TV Miniseries/Blu-ray Set Review: ‘Band of Brothers’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

On November 11, 2008 – Veterans’ Day – HBO Home Entertainment released the Blu-ray edition of Band of Brothers, a 10-part miniseries based on the 1992 book by Stephen Ambrose. Co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, Band of Brothers follows Easy (“E” in the U.S. Army’ 1944 phonetic alphabet) Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division from its formation at Camp Toccoa in Georgia in the summer of 1942 all the way through the Allied campaign to liberate Western Europe from German occupation from D-Day (June 6, 1944) to Victory in Europe Day (May 8, 1945) and demobilization.

They depended on each other. And the world depended on them.

HBO Tagline for “Band of Brothers”

The miniseries premiered on HBO on Sunday, September 9, 2001 – eerily enough, two days before the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, DC that would send the U.S. into its latest (and still ongoing) war – and aired over the next 10 weeks. In essence – since it was co-produced by Spielberg and Hanks –  Band of Brothers is a spiritual (but non-fiction) sequel to 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, a searing war drama set in the early days of the Normandy campaign of 1944 and the first in a World War II trilogy that includes HBO’s The Pacific (2010) and Apple TV’s upcoming Masters of the Air (2021).

As I mentioned earlier, Band of Brothers is based on a non-fiction book written by the late historian and official biographer of both Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon, Stephen E. Ambrose. Hanks’ production company Playtone (which had done From the Earth to the Moon for HBO in 1998) and Spielberg’s Dreamworks assembled a creative team of writers, producers, and directors who had either directed features – including Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) and Richard Loncraine (Richard III) – or worked extensively in television, including From the Earth to the Moon veteran Tony To and David Nutter (Superboy, The X-Files).

(C) 2008 HBO Home Entertainment

Band of Brothers‘ 10 episodes follow the men and officers of Easy (E) Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in every operation in which the “Screaming Eagles” – America’s second airborne division after the veteran 82nd Airborne (“All-American”) – during the last 11 months of the war in Europe.


Sobel: [Addressing whole platoon.] You people are at the position of attention! [To Perconte] Private Perconte, have you been blousing your trousers over your boots like a paratrooper?

Perconte: No, sir.

Sobel: Then explain the creases at the bottom.

Perconte: No excuse, sir.

Sobel: Volunteering for the Parachute Infantry is one thing, Perconte, but you’ve got a long way to prove that you belong here. Your weekend pass is revoked. [moves on] Name?

Luz: Luz, George.

Sobel: [examining Luz’s M1 rifle] Dirt in the rear sight aperture. Pass revoked. [walks over to another soldier] When did you sew on these Chevrons, Sergeant Lipton?

Lipton: Yesterday, sir.

Sobel: [displays a loose thread pulled from the stripe] Long enough to notice this – revoked.

Lipton: Sir. [Sobel walks over to another soldier.]

Sobel: Name.

Malarkey: Malarkey, Donald G!

Sobel: Malarkey is slang for “bullshit,” isn’t it? [takes his rifle]

Malarkey: Yes, sir!

Sobel: Rust on the butt-plate hinge spring, Private Bullshit – revoked. [tosses his rifle at Malarkey and moves on] Name.

Liebgott: Liebgott, Joseph, D, sir.

Sobel: Rusty bayonet, Liebgott. You want to kill Germans?

Liebgott: Yes, sir.

Sobel: [knocks his helmet with the bayonet] Not with this. [to the whole platoon] I will not take this rusty piece of shit to war, and I will not take you to war in your condition. [throws bayonet to the ground] Now thanks to these men and their infractions, every man in the company who had a weekend pass has lost it. Change into your PT gear. We’re running Currahee.

During that time, Easy Company endured many challenges and hardships, including training under a first commanding officer who was a martinet (Capt. Herbert Sobel, played by David Schwimmer), a baptism of fire in a night drop on Normandy, participation in the failed Operation Market Garden, the harrowing stand of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and the capture of Adolf Hitler’s abandoned Berghof in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

In addition to Schwimmer as the often-combative and unpopular Capt. Sobel, the cast includes Damian Lewis as Maj. Richard Winters, Donnie Wahlberg as 2nd Lt. C. Carwood Lipton, and Colin Hanks (Tom’s son) as 2nd Lt. Henry Jones — there are many fine actors featured in Band of Brothers.

They depended on each other. And the world depended on them.

Like the eponymous book by Stephen Ambrose, who also wrote such best-selling follow-up books about the U.S. Army in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) as D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II and Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army in Europe, June 7, 1944-May 8, 1945, the miniseries depicts the human experience of war from the perspective of the men who were in the thick of the action. In Band of Brothers, we see the young men of Easy Company – all of whom volunteered for the paratroopers – at their best (bonding through their long and arduous training to earn their jump wings at Camp Toccoa, Georgia and advanced infantry training in Camp Mackall, North Carolina) and their worst (on D-Day, Sgt. Bill Guarnere, played by Frank John Hughes, nearly botches an ambush on a German unit when he ignores the orders of Lt. (later Major) Winters and fires his weapon prematurely.)

And because the audience gets to know the men of Easy Company over the miniseries’ 10 parts, the pain and sorrow one feels when one of “the boys” is wounded, killed, or emotionally traumatized in the bitter battles to liberate Europe from Nazi rule are a natural and instinctive reaction.

The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function: without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends upon it.

– Captain Ronald Spiers (Matthew Settle)

And although Band of Brothers takes some liberties with reality – it is, after all, a drama and not a documentary – Spielberg, Hanks, and the rest of the Dreamworks-Playtone team spare no effort to make the miniseries’ battle scenes and European settings look as authentic as possible. The cinematography by Remi Adefarasin (five episodes) and Joel Ransom (five episodes) and the brilliant production design by Anthony Pratt take their cues from Saving Private Ryan. The color palette has that grainy, somewhat dark-and-gritty look that strips the series of the “Hollywood extravaganza” Spielberg seeks to avoid in his serious films about war.

