Generation KillOverview -
Based on the national best-selling book by Evan Wright, Generation Kill is an authentic and vividly detailed 7 part HBO mini-series event that presents a uniquely epic and intimate portrait of the first 40 days of the Iraq war from the perspective of the Marines of the First Recon Battalion – a new breed of American soldiers. The mini-series tells the story of these young Marines physical and emotional journey into the heart of Baghdad in those initial weeks, and how the war reveals to be much more complicated, problematic and tragic than anyone had contemplated. Many of the complications and problems that arise are due to the unwieldy military bureaucracy which the Marines confront in the midst of the war, the challenges of over-zealous and incompetent commanding officers, ever-changing rules of engagement, a non-existent strategy, severe deficiencies in necessary armor and supplies, and an enemy they don’t understand. Generation Kill is a humorous and frightening first hand account of these remarkable men, of the personal toll of victory, and of the brutality, camaraderie and bureaucracy of a new American war. It is a profoundly insightful and realistic look at the risk, costs and ultimately, the failures of the war.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
"We're a bunch of well-built Ferraris dumped in the middle of a demolition derby."
'Generation Kill' is based on the national bestseller by Evan Wright--a Rolling Stone reporter who was embedded with the First Recon Battalion of the United States Marine Corps during the onset of the Iraq invasion in March of 2003. In his two months as an honorary member of Bravo Company, Wright had the unique opportunity to experience first-hand the hardships the troops had to endure from their initial deployment at Camp Mathilda in Kuwait to their eventual destination in Baghdad.
What makes this series so compelling is that it doesn't glorify the war effort or try to mask any of the negative details. In fact, 'Generation Kill' actually paints a pretty vivid portrait of the military's lack of preparation, proper equipment and supplies, as well as competence, as many commanders either had no clue what they were doing or unnecessarily put the lives of Marines at risk by sending them out on wild goose chases to bolster their own careers. Everything is laid out on the table just as it unfolded before Wright's eyes, warts and all.
As usual with any HBO project, the production values are spectacular. The series was filmed in Africa over the course of six months and every location was meticulously selected so that they suited each area's conditions. Wright and a few of the actual Marines like Staff Sgt. Eric Kocher and Sgt. Rudy 'Fruity Rudy' Reyes (who plays himself), served as advisors to ensure accuracy. Being heavy into fitness, Reyes was also responsible for getting the cast into prime physical shape through vigorous boot camp training. There's no shortage of military land vehicles, aircraft, and weaponry either. The filmmakers didn't skimp on anything.
The heart and soul of the series, though, is the cast. Dozens of colorful characters portray the Americans and literally hundreds of extras fill in for the civilians. Lee Tergesen plays Evan Wright, and much like his role as Tobias Beecher on HBO's 'Oz' he perfectly captures the essence of what it's like to be thrust into a whole new world. The look of awe, confusion and sheer terror is always crystal clear on his face. The rest of the actors are just as exceptional, orbiting around Wright who sort of acts as the central hub of the series. A large part focuses on the men he rode with in the lead vehicle of Bravo Company including the coolheaded Sergeant Brad 'Iceman' Colbert (Alexander Skarsgård), the motor-mouthed Corporal Josh Ray Person (James Ransone), and the cold and emotionless Lance Corporal Harold James Trombley (Billy Lush). Other notable standouts are Stark Sands as the dedicated Lt. Nathaniel Fick, Chance Kelly as the raspy-voiced Lieutenant Colonel Stephen 'Godfather' Ferrando, and this review wouldn't be complete without mentioning the psychotic Capt. Dave 'Captain America' McGraw. By the end, we love some of the characters and truly despise others, but we feel like we've gotten to know each and every one of them.
The last thing I found very intriguing with 'Generation Kill' is the absence of music. There's the odd Iraqi tune that can be heard playing on radios, and the soldiers sing their own renditions of Lovin' You or Tainted Love, but the series itself doesn't have a background score. I didn't even notice this until after I finished the first episode and heard mention of it when I started in on the commentary. If that doesn't prove without a doubt how engaging this incredible series is, I don't know what does.
'Generation Kill' was originally broadcast on HBO as a seven-episode miniseries last summer and the entire run is included here on this Blu-ray: Part 1 - "Get Some," Part 2 - "The Cradle of Civilization," Part 3 - "Screwby," Part 4 - "Combat Jack," Part 5 - "A Burning Dog," Part 6 - "Stay Frosty" and Part 7 - "Bomb in the Garden."
HBO deploys 'Generation Kill' onto three BD-50s and the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) encode really captures the grittiness of desert warfare.
