Band of Brothers (2001)

Band of Brothers

HBO’s ten-part mini-series on the “Easy” Company’s tribulations during the German invasion of World War II is a grand spectacle, filled with numerous moments of perfection, and begs one simple question. Why can’t the rest of television look like this?

Based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, and produced by Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg, the series gives a realistic, gut-wrenching portrayal of Easy Company’s activities from the final stages of their paratrooper training, to D-day, through their major battles up until the end of the war. It spans 10-hour-long episodes (the series opener “Currahee” clocks in at 1 hour, 30 minutes), with each episode focusing on a particular battlefront, and often specific characters. It gives a good portrait of what war must be like to those who actually fight it. It does not shy away from the brutal, ugly reality of combat. It is not just the Saving Private Ryan-like battlefield violence (though there is plenty of that here) but the cold-blooded murder of German prisoners, and the cowardice of boys trying to be soldiers. This is not John Wayne standing gruff and courageous against fascism. Band of Brothers does well to show that not all soldiers were courageous; all were scared, some so much to be rendered useless.

Each episode spotlights one or more of the men. In doing so it gives the audience a chance to view the soldiers on a more personal level, and not just their heroics. While doing so, the episodes also spotlight the types of struggles the soldiers dealt with day to day. While mainly this technique worked, there were a few missteps. Instead of using an entire episode to highlight the medics, I would have preferred those moments to be seen throughout the series. Medics were in constant need while on the battlefront, and to see this in detail, intertwined into every episode, would have served the purpose better. Instead, I would rather have seen another soldier highlighted (Nixon comes to mind.)

Likewise, the Normandy invasion seemed underwhelming. Easy company was part of a paratrooper division that flew over the beaches and fought their way back. Following the company, we miss much of what was the D-day invasion. Instead, we find the soldiers taking out a few machine gun nests. Though this may be historically accurate, it seems disappointing not to see more of what is one of the most significant battles of the 20th century. I suppose I’ll have to watch Saving Private Ryan for that.

These are minor complaints in what is ultimate, an excellent series. It is a joy to see such an excellent production come out of a television series. HBO proves once again that it is at the top of the television game. The networks need to take a long, hard look at their cable competitors and see how they can produce quality productions.

2 thoughts on “Band of Brothers (2001)

  1. Well said. My first attempt at following the series, was interrupted by 9/11. I saw the first 3 episodes, and then 9/11 happened. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a few of the not so known actors in it attain a higher status in Hollywood. Especially Donnie Wahlberg, Michael Cudlitz, Neal McDonough. Having known a few relatives, and having heard the stories from the REAL vets, the series is an all-time success. Why We Fight(EP 9) starting and ending with that Beethoven quartet…. speechless and heart-wrenching.

    • It is a great series. Rereading my review I find I disagree with myself about the D-Day episode. I really like that episode now and it makes for a good juxtaposition with Saving Private Ryan as we get to see what some of the other men were doing that weren’t there on the beaches.

      Have you seen The Pacific? I keep meaning to watch it, actually did watch a few episodes years ago but then got distracted by something else and keep forgetting to go back to it.

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