Generation Kill
R4 - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (21st October 2009).
The Show

Upon first impression "Generation Kill" seemed like another in a line of shows that featured a band of angry, white, uneducated, homophobic, racists soldiers doing questionable things using war as an excuse. It seemed like the characters were cliched cut outs set amid an unpopular war and who'd want to see that? Most films set around the Iraq war haven't exactly set the box office on fire... some consider it too soon to make films based in Iraq, it's a war that's still fresh in our minds, we continue to see television coverage of the mess that it's become and although President Obama is trying to put an end to American involvement, the road is still long and arduous. The great thing about films and television programmes is that that they provide escapism, but who wants to escape to Iraq? I certainly don't know anyone keen... so it's with some level of caution that I enter into these types of productions.

"Generation Kill" opens up as expected, introducing us to the cast of characters that make up the Marines unit and essentially takes a look at the first 40 days of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and is based on the book by "Rolling Stones" journalist Evan Wright. In the first episode audiences are treated to gruff Marines, trash talk, tobacco chewing, and a high level of testosterone. The first episode didn't leave me reeling for more, while well produced and generally well written the series showed all the worst things that could come from being apart of a Marine unit in Iraq. There were some shining lights, I was instantly intrigued by Sgt. Brad 'Iceman' Colbert (Alexander Skarsgård) who becomes the series' main character focus (he gets the most screen time), this character seems the most level headed of them. The episode lays the foundation for what's to come but also has a very "Jarhead" (2005) feel to it, the frustrations of dealing with the heat, the incompetence of commanders, lack of supplies and not having anything to shoot at are compounded on top of the everyday pressures of war. I had already pre-judged this as something I'd hate, but I was surprised that the show grew on me quickly and after the first episode hump from episode two onwards the result was a fairly solid mini-series.

Much like previous HBO mini-series' the producers have cast a series of relative unknowns to fill the roster, the show has a naturalistic approach to its casting. This places much more focus on the characters and the events (based on actual events and real people) rather than the performers. Alexander Skarsgård is the real stand out here, although there are a plethora of supporting players most of which tend to blend into the background but a few offer up some memorable turns. James Ransone plays Cpl. Josh Ray Person, who is paired with Skarsgård features the bulk of the humorous lines in the series and provides a great counter-point to Skarsgård's levelheadedness. I was also pleased to see Michael Kelly here, having been a fan of his since "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), he's had some great roles in "The Sopranos" (1999-2007) and in Clint Eastwood's "Changeling" (2008), he's a great all-around actor that can be depended on and does so here. Stark Sands who plays Lt. Nathaniel Fick is another revelation, he's quite young but manages to play a character with wisdom beyond his years. Then there's Lee Tergesen who plays the journalist embedded with the unit and doesn't really bring much to the table other than fraternizing with the troops and being frightened during firefights, that's about the extent of his range, which is a shame considering the character he plays wrote the book which this series is based upon, I would preferred more depth written in to his character.

Like other war-based films/TV shows, the group dynamic really has to work in order for the entire project to succeed, much like HBO's other (more successful) war series "Band of Brothers" (2001) the troops that share the majority of the screen time share some excellent chemistry and you really get the feeling that these guys have been together for a long time, the same can be said here in "Generation Kill", for all intents and purposes these guys may as well have served in the Marines and had several tours of duty under their belts, that's how believable they all are.

It's also worth noting that the show's production values are excellent, the show was shot in South Africa and with the use of believable locations, sets, production design and CGI set and location extensions the viewer is transported to Iraq, as the troops progress North towards Baghdad.

"Generation Kill" may not be for everyone, even I had my doubts after the first episode, I can't say that it was a rewarding viewing experience but it was a solidly produced, well cast and excellently directed mini-series from HBO, who have continuously delivered quality programme after quality programme.

The mini-series features all 7 episodes on three discs and includes:

- "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"
- "Part 7: Bomb in the Garden"

Video

Presented in the show's original broadcast ratio of 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, this image is excellent for a standard definition release. Having been spoiled with HD releases on Blu-ray now since the format's launch, I have hardly had a reason to go back to DVD, but this show is only being released in this region on DVD only (while the US gets both DVD and Blu-ray). The image is crisp and sharp, there are a few noise issues amid the darker night scenes but nothing major. The colors are all appropriately dull and washed out to evoke the desert climate of Iraq. Skin tones appear natural, shadow detail is consistent and there were no compression problems that I could spot, no edge-enhancement or dirt and specks. It's a clean, sharp and overall solid transfer on each episode.

