Tim Walker: Steven Spielberg's The Pacific has a lot to live up to as a war drama

The Couch Surfer: The Pacific is somewhat swollen with a sense of its own importance
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The Independent Online

For his grand new TV war drama, The Pacific, Steven Spielberg supposedly spent $1m on volcanic ash to recreate the famed flag raising atop Mount Suribachi in February 1945, a scene immortalised as the Marine Corps War Memorial. Watching the first two episodes of the show, though, I found myself wondering whether Spielberg and his producing partner Tom Hanks had made more than just another monument.

A self-described "Mini-series Event", The Pacific is somewhat swollen with a sense of its own importance. The glossy credit sequence at the start of each episode is about nine minutes long, while Hans Zimmer's soaring score surfaces throughout the action. The plot is based on the experiences of three (then) young soldiers: the writers Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie, and reluctant war hero John Basilone. Their courage is not in doubt, and nor is the epic scale of Spielberg's tribute.

But The Pacific has a lot to live up to as a war drama. Its estimable forebear Band of Brothers – another Spielberg/Hanks production – featured a heroic ensemble whose story was somehow more engaging than The Pacific's triptych. And Generation Kill, the 2008 Iraq-set series from the creators of The Wire, was a gripping, ultra-realist portrayal of men at war that felt much more of the moment, and not only due to its modern setting.

The Pacific certainly has parallels with today's wars: under-resourced volunteers go into battle in an unfamiliar environment, where they undergo extreme and often morally problematic violence, all with little understanding of their place in the wider geopolitical picture. Yet it still can't help but feel more like a historical document than a drama.

Perhaps the problem is inherent in presenting this particular conflict to a British audience. We're all familiar with D-Day and the subsequent campaign in Europe that Band of Brothers portrayed so brilliantly. But the Pacific theatre was personal to the Americans. And most US war movies, be they about 1941-45 or Vietnam, tend to share a solipsistic focus on the American GI. (Charlie Sheen's voiceover for Platoon, for instance, included the line: "I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves." Try telling that to the Viet Cong.)

Only Clint Eastwood's double A-side Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima did what Spielberg's depictions of combat (including Saving Private Ryan) never have, which is to present the conflict from both sides of No Man's Land; Letters... was based on the writings of a Japanese general.

Beginning on 5 April, The Pacific is going to be screened in this country on the relatively little-watched Sky Movies Premiere HD (Band of Brothers was on BBC2), which on the one hand reflects its fairly niche appeal for British viewers, and on the other is a surefire way of persuading those Band of Brothers fans without premium Sky contracts to download it illegally instead.

*****

I'd been wondering for a while whether the buzz around Spotify had died down because everybody's using it, or because everybody's stopped using it. The news that the free music streaming service will launch in the US this year suggests the former is the case. But Spotify alone is not the future of music online. There will be no monopoly of internet music services, as iTunes once seemed to threaten. And one thing neither Spotify nor iTunes has mastered yet is music recommendation.

A new service, Mflow, has taken the best bits of Spotify, iTunes and Last.FM, and mashed them with chunks of Twitter to make what looks to me like the best legal recommendation engine yet. Set to be launched next month, it's a software application like Spotify, not merely a website. Mflow users follow and are followed by fellow users, like Twitter. As one of those users, I can post "flows" – the equivalent of "tweets" – which are 30-second clips of songs I like, accompanied by a 140-character explanation. If one of my followers likes the song sufficiently (they can listen to the whole track once to check), they can purchase the MP3 instantly at iTunes prices and – here's the rub – my account gets credited with 20 per cent of what they paid for it. As you might imagine, it's a pretty addictive process.

Spotify's CEO, Dan Ek, says a forthcoming new version of his service will put greater emphasis on sharing. If it wants its own place in the market, Mflow might have to build a decent user base before then. I hope it succeeds.

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