The series isn't a very colorful one--utilizing a rather bland palette composed mostly of browns, tans, greens and blacks--and the picture has consistent grain throughout, making for a pleasing film-like appearance. Detail and depth seem to fluctuate, and contrast is also overblown, but whether or not this was an intention on the filmmakers' part it works in the show's favor. Most importantly, I did not detect any instances of artifacting, banding, edge enhancement, DNR, or other meddling of any kind.
However, the transfer does run into a couple of minor issues on occasion that are worth mentioning here. For starters, black levels aren't as strong as they could have been--especially in many of the night scenes--where the image tends to become flat and murky. The other thing is there are spurts of noticeable digital noise in a handful of the low-light scenes. I believe this is a result of compression since I didn't catch any of these anomalies on the seventh episode which is housed separately with the supplements on the third disc. Now I'm not sure if it would have even helped, but in hindsight maybe it would have been better to add a fourth disc just so the first six episodes had a bit more room to breathe. To be fair it still wasn't really distracting, but it may have made an otherwise great release that much greater.
The U.S. version of 'Generation Kill' on Blu-ray is reported to be region-free and therefore should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
While I had a few minor nitpicks with the video, I have absolutely zero complaints with the extremely robust lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The mix firmly plants viewers in the midst of the action and is nothing short of perfection.
It doesn't matter if the Marines are whispering softly to one another or screaming at the top of their lungs over the noise in the middle of a firefight, the dialogue always comes through crisp and with the utmost clarity. Helicopters routinely encircle the entire soundstage, while Humvees and tanks shake, rattle and roll from one speaker to the next--giving those at home a wild ride of their own. Bullets whiz by from all angles, and mortars, land mines, and other explosions sound and feel chillingly authentic. All I can say is HBO deserves high props for working their magic on another reference-quality soundtrack.
The release also includes DTS 2.0 tracks in French and Spanish, as well as optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian subtitles.
All the bonus supplements found on the DVD release have been ported over to this Blu-ray set. HBO has even taken the extra step to present them in high-definition (where applicable):
- Audio Commentaries – Six of the seven episodes come with their own audio commentary track (the only one that doesn't is Part 6 - "Stay Frosty"). They all reveal a wealth of information and each has a different arrangement of speakers to mix things up a bit.
Part 1 - "Get Some" features episode director Susanna White and executive producers/writers David Simon & Ed Burns.
Part 2 - "The Cradle of Civilization" brings back Ed Burns this time with producer Andrea Calderwood.
Part 3 - "Screwby" lets viewers hear from author Evan Wright and actors Stark Sands (Fick) & Benjamin Busch (Eckloff).
Part 4 - "Combat Jack" features episode director Simon Cellan Jones along with actors Alexander Skarsgård (Iceman) & James Ransone (Ray).
Part 5 - "A Burning Dog" joins Evan Wright with military advisor/actor Eric Kocher (Barrett) and technical advisor/actor Jeffrey Carisalez (Smith).
Part 7 - "Bomb in the Garden" features David Simon and executive producer George Faber.
- Generation Kill: A Conversation with 1st Recon Marines (HD, 23:25) – Evan Wright sits down with six of the actual Marines he spent time with in Iraq including: Sgt. Brad 'Iceman' Colbert, Cpl. Josh Ray Person, Staff Sgt. Eric Kocher, Sgt. Rudy 'Fruity Rudy' Reyes, Sgt. Antonio 'Poke' Espera, and Master Sgt. Mike 'Gunny' Wynn. The lively discussion covers some of their experiences from the war as well as their plans for the future.
- Making Generation Kill (HD, 25:05) – A well-made "making of" featurette highlighting the story, the Marines, the actors, boot camp training, filming in Africa, props & equipment, and more.
- Eric Laden's Video Diaries (HD, 29:50) – A behind-the-scenes video diary documenting the production from actor Eric Laden who portrays Cpl. James Chaffin.
- Deleted Dialogs – Five scenes that were cut from the miniseries. Since they are audio-only conversations, I'm assuming the video was too poor to be worthwhile. These include: Colbert and Person; Espera, Cpl. Jason Lilley, and Cpl. Hector Leon; Lance Cpl. Harold 'James' Trembley and Cpl. Gabriel Gaza; Sgt. Shawn 'Pappy' Patrick and Rudy Reyes; and the last one is with Cpl. Evan 'Q-Tip' Stafford and Cpl. Anthony 'Manimal' Jacks.
- Episode Recaps – Lastly, episodes two through seven have an optional recap of the previous episode on the menu.
I've been at the point for awhile now where virtually anything HBO touches will turn to pure gold, and 'Generation Kill' certainly keeps the streak alive. The miniseries presents one of the most raw and authentic examinations of the U.S. Marines and truly captivates from start to finish. This Blu-ray package delivers strong video, reference audio, and all of the supplements are fantastic (including the interactive high-definition exclusives). So make sure to grab your copy while the price is nice at Amazon, and remember--stay frosty.
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