Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Lee Marvin, Toshiro Mifune
Extras: Alternate Ending
’Hell in the Pacific’ is a classic anti-war movie. There are no glorious battles or heroic last stands here. Instead, the futility and absurdity of warfare is driven home through the experiences of two men, one Japanese and one American, stranded together on a deserted Pacific isle. Lee Marvin stars as a Marine pilot forced to bail-out over an island that a lone Japanese officer, played by the great Toshiro Mifune, has been occupying for sometime.
When the men first come into contact they are immediately hostile, as one might expect, but they never seem to actually want to kill each other.
Instead, their skirmishes are more about personal pride rather than any sense of doing their part for the war effort. Each gains the upper-hand at some point but they slowly begin to realize that their only hope of getting off the island is to work together. But war never has a happy ending, and this film is no exception.
The video is presented in either a non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen or Pan & Scan version. This movie is a prime example of how much difference a widescreen transfer makes. Early in the film the two adversaries face off on the beach with their crude weapons. In the widescreen version the two stand at the extreme left and right of the picture as the sun begins to set in the background, creating a very powerful image. On the Pan & Scan side, the viewer never sees the two men in the same frame together and the whole point of the scene is lost. The video is quite good with very few imperfections, aside from the distracting reel change marks that pop up every 20 minutes or so. The lush jungle and beach setting come across very well and the abundant nighttime scenes are appropriately dark with little loss of definition.
The audio is a rather low-key Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix that is adequate for conveying the sparse dialogue and the sounds of the island but with its limited frequency response, it never reaches very high or low in tonal range.
The only extra on the disc is an alternate ending. Viewers who are perplexed by the original ending will find little solace here as this version is just as obtuse and open to interpretation as the original. That’s not an indictment of the film, it’s just the way it is meant to be seen.
’Hell in the Pacific’ is a thought-provoking film driven by the strong performances of its two stars, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. What little dialogue they provide is secondary to the story that is told through their interactions with one another and their environment. And don’t let the G rating fool you, if released today the movie would certainly garner a PG-13 due to the bleak subject matter.