Audio

A single English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is all we get here, I'd love for Warner Brothers/HBO to embrace DTS on standard DVD releases but this Dolby track is perfectly fine (note that the US Blu-ray release has a DTS-HD Master Audio track, which would be ideal for a show that features a lot of gun fire, some explosions and action scenes). The Dolby track fares pretty well, with a nice balanced, decent range and excellent use of surrounds to immerse the viewer. Dialogue is clear, ambient noise is subtle and effective, action scenes are robust and natural sounding with the buzz of bullets flying across the room. It's what you'd expect, cinema quality mix in a nice 5.1 package.
Optional subtitles are featured in English, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.

Extras

Warner has ported overall all the same extras that are featured on the region 1 DVD, these include audio commentaries on six of the seven episodes, three featurettes and some deleted dialogue. These supplements are reviewed in more detail below.

DISC ONE:

This disc features audio commentaries on all three episodes, they participants vary from track to track and they tend to cover a lot of ground, there's few instances of repeated information, overall the participants provide some good production information, background on the show and its development and cast members spend some time joking about various things, some of the tracks are pretty solid as it covers the shooting, challenges of the production etc. The tracks featured on this disc are:

- Audio commentary on the episode "Get Some" by writers David Simon, Ed Burns, and director Susanna White.
- Audio commentary on the episode "The Cradle of Civilization" by co-writer Ed Burns and producer Andrea Calderwood.
- Audio commentary on the episode "Screby" by writer Evan Wright and actors Stark Sands and Benjamin Busch.

DISC TWO:

More audio commentaries are featured on this disc on two of the three episodes, for some reason episode 6 didn't get a track. We get the same thing here as in previous tracks, more production information is spilled as is some shooting trivia as the participants comment on behind-the-scenes moments. The tracks featured on this disc are:

- Audio commentary on the episode "Combat Jack" by actors Alexander Skarsgård, James Ransone and director Simon Cellan Jones.
- Audio commentary on the episode "A Burning Dog" by writer Evan Wright and military advisors/actors Eric Kocher and Jeffrey Carisalez.

DISC THREE:

A single audio commentary is featured on the only episode on this disc, "Bomb in the Garden" by writer David Simon and producer George Faber. These two comment on how this episode came together as these two end the round of commentaries with yet more wealth of information. Overall these tracks were well worth the effort and fans should check them out.

"Generation Kill: A Conversation with the 1st Recon Marines" is the first featurette which runs for 23 minutes 25 seconds. Writer Evan Wright sits down with a few real life Marines and they talk about background of the show, the real people and events as portrayed in the mini-series among other things including the writing of the series, what combat is like and the pressures of being a Marine in a modern military. Overall this is a winner of a featurette as these participants provide in-depth amount of information that provides a decent understanding of the rigors of warfare and the parallels that writers incorporated into the series.

"Making Generation Kill" is the second featurette which runs for 25 minutes 5 seconds, this is a candid and in-depth look at the making of the mini-series and covers some excellent behind-the-scenes ground. This isn't your usual EPK clip, the feature delves into the development, the cast, locations, vehicles and equipment and shooting of the series among other things.

"Eric Ladin's Video Diaries" featurette runs for 30 minutes 9 seconds, actor Ladin plays Cpl. James Chaffin and he presents his journey through the making of this series. It starts in his apartment as he's packing to go to Africa, we see his friends joke about going to Africa, this fly-on-the-wall feature provides an incredibly candid look at what the actor went through to prepare for the role by going to boot camp. We see the cast go through gun training and military procedure, the table read of the scripts, going through principle photography and shooting scenes, getting suited up with costumes and props, and we also get a glimpse at the downtime between shots and episodes. It's a revealing look at what it was like making this show.

Finally there are five deleted dialogues, these are audio only, for some reason we don't have the footage from these scenes. They include:

- "Sgt. Brad 'Iceman' Colbert and Cpl. Josh Ray Person" which runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds.
- "Sgt. Antonio 'Poke' Espera, Cpl. Jason Lilley and Cpl. Hector Leon" which runs for 2 minutes 49 seconds.
- "Lance Cpl. Harold 'James' Trombley and Cpl. Gabriel Garza" which runs for 2 minutes 51 seconds.
- "Sgt. Larry Shawn 'Pappy' Patrick and Sgt. Rudy 'Fruity Rudy' Reyes" which runs for 2 minutes 55 seconds.
- "Cpl. Evan 'Q-Tip' Stafford and Cpl. Anthony 'Manimal' Jacks" which runs for 2 minutes 50 seconds.

Overall

The Show: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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