Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Band of Brothers

Years ago before I started writing my World War II series, The Last Good War, for Forge, I read quite a few research books about that war, mostly non-fiction but a few novels, too, just to get me in the right frame of mind. One of the non-fiction books I read was BAND OF BROTHERS by Stephen E. Ambrose, about Easy Company of the famous 101st Airborne. I was aware that HBO had made a mini-series of this book and wanted to watch it.  I almost bought the DVD set a few times but didn't for one reason or another. And then time, as it has a habit of doing, passed. Other things cropped up in my life. And watching BAND OF BROTHERS was sort of forgotten. Overlooked, if you will.

Then I came across the DVDs at Half Price Books on a day when I had a coupon for 40% off one item . . . Since I'd been meaning to watch this series for so long, I figured it was time.

Now I have, and as most of you probably already know, man, it's good. I remembered the book fairly well and also have a pretty good general knowledge of the war, so I sort of knew what was going to happen, but I certainly didn't recall all the details. The casting is great, and although Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston sort of dominate as Dick Winters and Lew Nixon, it really is an ensemble piece most of the time. The photography and special effects are top-notch, although some episodes had a little too much of that shaky, hand-held camera for my taste.

My other quibbles are that with dirt on their faces and wearing helmets, too many of the characters look too much alike much of the time, and it took me almost to the end of the series to figure out who was who in some cases. I guess there's not much that could have been done about that, though. Also, since the characters were real and the storyline follows the actual events pretty closely, there's a curious lack of drama in some of the episodes. Along toward the middle, especially, they all run together in one long battle scene.

However, the later episodes, beginning with the Battle of the Bulge and the 101st being trapped at Bastogne, are very powerful, with the Bastogne episode being especially harrowing. And by the end, I did know the characters well enough to really care about them and was glad that we got to find out what happened to them after the war as well.

Another thing I really liked was the way most episodes were introduced by short interviews with actual vets from Easy Company, and seeing them again at the end of the series is very effective.

Some fans say that if you regard this 10-hour mini-series as a movie, it's the best war movie ever made. I don't know if I'd go that far – there have been some really, really good war movies over the decades – but it is excellent and one of the best things I've seen recently, no doubt about that. It's definitely good enough to make me want to see THE PACIFIC, the follow-up series. I'll probably wait a while, though. Just not ten years.


Rick said...

Pacific was just as well done. I liked both series.

Walker Martin said...

I liked THE PACIFIC also but the two series are different in many ways. After all, Europe and the Nazis were different from warfare in the Pacific fighting the Japanese, etc.

I've always thought of jungle warfare as being more horrible. Plus the Japanese often fought to the last man and had absolutely no respect for prisoners.

Jack Badelaire said...

Yeah. BoB is very, very good. The Pacific is very good too, but it's also brutal. I've read Band of Brothers and With the Old Breed, and WtOB is so much more of a descent into Hell.

The European battles might have been more epic and certainly deadly, but the Allies were almost never more than a jeep ride away from a friendly city or town. In the Pacific, each island battle was a different interpretation of complete and totally unrelenting misery.

I'd not wait too long to see The Pacific, if only because I think having BoB fresh in your mind will make comparing the two a lot more interesting.

Steve M said...

I watched this and like you, James, I had trouble working out who was who and that made it difficult to follow. Shame really as the filming was very good.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Definitely need to watch this one. I didn't have HBO at the time.