Judge Clark Douglas is a wimp in contrast to the average Starbucks barista, much less the men featured in these two miniseries.
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg present the award-winning WWII miniseries.
Between 1998 and 2010, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks played a major role in creating three superbly-crafted, definitive explorations of World War II. The first was Spielberg's much-lauded Saving Private Ryan, a film that begins with an unflinching recreation of D-Day before settling in on an examination of several men attempting to complete a deadly mission. In the wake of that film's success, Spielberg and Hanks used their considerable influence to get two massive, wildly ambitious miniseries off the ground: 2001's Band of Brothers and 2010's The Pacific.
Band of Brothers details the lives of the men of Easy Company, from their intense training in Toccoa, Georgia to their heroic exploits during the Battle of Normandy to their hellish stay in Bastogne to their discovery of a concentration camp near the end of the war. Ordinarily, an undertaking of this size at this length would be economically unfeasible, but the filmmakers were devoted to bringing the realities of the war to life regardless of the cost. At the time it was created, it was the most expensive television miniseries ever made, but the investment was worthwhile: you'll be hard-pressed to find ten hours of television better than Band of Brothers, a series that arguably eclipses even Saving Private Ryan as an intensely moving tribute to the men who sacrificed their lives in that conflict.
From time to time, Band of Brothers has been unfairly criticized as jingoistic flag-waving, a miniseries so intent on paying tribute to heroes that it brushes aside nuance. Such statements are nonsensical claims made by individuals who aren't really paying attention. One of Band of Brothers' great strengths is that it never ignores the dark side of war, even during its most stirring depictions of heroism. Indeed, the final chapter of the miniseries spends as much time detailing the psychological breakdowns, ugly behavior and reckless foolishness which accompanied the final days of the war as it does paying tribute to the good men we've come to know over the course of the series. While the series certainly doesn't ignore the motivations for the war (indeed, the penultimate chapter is an extraordinarily moving hour of television which is aptly entitled "Why We Fight"), it offers a complex examination of the notion that men in foxholes aren't fighting for ideals or country so much as they're fighting for each other.
There are some standout performances from the superb young cast—Damian Lewis (Life) as the level-headed and empathetic Maj. Richard D. Winters, Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger) as the increasingly-troubled 1st Lt. Buck Compton, David Schwimmer (Friends) as the insufferable Herman J. Sobel, Donnie Wahlberg (Saw II) as Sgt. C. Carwood Lipton and Ron Livingston (Office Space) as Capt. Lewis Nixon are particularly memorable—but Easy Company itself is the central character. Old members are killed and replaced by new ones; some characters fade into the background while others become the center of attention. Through it all, the soldiers remain devoted to each other despite intense conflicts and continue to fight despite the overwhelming, soul-crushing environment they've been placed in. While Winters perhaps gets more attention than any other figure, that's only because he leads the men and is more frequently able to give us a better perspective on Easy Company. The series masterfully juggles an enormous cast, and the actors selflessly devote themselves to delivering whatever is required of them (even if that means marching in the background over the course of an entire episode without getting any significant lines).
One of the few miniseries that can honestly claim to be even more ambitious than Band of Brothers is The Pacific, which takes on a daunting collection of messier conflicts, more striking moral ambiguities and scenes with an even larger scope. It broke Band of Brothers' record as the most expensive television miniseries ever made, costing a whopping $200 million to bring to the small screen. It falls just a notch short of being the masterpiece that its predecessor was, but it can certainly be argued that The Pacific was handed a considerably more difficult challenge: Band of Brothers followed a single company through a variety of different locations, while The Pacific follows numerous groups of individuals in an attempt to encapsulate the entire Pacific War.
