Debuting on HBO in 2001, Band of Brothers was instantly lauded with praise. With an epic and sweeping story encompassing nearly twelve hours of footage, Executive Producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg brought to life the Stephen E. Ambrose bestseller of the same name. With a ton of talent on screen, including Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Donnie Wahlberg, David Schwimmer and Colin hanks to name a few, the World War II mini-series captured the grittiness and realism that Spielberg became known for after his 1998 blockbuster Saving Private Ryan.
Based on the bestseller by Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers tells the story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army. Drawn from interviews with Easy Company, as well as soldiers’ journals and letters, Band of Brothers chronicles the experiences of these men who knew extraordinary bravery and extraordinary fear. They were an elite rifle company parachuting into France early on D-Day morning, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and capturing Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchstesgaden. They were also a unit that suffered 150 percent casualties, and whose lives became legend.
Although I missed the series during its original run (I’m not an HBO subscriber, unfortunately), I did catch this one on DVD down the line. Although it was daunting to think of watching almost eleven hours of war-time footage (especially since I’d just watched the three-hour Saving Private Ryan a few weeks before), I found myself not even blinking at the clock once I set into watching the series. I guess in a way I assumed it was going to be exactly like Saving Private Ryan based on who was involved, but while the war may be the same, the tale of this particular company is wildly different.
Considering the most important element of the story told in this mini-series was the comradery between the soldiers, the casting was crucial so that we were able to believe the soldiers interactions with one another. I immediately became a fan of Damian Lewis after seeing this series (he’s also brilliant on Life, an NBC show I’m afraid may not make it through this season) and became an even bigger one of Ron Livingston, whom I’d already known from the comedy Office Space. Not to mention the appearances by David Schwimmer and Colin Hanks, the amount of actor talent in this mini-series is nothing short of amazing. I’m continually surprised by how many actors popped up in this series that I’ve since seen in a myriad of other productions, even if they’re bit parts.
An actor is only as good as the material he has to work with, however, and the material here provided by Stephen E. Ambrose’s book makes for incredibly riveting and engaging entertainment. It’s easy to see why this series commanded so much of a presence during its original run (and subsequently became an Emmy and Golden Globe winner)—everything about it is so amazingly written and directed that you can’t help but become caught up and enthralled by the mission and trials that these men went through.
I’ve always been a fan of war films, World War II era in particular, and Band of Brothers easily eclipses the majority of the productions I’ve seen. I daresay the series as a whole ranks above Saving Private Ryan, which has consistently been at the top of my World War II films list. True, this is an eleven hour mini-series and we’re given so much more time to connect and grow with the characters in the series than we were in Saving Private Ryan and both generate their fair share of tears, but Band of Brothers is just able to go that extra mile because of its format.
Overall Band of Brothers is a mini-series that is a Must See. If you’ve somehow missed it seeing it, be sure to slap this one on your holiday wish-list. From the fantastic action to the wrenching drama, Band of Brothers will make your jaw drop in awe as it takes you through parachuting, incredible battles and just an overall fantastic story.
Although this series has been on DVD since 2002, this is the first HD release that it has received. The set is packaged identically to the DVD version, although I can’t be 100% sure that the height of the packaging is the same. The set itself comes with a cardboard band that boasts the Blu-ray specifications of this release along with its awards and disc contents, while the inside houses the six discs in accordion style format. On the inner flap is a whole list of all the disc contents as well as inserts that include Firmware upgrade notices and another that advertises an HBO survey.
The video for this release comes in an VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. Although the series was shot on film, it was processed in full 1080p during its original production so there were already HD quality mixes from the start. Having watched the series on DVD previously, I was astonished by how clear the picture looked for this series; although there is quite a bit of nighttime sequences that give the series an almost black and white appearance at times, the daytime sequences and visuals are jaw dropping. From the soldiers walking in front of a sunset in the second part to the rousing battles down the line, the mini-series is nothing short of spectacular in HD.
As if the video wasn’t a big enough reason to check this release out, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio is another draw for the HD guru. Just as one would expect the war time sequences of this mini-series sound brilliant, with superb channel separation and plenty of LFE activity. There was constantly surround usage during the action sequences and during the quieter moments everything came through the front channels crisp and clear. HBO definitely put a lot of effort into making this a jaw-dropping mini-series to own on Blu-ray and there isn’t a single moment in this release I found to be off the mark.
While the main extras from the mini-series returns, including the eighty minute “We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company” documentary that profiles the actual men whom this mini-series is based on, and the thirty-minute “Making of Band of Brothers” featurette, as well as “The Premiere in Normandy” piece and actor Ron Livingston’s video diaries, the big draw for this Blu-ray edition (aside from the bump in A/V specs) are the exclusive extras. One of the new pieces involves an “Interactive Field Guide” that pops up on screen to fill in the viewer on trivia about a particular event happening on screen. Yes, that’s basically a fancy way of saying “trivia track”, but it’s presented in a much more engaging and interactive way, so it’s a bit more than a simple text blurb.
But that isn’t why you’re buying this set. The picture-in-picture commentaries on each of the ten parts are why you’ll be drawn to this release. Each one of the tracks includes a host of participants and is described as a “dynamic, optional commentary by the Easy Company veterans.” If you’ve already seen the mini-series, then this is a great way to re-watch them as the new tracks are very interesting to listen to.
Overall Band of Brothers on Blu-ray is a definite step up from the already impressive DVD release, but whether you upgrade will depend largely on how much you enjoy the series. To me it’s worth the upgrade simply because of the impeccable A/V transfer as well as some new extras that are genuinely worth watching. With a sane going price (as of this writing it is currently $54.99 on Amazon, only $10 more than the DVD edition), this may be one to think about upgrading to if you already own the previous set. If you haven’t already added this to your collection, however, then this one comes Highly Recommended.
Band of Brothers is now available on Blu-ray.