For added realism, many of the battle scenes are filmed with hand-held cameras, just like much of the actual war footage was shot by U.S. Army Signal Corps combat photographers during World War II.

And although Band of Brothers honors the men of Easy Company by highlighting their courage and determination to complete their various missions in the 11 months that they served in the ETO after D-Day, it never flinches from showing the terrible cost they paid for their accolades. Characters we meet in Currahee! and get to know (and like) over the run of the miniseries don’t always have happy endings.

Some die. Some are horribly maimed physically. All of them carry some kind of scars – physical or emotional – that will affect them well into their twilight years.

The miniseries won seven out of 20  nominated Primetime Emmy Awards, including  Outstanding Miniseries and Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special. At the Golden Globe Awards for 2001, Band of Brothers won one out of three nominations: Best Miniseries or Television Film. It also launched British actor Damian Lewis’ U.S. career; he would go on to get plum roles in Homeland, Billions, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  

(C) 2008 HBO Home Entertainment

The miniseries consists of the following episodes:

  1. Currahee! Written by Erik Jendresen and Tom Hanks; Directed by Phil Alden Robinson
  2. Day of Days Written by John Orloff; Directed by Richard Loncraine
  3. Carentan Written by E. Max Frye; Directed by Mikael Salomon
  4. Replacements  Written by Graham Yost and Bruce McKenna; Directed by David Nutter
  5. Crossroads  Written by Erik Jendresen; Directed by Tom Hanks
  6. Bastogne  Written by Bruce McKenna; Directed by David Leland
  7. The Breaking Point  Written by Graham Yost; Directed by David Frankel
  8. The Last Patrol  Written by Erik Bork and Bruce McKenna; Directed by Tony To
  9. Why We Fight Written by John Orloff; Directed by David Frankel
  10. Points Written by Erik Jendresen and Erik Bork; Directed by Mikael Salomon

Winters: These men have been through the toughest training the Army has to offer, under the worst possible circumstances, and they volunteered for it.

Buck: Christ, Dick, I was just shooting craps with them.

Winters: You know why they volunteered? Because they knew that the man in the foxhole next to them would be the best. Not some draftee who’s going to get them killed.

Buck: Are you ticked because they like me? Because I’m spending time to get to know my soldiers? I mean, c’mon, you’ve been with them for two years? I’ve been here for six days.

Winters: You were gambling, Buck.

Buck: So what? Soldiers do that. I don’t deserve a reprimand for it.

Winters: What if you’d won?

Buck: What?

Winters: What if you’d won? Never put yourself in a position where you can take from these men.

The Blu-Ray Set

Winters: [quoting from a letter Mike Ranney wrote to him]: I cherish the memory of a question my grandson asked me the other day, when he said: ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said, “No. But I served in a company of heroes.”

HBO Home Entertainment has released Band of Brothers on home media several times, including a 6-disc DVD set in 2002 and the first Blu-ray set in 2008, which is also divided into six discs (BD-50).

Although later reissues encase their discs in more conventional DVD or Blu-ray packaging, the original releases came in metal tins with “accordion” inner disc holders which fold out like, well, an accordion. In both video formats, the miniseries’ 10 episodes are distributed among the first five BD-50 discs, while the extras, which include the feature-length documentary We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company, as well as Behind the Scenes: The Making of ‘Band of Brothers,’  Ron Livingston’s Video Diaries, and Premiere in Normandy.

The Blu-ray edition also has several interactive features, including an “Interactive Field Guide” that lets you follow Easy Company’s progress in the European Theater of Operations via an onscreen timeline. Another feature – which wasn’t present in the DVD edition from 2002 – is In the Words of Easy Company is a picture-in-picture feature that offers video commentary by the veterans themselves (many of whom are, as these words are written in 2021, no longer alive).

The 2008 Blu-ray edition has more language options than HBO’s first DVD release. The 2002 DVDs only had Spanish-language subtitles; the Blu-ray version offers five language options, including English, English SDH (which goes as far as telling you some of the sound effects), Spanish, Portuguese, and French. This is one of the reasons why I believed it was no sin to get the Blu-ray set even though I had the miniseries on DVD; I’m hard of hearing, so watching movies and TV shows on home media with subtitles on makes the viewing experience more enjoyable for me.

Total running time for Band of Brothers is 705 minutes, but you don’t have to binge watch the miniseries all at once.

My Take

[Easy Compagny is patrolling through the Bavarian woods]
Frank Perconte: Hey, George.
George Luz: Yeah?
Frank Perconte: Kind of remind you of Bastogne?
George Luz: Yeah, now that you mention it. Except, of course, there’s no snow, we got warm grub in our bellies, and the trees aren’t fucking exploding from Kraut artillery, but yeah… Frank… other than that, it’s a lot like Bastogne.
Frank Perconte: Right?
George Luz: Bull, smack him for me please?
[thump]
George Luz: Thank you.

I recommend Band of Brothers to anyone who wants to understand what the individual soldiers who fought in Europe during history’s darkest period experienced when Easy Company was part of what the late historian Charles B. MacDonald once called the “mighty endeavor:” the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny.

Blu-ray Specifications

Video

  • Codec: VC-1 (27.99 Mbps)
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Audio

  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 16-bit)
  • French: Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles

  • English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Discs

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Six-disc set (6 BD-50)
  • Bonus View (PiP)

Packaging

  • Metal Tin

Playback

  • 2K Blu-ray: Region A, B (locked)

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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