Band of Brothers

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Nov 21, 2008
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Various

Release Date(s)

2001 (November 11, 2008)

Studio(s)

Playtone/Dreamworks/HBO (HBO)

Review

Band of Brothers is the story of the men of Easy Company – the U.S. Army’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.  Based on the book of the same name by historian Stephen Ambrose, and actual interviews with the surviving soldiers, this ten-part mini-series details (and humanizes) the experience of Easy Company during World War II, from their formation at Camp Tocca, Georgia in 1942 to their last days in Europe in November, 1945.

We follow these men through thick and thin, from the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day and the subsequent invasion of Holland, to the blistering Battle of the Bulge and Easy Company’s eventual capture of Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” in the German Alps.  The mini-series features a cast of largely unknown actors (save for David Schwimmer, Ron Livingston and Donnie Wahlberg) and a variety of different directors (including Tom Hanks).  The scale is impressive and the budget is massive.  And it is, quite simply, an amazing television experience – winner of the Golden Globe for Best Mini-Series and a very fitting tribute to the young men (many of them teenagers) who risked everything to save the world... simply because it was what they had to do.

The ten episodes of the series are (in order) Currahee, Day of Days, Carentan, Replacements, Crossroads, Bastogne, The Breaking Point, The Last Patrol, Why We Fight and Points.  Each episode begins with the recollections of actual surviving members of Easy Company to ease you into that particular part of the story.  And to be honest, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to say anything else about them.  You really need to go into this with a clean slate.  Suffice it to say that the overall experience is well worth the time it takes to view each episode.

HBO’s previous DVD release delivered excellent video and audio quality to be sure, but this new Blu-ray edition improves the experience dramatically.  The six-disc set includes all ten episodes in full 1080p high-definition, arranged two episodes per disc over the first five discs.  The colors are muted – almost sepia toned – but accurate, with light grain visible, good contrast and excellent detail.  Light compression artifacting is occasionally apparent in the most chaotic action sequences, but it never detracts from the experience.  The audio is presented in a wonderfully immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, that features great clarity, smooth and natural panning, abundant bass and highly active surrounds, especially during combat.

Each of the episode discs include preview trailers for all ten episodes (in SD).  During the episodes themselves, you can activate two features largely new to Blu-ray Disc.  The first is a sort of BonusView PiP video commentary with the real-life soldiers, called In the Words of Easy Company.  Some of this material appears in the documentary on Disc Six (more on that in a minute), but much is new here too.  As you’re watching, PiP windows will appear from time to time, featuring one of the soldiers talking about the events being depicted on screen.  There are some really great stories here, so I definitely recommend checking it out.  The other (sort of) new feature is the interactive In the Field with the Men of Easy Company.  Much of this material was included in the extras disc of the original DVD release, but here it’s been converted into a BonusView option you can view while watching the episode.  When activated, a scrolling timeline appears at the bottom of the screen.  At various points along the timeline, icons indicate the presence of photos, video clips, bios, historical information and more, which will pop-up for viewing upon selection.  The video material includes footage from vintage U.S. Army training films from the period, which are very cool to see.

The rest of the extras are on Disc Six, and are recycled from the original DVD release.  These include the 78-minute We Stand Alone Together documentary, the Premiere in Normandy and The Making of Band of Brothers featurettes, and all of actor Ron Livingston’s Video Dairies from the set.  All of this is standard-definition, with the exception that the interview portions of the documentary have been updated to high-def (the rest of the footage is upconverted SD).  Missing from the DVD are the brief Who’s Who: The Men of Easy Company spots, the photo gallery and the Message from Jeep promo, but you the good news is that you don’t actually MISS any of this.  (I should note that the original photo gallery contained but a production stills per episode, while better and more numerous shots are included in the interactive In the Field guide.)  Other quick comments: The Blu-ray menus are elegant and functional, and the original DVD’s fantastic stamped tin packaging has been recreated here, albeit in a more compact Blu-ray size.

As a life-long student of history, I’ve always been fascinated by the period of the Second World War.  In my opinion, Band of Brothers is as good a retelling of some of the real experiences of WWII as you’ll ever see.  Executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have done a wonderful job in bringing the story of Easy Company to the small screen.  This new Blu-ray edition is every bit as classy as the original DVD release, and its high-def presentation makes the small screen experience quite large indeed.  Highly recommended.

- Bill Hunt

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