Family has the comedy chops to keep you watching.  Some splendid writing is on show here, observing the complex relationships between relatives and the foibles of parenting with confidence, pace and intelligent repartee.

And though the comedy is fairly old-fashioned, the ‘sit’ part of the ‘com’ is appropriately modern.  Yes, there’s the nuclear family of Claire, Frank and their three kids, but then there’s Claire’s father, Jay, who has remarried Gloria. a sexy young Latino wife with a 10-year-old son.  And then there’s Claire’s gay brother Mitch, who has just begun a thoroughly modern family with his partner, Cam, and their adopted Vietnamese baby, Lily.

All this provides a rich source of conflicts and capers, buoyed by a terrific ensemble cast.  Easily the highlights are Mitch and Cam, played with a wonderful gusto by Jesse Tylor Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet respectively.  Gay television characters always walk a trepidatious tightrope between realistic portrayals and camp stereotypes, and while there are more than a few scenes of histrionic outbursts – neither characters are prone to hiding their emotions – they do so with warmth and charm, making them utterly convincing.

They’re also by far the funniest characters on the show.  Their combined penchant for melodrama is never more attuned as when they accidentally lock their daughter in the car, and while Cam wails to the emergency services that “people are judging us,” Mitch grabs the nearest bin and screams “I’m going to smash the window” in a way that the phone operator believes is a woman’s voice.

With a sometimes patience-wearing 24 episodes, Modern Family occasionally drags with filler episodes; and the soppy, incessant moral lessons that American networks insist on ending all sitcom episodes with always sits less comfortably with the more cynical, pessimistic viewers this side of the pond.  But on the whole, it’s a treat – warm, funny, painfully well-observed.  And with the second season just starting in the US, the best could still be on the way.

A version of this article originally appeared on ObsessedWithFilm.

Review: ‘The Pacific’ (Episodes 1 & 2)

So here it is, finally, after three long years in the making and a reported $230million budget, the latest extraordinary HBO mini-series, the most expensive drama ever, has at last landed.  The Pacific, if you haven’t been made aware of the enormous hype, is an epic ten-part war drama focussing on US Marines in the Pacific theatre of operations in World War II.

A companion piece, rather than a sequel, to 2001’s outstanding Band of Brothers which followed a company of soldiers fighting in Europe, The Pacific has been brought about from the same creative team – Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are executive producing – and both series had their impetus from the success of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.  That film, in particular its hugely acclaimed and brutally realistic opening act depicting the Normandy landings, set the gold standard for war movies and remains one of the most influential cinematic depictions of war ever made.  That’s a pretty hefty track record to have as a precedent.

As if that was not enough pressure on the producers, The Pacific’s subject matter is somewhat more complex.  With neither the historical account of Stephen Ambrose’s book that Band of Brothers was based on, nor the straightforward, loosely-based-on-real-events original script of Saving Private Ryan, here we instead find three very different Marines’ memoirs carefully etched together as the basis for a cohesive narrative.  It’s nothing if not problematic for the writers who have adapted these real life accounts to have three quite separate central characters interweaving in a ten hour story. 

The setting is also perhaps not immediately auspicious as most war films or series.  Aside from Michael Bay’s fairly awful Pearl Harbor, and Clint Eastwood’s superb Flags of Our Fathers double release in 2006, it’s difficult to think of many memorable films set in the Pacific war.  As a setting it’s been given short shrift by Hollywood which tends to favour the European war – after all, Hitler is the ultimate bad guy.  Consequently, the war against the Empire of Japan is not as conspicuous in most people’s minds when they think of the Second World War, sometimes being called the ‘forgotten theatre’ of the war. With all this in mind, could messrs Spielberg and Hanks create something that audiences would take to with the acclaim and admiration they gave its predecessors?

If there was ever any doubt of this nature, there needn’t have been.  The Pacific is seriously good. After being lucky enough to attend a preview screening of the first two episodes I feel that ‘mini-series’ is something of a misnomer. This is as epic a series as there ever was, in every conceivable sense – in scale, in vision, in ambitious narratives, in uncompromisingly realistic portrayals of battle and in attempting to once again dissect and understand and horror of war.

