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Post by Admin on Sat Mar 26, 2011 6:01 am

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Band of Brothers: 10 Years Later
Actually, it's been 9 1/2 years since one of the greatest and most influential television series of all time premiered. Over the past two weeks, I've revisited it in it's entirely. Once again, I was reduced to tears by the end of every episode. Unless you've watched it yourself, it's nearly impossible to describe the raw power the show possesses. It's an achievement of nearly everything that a camera and performance can capture.

It's the story of the 506th Infantry Regiment, E for Easy Company during World War II. We follow a specific group of paratroopers from their training in Camp Taccoa, to their jump into Normandy, to their fight at the Battle of Bulge, and ultimately to their disbandment at the end of the war. It's a story that no film could contain. It is by definition a television series, even if the show can't be identified by "seasons." It's far too expansive to be considered a mini-series. It contains information far beyond its source material to be considered an adaptation (of Stephen Ambrose's book of the same name). I have yet to watch The Pacific (waiting to purchase), but I can say based on everything else I've seen, Band of Brothers is the most comprehensive and successful account of war ever committed to film.

In a perfect world, I would have reviewed every episode individually as I re-watched them. I just don't have the time for that at the moment. So, I provide the following. This not a review, merely some thoughts that came to mind after I finished the show.

We never could have imagined how much our country would need this show when it first premiered.

Band of Brothers premiered at 9pm on September 9, 2001. This means that for nearly 36 hours, the show existed in a world without the context of what would happen on September 11. This is a notable for a few reasons. First, it unfortunately made the show disappear throughout that fall season. After the towers fell, HBO was forced to stop promoting the show. That coupled with the relentless news airing on every channel your cable box would allow forced the show's number of viewers to decrease. The last episode aired nearly as an afterthought and with a whimper. It wasn't until its DVD release in 2002 when the show would finally get its due by a large audience.

Second, and more importantly, 9/11 changed the meaning and impact of the series. Band of Brothers was not just meant for viewers to travel along with Easy Company throughout the Europe campaign, it was meant to show the horrors of war for a generation that was lucky enough not to have to endure it. Within 18 months of Band of Brothers's original airing, the country would be fighting wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The avoidance of war for our generation ended.

This is the only piece of visual media that has ever made me truly understand my grandfather's generation.

That's not to say my heart never went out for my grandfather or that I haven't been thankful. It's just that he's related few stories of his experience and most shows and films have never been that successful with providing resonance. None of us, could ever pretend to know what the veterans of WWII went through. No tv or film has ever come close to having viewers understand their pain, fear, and loyalty other than Band of Brothers. Most war films before Saving Private Ryan were too patriotic and self indulgent to really honor past veterans, with the exception of Platoon. (Apocalypse Now is a decent, yet pretentious exercise in filmmaking. Full Metal Jacket is a complete mess...get over Kubrick's name). The Thin Red Line is merely set against the back-drop of WWII, it's not about the war. Saving Private Ryan redefined the "war film," but it suffered from Spielberg's usual drive to please every demographic possible. That said, Band of Brothers would not have existed had it not been for Spielberg's WWII epic. Brothers was able to delve deeper into the psyche of the soldier, not merely show the horrors of the war. It had the luxury of deliberating pacing battles and strategies so that we could understand that soldiers were not simply "grunts." It showed us an important slice of life that could never be understood by those who weren't there, no matter how well described it may be.

This is the most non-saccharine material that Steven Spielberg has ever produced.

It's questionable how much Spielberg was actually involved with the series. Many claim he just provided feedback and guidance after the first rough cuts emerged. Amazingly, he resisted amping up already emotional scenes as he's guilty of doing all too often. There are no forced moving speeches meant to manipulate the emotions of a viewer as many of his films often contain (yes, even Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List fall victim to this). Everything in this series is presented as matter of fact. No dialogue feels forced. Take, for instance, the following exchange between Nixon (Ron Livingston) and Winters (Damian Lewis) in the episode, "Why We Fight" when Nixon is forced to write messages to parents of fallen soldiers.

Cpt. Nixon: What do you think I should write these parents, Dick?
Richard Winters: Hear what I said, Nix? You've been demoted.
Cpt. Nixon: Yeah, demoted, gotcha. Because I don't know how to tell them their kids never made it out of the g*&^%$# plane.
Richard Winters: You tell them what you always tell them: their sons died as heroes.
Cpt. Nixon: [cynically] You really still believe that?
Richard Winters: [pauses, considering] Yeah. Yeah, I do.

There's not one word here that feels like it was written by a screenwriter years later in hindsight. This scene is beautiful and understated. The words feel real and in the moment. There's no posturing by the actors in hopes of grabbing an Emmy. This is not the Spielberg norm. Usually, the John Williams score would be amped up, competing with the dialogue to be heard (Michael Kamen is the composer for this show). No matter how much influence he had over the project, he still recognized the material and knew to just let it be.

