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Steven Spielberg on The Pacific

Published February 22, 2010 in Television
By Fred Topel | Image property of HBO
American Idol The Pacific

Saving Private Ryan has been the go-to reference for war footage since its release in 1998. Even Steven Spielberg’s follow-up miniseries Band of Brothers looked in part like Saving Private Ryan: The Series. The filmmaker promises that his next WWII production, HBO’s The Pacific, will push the visual boundaries yet again.

Spielberg Takes Us to The Pacific

“We did give The Pacific a different look because there is a very strong desaturated quality about Band of Brothers,” Spielberg said. “In The Pacific, because it was blue skies, they weren't fighting in overcast weather. Sometimes monsoons would come in and it was terribly rainy and muddy and you couldn't see the hand in front of your face, but it was a blue sky war. It was a hot, dry, humid blue sky war. So there are more vivid colors, I think, in The Pacific than we ever had in Band of Brothers because that was the way it was, when you read the books and talk to the survivors of those campaigns.”

Both Spielberg and his Private Ryan star Tom Hanks have become important documenters of history. There was even more incentive to return to HBO for another miniseries.

“It was inevitable that we would do The Pacific with HBO because there was such an overwhelming response, not only from the general public that got very involved in Band of Brothers. We got so much positive mail, but at the same time, mail that said, ‘I was a veteran of the Solomons.’ ‘I fought on Tarawa.’ ‘I was at Midway.’ I mean, we got so many letters of veterans from the Pacific Theater of Operations asking us if we could acquit their stories the way we acquitted the stories of the European Theater of Operations.”

Ask Steven Spielberg and you shall receive. “I think what moved us to tell these stories based on these survivors, these veterans, was in essence, to see what happens to the human soul throughout this particular engagement. These islands were stepping stones to the mainland of Japan. These islands were all stepping stones and the warfare that we were trained to fight, we weren't trained by the drill instructors stateside, except what they could glean from recent history. We were trained by the enemy, how to fight the enemy. They trained us how to fight like them. And we fought each other in a very different way than we fought the Italians and the Germans and the axis in Europe. I don't want to compare one war to the other in terms of savagery, but there's a level when nature and humanity conspire against the individual. To see what happens to those individuals throughout the entire course of events, leading up to the dropping of the two atomic bombs, is something that was very, very hard, I think, for the actors and for the writers and for all of us to put on the screen. But we felt we had to try.”

It’s not about glorifying more war heroes. Spielberg’s war movies are more sophisticated than that. “Well, for one thing, I don't think that anybody in any war thinks of themselves as a hero, and I think the minute anybody presumes that they are heroes, they get their boots taken away from them and buried in the sand. So that's not going to happen. You know, in combat situations, and this is coming from a director who's never been in one, but in the re creation of a combat experience based on being mindful of what these veterans have actually gone through, you find that the biggest concern, aside from knowing your weapon or being so well trained, is that you don't look at war as a geopolitical endeavor. You look at war as something that is putting your best friend in jeopardy. You are responsible for the person in front of you and the person behind you and the person to the left of you and the person to the right of you. Those are the small pods that will inadvertently create a hero, but that is someone else's observation, not the observation of those kids in the foxholes.”

The Pacific premieres March 14 on HBO.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of HBO

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