Hollywood, Calif. --
More than a dozen current and former Marines mingled with a crowd of Hollywood regulars, rising stars and entertainment industry juggernauts Feb. 24 at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood as HBO unveiled its latest epic tale of American military campaigns.
HBO premiered the first episode of its 10-part miniseries “The Pacific,” which tells the story of the U.S. Marines as they battle the Japanese during America’s island-hopping campaign in the Pacific theater of World War II.
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman – the same A-list trio that brought Stephen Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers” to the screen in 2001 – “The Pacific” is the long-awaited follow-up to that critically acclaimed tale of American sacrifice and glory in the European theater of World War II.
While “Brothers” centered on one company of infantrymen from the U.S Army’s storied 101st Airborne Division, ”The Pacific” unfolds around real-life Marines John Basilone (Jon Seda), Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello), following them and their fellow Marines from Guadalcanal to Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and, finally, back home after V-J Day.
“The Pacific” is largely based on written accounts of the war from books authored by Leckie, Sledge and Chuck Tatum, also depicted in the series. The filmmakers optioned Leckie’s “Helmet for My Pillow,” Sledge’s “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” and “China Marine,” and Tatum’s “Red Blood, Black Sand” for the production.
Co-executive producer and writer Bruce C. McKenna said those texts were just a drop in the bucket in terms of the massive amount of research that was invested in the series. McKenna spent four years from 2003 to 2007 on the pre-production and development phase, and he says more than 100 veterans were interviewed, including surviving members of the units depicted. McKenna even got his hands on the medical report that documented how John Basilone died on Iwo Jima.
“Everyone has gotten it wrong until now,” he said.
On hand at the premiere to analyze the integrity and authenticity of the material were several of the Marines portrayed in the series, who were escorted by the actors who played them. HBO also hosted as honored guests many family members and descendents of Marines in the series.
Actor Martin McCann, who plays R.V. Burgin, said all the actors felt a certain sense of gravity in their responsibility to present the truest possible depiction of the characters.
“I just hope they’re proud of what we tried to do,” McCann said. “This is an incredible story to tell, and hopefully, we’ve done them justice.”
Burgin said he hopes the series will help to educate people for generations to come about the harrowing battles in which the Marines fought in World War II.
“I’ve always felt that you could line up 100 people, and not one of them would know anything about the Battle of Peleliu,” Burgin said. “Hopefully, this series will change that.”
Among the other Marines on hand for the premiere was retired Capt. Dale Dye, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War and senior military advisor on the series.
“It’s about time somebody told this story – and told it right,” Dye said. “Marines are going to love this series.”
Representatives from the Marine Corps Motion Picture and Television Liaison Office also attended the premiere, as did a handful of Marines from Recruiting Station Los Angeles. After the premiere, Gunnery Sgt. Michael Johnson, an officer selection assistant with the recruiting station, said he felt a personal connection to the material just by virtue of being a Marine.
“I saw Band of Brothers, and it didn’t have the impact that this does for me,” he said. “These are some of the greatest battles in Marine Corps history, and seeing them brought to life this way is incredible.”
Spielberg said that sense of profundity is precisely the desired effect he hoped for while working on the series.
“What I hope people take away from this series is an understanding that their parents and grandparents and great grandparents saved the world,” he said. “That's not Hollywood hyperbole or hype, it’s a fact.”
HBO held a private screening on Camp Pendleton for members of the 1st Marine Division Association weeks before the Hollywood premiere, which kicked off a 15-stop screening tour that includes New York City, Raritan, N.J. and Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Community leaders, veterans and current and retired military members attended screenings aboard the USS Midway Museum in San Diego and at Camp Pendleton’s base theater Feb. 25 and 26 respectively.
Part of the intent of the screenings is to present the series to military members in hopes that they will appreciate and validate the great pains taken by the producers to bring an important and authentic story to the screen.
“This is better, deeper, more profound, more moving, more troubling and more specific than I ever thought it was going to be,” Hanks said. “So I feel like we won the lottery as far as that goes.”
“The Pacific” premieres on HBO March 14.