HBO // 2001 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 1st, 2008
They depended on each other, and the world depended on them.
Around the dawning of World War II, the Army brass got the bright idea that throwing soldiers out of perfectly good airplanes would be a good way to get troops on the ground. Thus, Airborne Divisions (including the likes of the 101st and the 82nd) created. They served a vital role in the European theater, offering immense help to the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy. Through a combination of skill and lucky, Easy Company, of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, distinguished itself as a particularly effective fighting force, enough so that noted historian Stephen E. Ambrose decided to turn their story into a book. The book was a bestseller and caught the eye of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg which resulted in this HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, which originally aired in 2001. Although its initial release on DVD was fantastic, this Blu-ray set is worth the upgrade in every way.
Band of Brothers follows the exploits of Easy Company from their training in Georgia through D-Day and on to Germany's surrender. Along the way the men learn about war and each other as they are asked to perform near-impossible military feats.
The 10 episodes of this series are presented on five Blu-ray discs:
* "Day of Days"
* "The Breaking Point"
* "The Last Patrol"
* "Why We Fight"
Band of Brothers is far from a perfect mini-series (more on that later), but it is an immaculate evocation of an historical moment. If there is one thing that contemporary society owes "the Greatest Generation," it is the duty of memory, and Band of Brothers is sure to keep the story of at least part of WWII alive. Viewing the series as a monument, a tribute, to the men and women who fought gives it a resonance few creative efforts could match. But, for all its attention to historical accuracy, for all its reliance on the people who lived the stories, Band of Brothers never feels stodgy or overly reverent. There's an obvious respect for the men and their story, but the film doesn't blindly recite historical fact (and some would even argue that it strays too far from fact for dramatic purposes at several points). The greatest achievement of Band of Brothers is not aesthetic, but historical. My hope is that it will spark interest in the lives and stories of those in the past and make them relevant in a way that might shed some light on the present.
I had never seen Band of Brothers before this Blu-ray set showed up at my door, and I was initially unimpressed with the video quality. The show has a Saving Private Ryan-processed look about it, with lots of sepia tones. I noticed some noise here and there in the darker scenes, and an occasional lack of fine detail in skin surfaces (which looked a bit like digital noise reduction to my eyes). Then, I popped in a borrowed copy of the original DVD, and all my worries flew right out the window. Whatever problems this Blu-ray presentation has, they pale in comparison to the improved clarity, consistency in color, and detail. Revelation is an overused word, but it seems appropriate. The audio is not as huge an upgrade, but there's a clarity and transparency to the DTS soundtrack that keeps the dialogue audible and the combat earth-shaking.
The video improvement alone would have probably warranted an upgrade for fans of the show, but HBO has ponied up a pair of new extras to entice fans further. First, I should mention that all the extras from the DVD edition are here, including the making-of documentary, the documentary on Easy Company, Ron Livingston's video diary, and the premiere at Normandy. Now, however, fans get to hear more from the survivors of Easy Company with a Blu-ray exclusive picture-in-picture commentary for each episode. As I'm not a huge fan of this type of commentary, I wish these were standalone interviews, but it's wonderful to hear more from these fascinating gents. This alone might also be worth the upgrade for fans of the series. The other new extra is an interactive "field guide," where during certain points in the series the viewer can access extra information about soldiers, battles, and historical details. Again, I'm not a huge fan of this style of extra, but the info is nice to have.
As I said earlier, Band of Brothers is not a perfect miniseries. The biggest problem is the sheer scale of the story and all the individuals involved. With Stephen Ambrose's book, it was possible to re-read segments, to figure out who was who in a battle sequence. Rewind doesn't work quite so well for figuring out details for this show. Also, Ambrose's book starts at the beginning with training, letting the characters become familiar. Band of Brothers doesn't have the time to do that, and I can see those unfamiliar with the book being confused for the first few episodes. While the battle sequences (obviously inspired by Saving Private Ryan) are visually fascinating, their chaotic nature makes them difficult to follow. I know that's the point, since they're more "realistic," but I think they're a poor storytelling technique. Finally, the acting in this series is top notch (I was even impressed with David Schwimmer, something I never thought I'd say), but the actors can't hold a candle to the real survivors of Easy Company. Even now, Dick Winters gives off a calm charisma that makes it easy to see why men would want him to lead. Although there's nothing wrong with Damien Lewis' portrayal of Winters, he can't hope to capture that charm.
Although it's not a criticism of the show, the accordion style foldout system that houses the discs inside the metal tin for this release is a little cumbersome. That's the only thing I wish they'd changed for this Blu-ray set.
I feel pretty comfortable saying that this set is worth a rental for everyone with hi-def capabilities. Fans of the show will certainly want to upgrade for the improved picture and exclusive extras. As a series, Band of Brothers does an excellent job reminding viewers of the importance of history, even if it can be a little difficult to watch at points.
Currahee means "We Stand Alone," and Band of Brothers stands alone as an excellent military miniseries and a fantastic Blu-ray set. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
* Portuguese (Brazilian)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "In the Words of Easy Company"
* "In the Field with the Men of Easy Company"
* "We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company"
* Ron Livingston's Video Diaries
* The Making of Band of Brothers
* "The Premiere in Normandy"