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Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers on DVD

By Jim Bray

An important historical drama, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s miniseries version of Stephen E. Ambrose’s book is as honest a look as Hollywood can give at what it was like to be one of the heroes of what has been called “The Greatest Generation.”

The HBO miniseries, not surprisingly considering the Hanks/Spielberg connection, feels a lot like “Saving Private Ryan,” except that it’s better - if only because it’s longer and gives the audience a chance not only to get to know the characters better, but it prolongs the agony through which these men willingly went so that we who follow wouldn’t have to. "Private Ryan” only deals with D-Day and its aftermath, while Band of Brothers covers a period of years, though it's mostly set in the months or after D-Day.

The story follows Easy Company of the Airborne, right from boot camp to the end of the war. The grunts think they have it hard during basic training, with its forced marches and perceived unfair treatment - but it’s nothing compared with what they’re going to face when they parachute into harm’s way in the wee hours of June 6, 1944. They, and the bombers we don’t get to see in this series, are there to assist the massive invasion force that’s about to land on the beaches of Normandy, and then they're tasked with helping free the Western European countryside from Nazi forces.

It’s ugly, it’s brutal, it’s graphic - and yet there are moments of surprising tenderness as we accompany Easy Company from the United States to England, to Normandy and through the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of a concentration camp and the capture of Hitler's Eagle's Nest.

The ensemble cast is very good, and you can really feel the bond between them as they march side by side into a hell they had no idea was waiting for them, yet from which they can't turn away.

This is an important series and needs to be seen.

The attention to detail is remarkable; the filmmakers have obviously done their best to be accurate, and it shows. If you want to find out just how accurate, pay attention to the supplemental materials.

Visually, Band of Brothers resembles quite closely the look of “Private Ryan,” with its washed out color that gives it a realistic documentary look. The miniseries itself is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is very good indeed. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, and the quality is frighteningly excellent. The filmmakers put you right into the middle of the action with their use of the surround and low frequency effects channels; the experience is not only riveting, but draining; our reviewer could only watch two episodes at a sitting because it was so intense.

The extras are just as good, for the most part. Best of them is an 80 minute documentary “We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company,” a heart-wrenching feature that interviews survivors of the real Easy Company (people played by actors in the series) and gives you their historical perspective. These are ordinary men who as youths were forced by circumstances to do extraordinary - and sometimes very nasty - things. They, and their contemporaries, saved Western civilization for the next half century, yet they remain ordinary men who never consider themselves to be the heroes they really yare.

There’s also another good documentary, the half hour “Making of” that gives some fascinating insight into the production and the producers, and their burning desire to do it right.

Each disc also contains a synopsis of its episodes as well as a field guide that gives historical perspective of events leading up to World War II, maps, terminology guides, etc.

Band of Brothers should be required viewing in today’s high schools and colleges. We’d recommend it for younger viewers, except that it’s so graphic.

Band of Brothers, from HBO Home Video
705 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS surround


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Updated May 13, 2006