Sunday, April 03, 2005

Band of Brothers Review

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 battle front, 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 which 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 ultimately, 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.

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