As has been noted, this is not Band of Brothers 2, so those expecting a carbon copy might be disappointed at first.  The first episode is not devoted to training camp, as Brothers did so memorably with David Schwimmer playing the reviled Capt. Sobel.  Instead, we dive right into the action, opening in December 1941, shortly after the fateful Pearl Harbor bombings and America’s subsequent entry into the war.  This does have the initial effect of being tricky to relate to the principal characters – we don’t quite join them from the moment their journey begins. The characters here are somewhat disparate; we lose the team element that Easy Company had in Band of Brothers. Coupled with the occasional problem viewers have of distinguishing soldiers on screen when they are helmeted in uniform and covered in dirt, a potential risk arises of losing the affinity between character and audience.  

But these are minor concerns.  By the end of the second episode I already found myself emotionally attached to three leads.  The standout character so far seems to be Robert Leckie (played with thought and attention by James Badge Dale) on whose memoir the series is partly based.  Nicknamed the Professor for his unusual eloquence and penchant for poetry, he makes for a robust and fascinating principle. 

Jon Seda as the heroic John Basilone is also a first-rate lead character and an inspired choice.  In episode two, he essentially defends successfully and single-handedly against an entire Japanese division, willingly receives third-degree burns on a red-hot machine gun in order to lift it to a better position, and mid-battle, clears the enormous pile of bodies deep in enemy territory in order to get a better view for the gunners.  His role is all the more powerful as it is very deliberately based on the real life Basilone, who earned a Medal of Honor for his actions (the highest medal given in the US military).

There’s some fine acting on show, from a cast of relative unknowns, who all went through two weeks of ‘full immersion field training’ from Vietnam veteran Capt. Dale Dye (who played the legendary General Sink in Band of Brothers).  It shows on screen, too – the camaraderie, the military banter, adds to the sheer believability of it all.  At the end of episode one, the soldiers sing ‘Happy Birthday To You’ to you to a marine, followed by the additional verse ‘How Fucked Are You Now’.

The gallows humour never last long, though. One scene sees Private Conley being mocked good-naturedly by his friends as he desperately attempts to fight dysentry and relieve himself behind a tree; his efforts are cut short by a devastating aerial attack from the Japanese.  Later, Conley reflects soberly that if a woman in a Japanese factory put just thirty grams more explosive in one of the bombs, “that would be us”.

When we do see battle onscreen, it is full-on shock and awe.  The first two episodes are set in the Solomon Islands, on the tiny island of Guadacanal, which is mostly jungle; this naturally evokes the horrors of Vietnam, the dangers of the unknown.  The sense of impending doom when a Colonel is told “the entire fucking Japanese army is heading your way sir” is chilling.  We’ve had plenty of directors tell us ‘war is hell’ before, but this feels like anything but a retread.  It’s both visceral and awful, exciting and terrifying.

And the attention to detail and devotion to accuracy is extraordinary.  The sight of thousands of Allied soldiers landing on the beaches of Guadalcanal, or the distant fighting between the battleships is breathtaking and heart-stopping, helped presumably in no small part by some pretty flawless CGI.  It’s astonishingly well-shot, entirely in HD, not for a minute lapsing, arguably more impressive and more harrowing than Saving Private Ryan.  Realism is the watchword here, and everything looks so real as to be utterly immersive.  The anticipation, excitement, claustrophobia and ultimate anti-climax and tragedy of war portrayed is totally absorbing.  It left me speechless.

At the close of episode two, when Leckie and his friends are finally relieved of combat after a year and drink coffee for the first time in months, the ship’s young cook informs them: “you guys are heroes back home”.  In any other movie or series such a line would seem cheesy, sentimental, crass even.  In The Pacific it is not only excusable, it is entirely appropriate, and by the same token incredibly moving.  In just two short hours I already felt a strong bond with these characters and at this moment found myself welling up.  This is powerful, overwhelming, defiantly cinematic television.

And yet, after just two episodes, it’s clear that the best is yet to come.  The series is spanning a long period, nearly four years, so there is a huge amount to cover, and a wealth of character exploration to come.  The first two episodes only lightly touched on Eugene Sledge, a young man with a heart murmur whose father refused him permission to go to war.  The end of the second hour showed Sledge defying his parents and enlisting; since it is his memoir that the series is also based, we can expect to see a lot more from him.

The Pacific is a series, like Band of Brothers, that people will watch and cherish for years to come.  I look forward to buying the boxset and having a weekend episode marathon with friends.  It is surely a classic in the making.  It has begun airing in the US on HBO already, and in the UK begins on Sky Movies HD on Monday 5th April.  I urge you to watch it and, like me, find your petty modern problems pale in significance to the unique experiences of the soldiers portrayed.  You will not regret it.


This review originally appeared on ObsessedWithFilm.com.

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