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Tom Hanks on The Pacific

Published February 23, 2010 in Television
By Fred Topel | Image property of HBO
American Idol The Pacific

Any war movie involving Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg recalls the glory of Saving Private Ryan. Even though they are behind the scenes producers on The Pacific, HBO’s latest miniseries follows on the heels of their previous WWII follow-up, Band of Brothers.

Hanks Talks The Pacific


“One of our secondary meetings on this was on the set of The Terminal,” Hanks recalled. “We made The Terminal how many years ago? It's been like six years in the making.”

Even with Clint Eastwood’s two-part Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima, The Pacific front remains the less documented of WWII’s campaigns. Here’s 10 more hours of dramatic education.

“Quite frankly, it doesn't bend to the more, I want to say, graceful narrative that they can approach the war in Europe with,” Hanks explained. “The war in Europe liberated Paris. They landed at Normandy, and eventually you crossed the Rhine into the fatherland, and Berlin fell. The war in the Pacific does not fall into that brand of territorial narrative. You tell me what's important about Peleliu. Well, we establish what's important about Peleliu, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, going on little tiny spots. A hundred miles from where the moment where Saving Private Ryan took place, more or less, is the Eiffel Tower. A hundred miles from Peleliu is an empty spot of ocean in the middle of the Pacific. It doesn't fall into the same cognizant recognizability that the war in Europe does. That's why in this, we have much more individual stories of three Marines. It almost doesn't matter where they were. It almost doesn't matter what battle they fought and what they fought in. It's only very much important to them, not to us as the audience.”



The more complicated war required more complicated writing too. “The main difference is our source material. For Band of Brothers we had Stephen Ambrose's pretty magnificent, rather oral history, almost a piece of scholarship, in his book Band of Brothers. The three stories that we've culled from here, Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed is considered perhaps as great a combat memoir as has ever been produced. It is very personal and it is very much written with his voice and with his perspective on life. Robert Leckie's combat memoir, Helmet On My Pillow, is really more like a prose poem about what it means to be young and alive and involved in a quite hideous adventure. The story of John Basilone is more or less taken from public record.”

The Pacific battles also required a bit more historical setup, since the campaigns were less well known in the public consciousness. “By and large, there was a thought that it would be hard to get people excited about a battle over a place like Guadalcanal or Peleliu without some context, some historical context to why our soldiers are fighting at Guadalcanal on Peleliu. There were those of us on the producing team that felt that context was a waste of time and once we got involved in this story, the context would be obvious. Nonetheless, in the give and take of big time show business, we took the need for context and turned it into one of the fingerprints, sort of like almost opening chapters. And it all worked out in part because of, I think, the great arc of each one of our episodes.”

The Pacific premieres March 14 on HBO.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of HBO
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