Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 8th, 2011
“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” – General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.”
World War II was a turning point in American history unlike any other in the 20th century. America went from being an industrial power to becoming a world superpower. It came at great sacrifice, and we lost almost half a million people in the effort. The war to end all wars didn’t quite live up to its promise, but the sacrifices of the men and women who served shaped the world for the decades that would follow. There have been many films about the war. They run from the patriotic to the bravado. Steven Spielberg perhaps gave us the closest thing to actual combat with Saving Private Ryan. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that he would team up with his Ryan star and develop what is perhaps the most important mini-series in television history … twice.
It should be noted that there is another often overlooked significance with Band Of Brothers. The first episode aired on HBO on September 9th 2001, just two days before the 9/11 attacks. It’s significant merely because the series is an accurate depiction of American response to the last time we had been overtly attacked. There are certainly parallels between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 that bear some contemplation. Of course, the mini-series did not deal with the war in the Pacific. The impact can be felt just the same. I guess it might not be a coincidence that the Blu-ray set of both Band Of Brothers and The Pacific, which does deal with the events immediately following Pearl Harbor, have found their way to release just before Veteran’s Day and almost exactly ten years from the 9/11 attacks. For me, all of this makes these shows just that much more poignant. But you don’t need any of those reasons to pick up this superb collection. The quality of both shows should be quite enough.
Band Of Brothers:
When Saving Private Ryan made the impact that it did, Spielberg and Hanks believed that the story was still only partially told. They decided to take all of the things that they learned on that ground-breaking film and apply them to the mini-series format. The idea was to follow one of the most decorated companies in the European theater from the beginning of the war and their training through the end of the fighting. Easy Company was just that kind of company. The mini-series was based primarily on Stephen E. Ambrose’s best-seller. But the material also came from the surviving members of Easy Company. Their own personal recollections and interludes make for a powerful companion to the action of the show itself. I hear filmmakers talk all the time about how their shows are actually mini-films. With a $120 million budget and a tremendous cast, this was no mere boast on this series. This was a ten-hour film, and while it didn’t always boast quite the production values of Saving Private Ryan, it did indeed look like a major motion picture at every turn.
With the beginning of World War II the United States military was experimenting with a new kind of unit that would engage in a new kind of fighting. Aircraft were just in their infancy in the first war, and the sophistication of the vehicles had progressed quantum leaps by the time of the 1940′s. It was decided that troops could be delivered to the front lines, and indeed behind enemy lines, if they could be dropped directly from those aircraft. The result was the First Airborne Division. The recruits were strictly voluntary and submitted themselves to training above and beyond what their peers had experienced. They were trained to be the best of the best, and they would need to be. As one of the characters in the show would point out, “We’re the Airborne. We’re supposed to be surrounded by the enemy.” And Easy Company was there from the D-Day Invasion of Normandy to the capture of Hitler’s famed retreat, The Eagle’s Nest. They fought in every major battle of the war from Normandy to Bastogne. They would be the first American troops to come across a concentration camp. They suffered more casualties than any other American company in the war.
The cast went through extensive training, including a mini-version of real boot camp. There they learned not only the proper way to look like military personnel, but they really did become the band of brothers they depicted on the screen. The cast includes such stand-out performances as Damien Lewis who plays Captain/Major Winters. He is the real leadership behind the company and their fighting heart. His right-hand man would be Ron Livingston as Captain Lewis Nixon. The two of these actors/characters form the core of the unit. Other notable performances were handed in, but not limited to Donnie Wahlberg, Scott Grimes, Neal McDonough, Robin Laing, Frank John Hughes and Peter Youngblood Hills.
You get down in the foxholes with these soldiers and experience an intimate look at their own situation. There are incredibly emotional moments and moments of sheer explosive action. Don’t get too attached to anyone, is how many felt going into battle, and you soon understand why. You’re placed in the same situation. You never know when a favorite character will be gone in just an instant, and that’s really all it took. They’ve been called America’s greatest generation, and you can’t watch this show without understanding why.
As good as Band Of Brothers was, it still only told half of the story. It took them 9 years, but the Spielberg and Hanks team finally tackled the war in the Pacific. The series does feature many of the production values that made the first show such a hit. But this one never really took in the same critical acclaim or popularity, and there are several reasons for that.