It's stunning how many recognizable actors appear in the series.

Of course they weren't names then and most of us couldn't recognize the faces. In fact a common complaint when the show first aired was that it was hard to differentiate the characters as they were all in the same uniform. The most "famous" actors at the time were David Schwimmer, Donnie Wahlberg, and Ron Livingston. If you go back and rewatch now, you will spot Scott Grimes (E.R.), Tom Hardy, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Simon Pegg, and Jamie Bamber (Lee Adama) in featured roles. With so many recognizable faces now, it's much easier to identify individual characters.

"Bastogne" is one of the greatest episodes of any television series of all time.

What kind of list would this be without some grand sweeping statement such as that? It's true, though. "Bastogne" is the sixth episode of the series and by this point we are familiar with nearly everyone in Easy Company. They are holding the line in arguably the most brutal battle of the war: The Battle of the Bulge during Christmas 1944. This episode focuses on perhaps one of the most important persons of the battalion. Yet, while we had seen him many times before, we never actually recognized him. I'm referring to one of Easy Company's most vital heroes, the medic, Cpl Eugene Roe (Shane Taylor)

We follow Roe as he constantly travels back and forth from the front line to the city, fixing the wounded and re-upping supplies. As he does, he forms an intimate bond with a French nurse, a rare female presence in the show. The magic of this episode is the simplicity. In a show that had spent so much of the previous episodes with many characters and layered stories, it is astonishing to build an entire episode around one character. Especially one we had seen only fleetingly prior. I can't think of another war based show or film that has devoted this much development to the underappreciated medic.

Long ago, I wrote a list of non-traditional Christmas tv episodes/ movies that should be watched annually. "Bastogne" was at the top. There's nothing to celebrate, but there's plenty to be thankful for and honor. One of the most emotional hours you could ever watch. Period.

You can't consider yourself a film and/or tv buff unless you've watched Band of Brothers.

I don't care how arrogant this statement is. If you've seen this show, I'm sure you'll agree that this is not an opinion but a fact. Everything is pitch perfect here: acting, directing, cinematography, editing, score, sound, and many more.

Nearly every first/third person war based video game today owes its existence and success to this show.

Yes, I realize that war games existed before this show (Medal of Honor was first released in 1999). I dare you to argue that any war game released since 2001 has not been at least slightly influenced by this series. All war video games (subsequent versions of Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc) that exist today have a story and setting that is a derivative of Band of Brothers. No game could have visually represented the strategy of battle without consulting the aesthetics of the show. The cinematics of such games clearly pay homage to the series.

Band of Brothers is a must own DVD.

I don't want to be a salesman here but this is a required DVD set to own. Much like the classic novel required to sit on your bookshelf. If may gloat, I re-watched this on my massive new television, in surround sound, and on Blu Ray. Having watched this series three times before, I can honestly say I've never found the visuals and sounds more jaw dropping than I have this time around. If you own a blu ray player, Band of Brothers is a required disc. The kind of reference that you'll adjust the television settings for optimal viewing of this and all other films that take advantage of 1080p. Avoid the re-airings on Spike and The History Channel. Beyond HBO, you should be ashamed of yourself if you watch this by any other means.

Band of Brothers is the prime example why film cannot compete with television.

It is unfair to compare film to television, but with the rise of production values and story within television over the last 10 years, it's an unavoidable comparison. The 2000s were the second golden age of television. Consider the shows that aired during this time: The Sopranos, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Deadwood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Lost, Arrested Development, Veronica Mars.. and these are just the series I can think of off the top of my head. Band of Brothers led the pack on most of these here. Sure, the budget was gargantuan (125 million) and on par with then summer blockbusters (though peanuts today). Without Tom Hanks and Spielberg's name attached it probably wouldn't have been greenlit. That said, nothing about this show is in-your-face large scale. It takes complete advantage of the infinite canvas that television provides. It's a blueprint on how to structure a show and slowly develop characters. It knows how intimate television can be and utilizes that.

Movies simply can't compete with this. There are time constraints and release dates to meet. Plot comes first. Characters are usually only developed if time allows. Television was never taken as seriously as film before the 2000s. The aesthetics were bland and the performances were boring by third rate actors. Since Band of Brothers, nearly all television has risen to the challenge regardless of the budget. TV now rivals film in nearly every aspect. It's why A-List actors and directors attach their name to network projects.

If tomorrow, David Fincher, The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, and Terrence Mailick all renounced feature filmmaking and devoted their career to television, I wouldn't be more happier.

If this show doesn't resonate with you on some level, check your pulse.

Enough said.

Jason Donovan
Posted by Jason Donovan at 3:53 PM

Posts : 27093
Join date : 2009-09-20
Location : California

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