Though there are certainly moments of warmth and inspiration in The Pacific, in general it's a chillier and more savage affair. The battle scenes are raw and bloody to a degree that few moments in Band of Brothers approach, and certain images are among the most harrowing things I've seen on television. The midsection of the miniseries offers one hellish battle sequence after another; few films have so effectively depicted war (particularly WWII, which has too frequently been treated with cheap, sanitized heroics) as a nightmare taking place in broad daylight. There are scenes here which feel more like moments from a Vietnam film than a WWII flick. Sure, WWII was "The Good War" and Vietnam was a national nightmare which led to mass disillusionment, but such textbook classifications didn't make much difference to the soldiers on the battlefield facing a seemingly endless barrage of enemy fire, bloody corpses and loss of close friends.
Once again, the cast is sublime across the board. The names are generally less recognizable than those who appear in Band of Brothers, but that's only because the stars of Band of Brothers have had a full decade to make a name for themselves in the years since (among the "nobodies" in the former series: James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender, and Simon Pegg). The strongest central performance comes from James Badge Dale (Rubicon) as PFC Robert Leckie, whose assured presence and atypically thoughtful perspective make him the center of the series. There's also some terrific acting from Rami Malek (Larry Crowne) as the peculiar "Snafu" Shelton and from Joseph Mazzello (Jurassic Park) as the scrawny, sensitive Eugene Sledge (who was initially prevented from entering the war due to a heart condition). The Pacific is simultaneously larger and more intimate than Band of Brothers, dealing with a wider scope historically but zooming in more intensely on individual characters. The approach works superbly for the material, and Dale's measured cynicism suits this series much like Lewis' unwavering devotion suited its predecessor.
Collectively, Band of Brothers and The Pacific provide a moving, involving, intelligent, intense examination of WWII and the men who fought it. Though the former is the better of the two series on its own terms, the two miniseries work together remarkably well as a larger effort (with Saving Private Ryan serving as a tremendous prologue). They are emotionally exhausting yet unfailingly watchable; don't be surprised if you end up plowing through an entire series in one or two marathon viewing sessions. These two series put the vast majority of WWII films to shame; they boast a level of craftsmanship and attention to historical detail which has rarely (if ever) been matched.
Now, as for this specific collection: the central appeal of this handsomely packaged box set is that it houses both previously released series in a single package. If you don't already own the Blu-ray releases, Band of Brothers/The Pacific (Blu-ray) Special Edition Gift Set is the way to go. The discs are housed in a sturdy, attractive hardbound book featuring thick cardboard pages. It's very similar to the packaging used on The Alien Anthology and Avatar Blu-ray sets, but thicker and about twice as long (admittedly, this set will be a little tricky to find a place for on the shelf). The book is contained with a simple but sturdy cardboard box which seals magnetically. The 1080p transfers, DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks and supplements included are identical to what was offered in the previous collections; I'll refer you to the superb, comprehensive reviews by Judges Dan Mancini and Gordon Sullivan for more detailed rundowns of both.
The one new supplement offered by this collection is contained on a bonus disc sandwiched between the two series. It's a 53-minute documentary entitled "He Has Seen War," and it offers interviews with veterans featured prominently in both miniseries (primarily The Pacific). The doc explores the mental and social challenges soldiers faced upon returning home from WWII, and outlines in heartbreaking detail the general public's inability to deal with the PTSD many returning soldiers were experiencing. It's a sensitive yet enormously depressing look at a largely neglected period in America history; events which were brushed to the side while victory parades took center stage. It's a small addition but an exceptional one; it does a superb job of exploring themes both miniseries quietly introduce.
The price tag on this box set is a little steep (at the moment, you can buy the pair of individually packaged miniseries for less), but the collection is very highly recommended if you don't mind spending a few extra bucks. The two miniseries are among the best television has produced, the box set looks nice and the lone new supplement is a terrific addition to an already-impressive package.
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Scales of Justice, Band Of Brothers
Perp Profile, Band Of Brothers
Distinguishing Marks, Band Of Brothers
Scales of Justice, The Pacific
Perp Profile, The Pacific
Distinguishing Marks, The Pacific
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