This film pretty much follows the lives of three particular Marines who fought many of the intense battles of The Pacific:
John Basilone is played by John Seda. He is awarded The Medal Of Honor for his actions at Guadalcanal. He is then ordered stateside to play the living hero to sell war bonds and fire up the American patriotism. Even when he has the chance to get out, he re-enlists in time to join the epic battle of Iwo Jima.
Eugene Sledge, Sledgehammer to his brothers in arms, is played by Joseph Mazzello. Sledge’s father was a doctor and tried to keep him out of the war by telling him he had a heart defect. He just can’t stay home while others are doing their duty, and he finally gets into action.
Robert Leckie, Lucky to his comrades, is played by James Badge Dale. He was a sports writer before the war. He ended up in some of the worst fighting in the entire campaign. He was injured several times and even had to spend time under psychological evaluation. After the war, he turned his writing talents to his experience and wrote over 40 books on the subject.
While we do get plenty of the “in the trenches” battles that we got in the first show, this one tells the story in a more conventional way. The focus is more on the characters and other aspects of their lives. There’s quite a few romantic and sex scenes here which were completely absent from the first show. I guess the idea was to present a more human story, unfortunately, at the cost of the intense drama from the first show.
Missing here are the segments in each episode where we hear from the survivors of the campaign. I have to say it is my biggest complaint with The Pacific. It comes across more as a movie with all of the Hollywood fluff elements and appears less about the action. Because of the larger scope of the Pacific theater and the ships and equipment that needs to be displayed, there are also more computer-generated effects, and they appear far more obvious. The final episode is completely about the characters going home. Again, it’s the Hollywood version of Band Of Brothers.
Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of wonderful action and the same attention to detail and another outstanding cast. It just doesn’t capture the same spirit as the first show did for me. It still makes for a pretty good companion and a solid Blu-ray release.
Both shows are presented in their original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 (Band Of Brothers) or an AVC MPEG-4 (The Pacific) codec. The amazing production detail gets quite a showcase in these high-definition image presentations. The sharpness and texture take you even closer to the battlefield than you were before. Close-ups are particularly sharp, and the detail can actually be disturbing at times. Black levels are quite nicely rendered, and you’ll find plenty of shadow definition that allows that detail and texture to remain no matter what the lighting. Some of these locations are breathtaking, and you won’t be disappointed by how any of this looks here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is about as good as any television release has ever sounded. The surrounds come alive with the zings and explosions that surround the viewer. The score is often magnificent and always emotional. You can hear the dialog even under the greatest of roaring sounds. Subs come across as if this were a blockbuster film. You’ll find yourself asking: “Was this really a television show?”
Each episode comes with an advanced viewing option that provides timelines, historical facts and picture-in-picture material, including more of those wonderful surviving member conversations on Band Of Brothers.
We Stand Alone Together: (1:12:33) HD A ton more of those interview pieces that tell the real story.
The Making Of Band Of Brothers: (29:32) SD Typical making of feature with plenty of cast and crew participation, including both Hanks and Spielberg. It does have a bit of a promo feel.
Ron Livingston’s Video Diaries: (56:05) SD Livingston recorded the experience of working on the show. There’s great stuff here that goes back to him waking up at home on the first day of shooting. It covers that boot camp and a typical day on the production.
Premiere In Normandy: (3:07) Cast and crew were on hand for a showing of the first episode outside on a huge screen at Normandy.
Character Profiles: There are 5-10 minute pieces on the main characters from The Pacific.
Making The Pacific: (22:36) HD Covers various aspects including the boot camp.
Anatomy Of The Pacific War: (9:59) SD An historic look at the war and its impact.
He Has Seen War: (53:07) HD Surviving members of both campaigns talk about the impact on their lives of having been through combat. There’s a lot of focus on readjusting to civilian life and the emotional issues many carried their entire lives.
Any soldier will tell you that you can never truly understand combat unless you’ve been there. I haven’t. I’m not naive enough to believe that because I’ve seen this or any war film, no matter the quality, that I can ever understand what that feels like. So I’m not going to insult the men who were there by saying that you’ll walk away knowing what combat is like. I do think that both of these shows can help you to understand them just a little bit more. It’s really the best that we can ever hope for. How can any film reveal the terror and bloodshed of places like Iwo Jima, Bastogne or Normandy? You won’t know combat, but you can certainly appreciate the bond that these men share and the sacrifice they made in our name, whether we’ve asked them to or not. “From this day to the ending of the world we in it shall be remembered. We lucky few, we band of brothers. For he who today sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”