economy has gone to hell, but you can still afford to splurge on the
latest in High Definition treats. The CHUD Home Entertainment Team has
taken upon themselves to draft the Top 25 Blu-Rays released in Region A
thus far. From the 1st of December until Christmas, we’ll count down to
the greatest Blu-Ray release of all-time. Join us and marvel at the
treasures of the 1080p set.
LIST POSITION: #9
TITLE: Band of Brothers
Directors: Phil Alden Robinson, David Frankel, Mikael Salomon and more!
Cast: Scott Grimes, Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Shane Taylor, Donnie Wahlberg
RATING: Not Rated
BUY IT AT AMAZON!
WHY IT’S ON THE LIST
HBO has this weird history with their home video releases. They are notorious for doing quick dumps to DVD for their various specials and comedy showcases. However, they treat their original on-goings and minis like prized pigs. While far more recent releases such as John Adams and Generation Kill have shown HBO’s commitment to the Blu-Ray format by expounding upon their prestige, the Home Box Office onslaught started with the release of today’s entry. Nothing beats the original.
Brokaw, Ambrose, Spielberg and Hanks are the four horsemen of the World War II nostalgia apocalypse. When HBO and the BBC conspired to create an adaptation of Ambrose’s non-fiction source material, Spielberg and Hanks were the backers. Taking Playtone from under the aegis of a middlin’ received 60s rock movie…it launched the production house into the A-List. The nets were cast wide to pull together an ensemble actors that ranged from stage veterans to comedians to former boy band members. No one knew what to make of them, but expectations were high.
When the first episode of Band of Brothers aired, people were floored by the scope. Most casual fans were taken aback by the sheer nature of having Saving Private Ryan on the small screen. This does the show a great disservice, as the longer run-time allowed for deeper exploration of the real-life bonds between soldiers. Sure, it was the greatest hits of the Western Front in terms of World War II history. The real gain is that this frank exploration of what it takes to go from fresh-faced kid to hardened soldier had never been so frankly explored in regards to the Greatest Generation.
The problem with the series is that it was too popular. Every frat boy that played Call of Duty now cared about World War II. They didn’t give a shit about the historical implications, it was just cool to see grandpa figures killing krauts. The series became man television, while specialty networks began marathon programming of the show. The further and further it got away from HBO, Band of Brothers began to lose its purpose. Sloppy editing for basic cable and widespread over-broadcasting had turned it into yet another piece of historical drama.
Nostalgia ruins so much in the world and I fear that World War II might be tainted by its sticky grip. The thought of relegating the struggles of millions to a few key moments in time bothers the hell out of me. It’s part of the reason why I gave up becoming a history scholar, as I still feel that the individual timeline has equal importance to the zeitgeist. Populist histrionics aside, I feel that this show only turns historical events into a giant supercontext. Killing the individual’s involvement, only gives rise to groupthink. Groupthink caused World War II, yet our celebratory propaganda keeps perpetrating the same crime over and over again.
Band of Brothers is one of the greatest television mini-series. I don’t believe that anyone is going to argue its importance, as it helped to establish HBO as the voice of premium cable. Hollywood budgets, arthouse attitudes and remarkable scripts were combined to create the first truly epic vision of the American experience in Western Europe. The sketchy films of Ken Annakin were swept away by gritty realism and emphasis being placed on the guttural response to war. There are no heroes, there’s just men and women that have a duty to perform. But, there’s a problem with that.
The moment when Winters shoots the unarmed German soldier is what made the series for me. Going back to the guttural response, it’s an uneasy scene where the audience is forced to question their narrative anchor. Winters has been turned into our hero since training in Georgia, but why did he break? The American soldier isn’t perfect, but murder is murder. Calling back to the early work of Hitchcock (see Day 4), the creative talents want to make us compliant in the violence. If you celebrate the spoils of war, you too are a murderer.
Band of Brothers is popular history. Most people tend to have a hard time understanding history as being a definitive thing. The old axiom states that history is written by the victors. That’s true and the victors have a responsibility to tell their children the truth. Yet, most parents and their ancestors only know the lies in which we build our culture. Some lies inspire us to dream about long-gone heroes and their roles in shaping our lives. That’s the area in which this series belongs and it serves the position well.
The machine that has become the American past is truly a beast to behold. An out-dated workhouse that chugs along on the hope that something better is around the corner. Horatio Alger could’ve never dreamed that his prosperity meme would warp into a blanket that this country still holds for security. Anyone can beat anything if they work hard and stay focused. Sadly, that’s not true and I feel that too much of that sentiment was in Ambrose’s source material. While not all of that cheery revisionism crept into the show, we get odd doses of it throughout the series. While I do applaud the brief interview segments with the surviving Easy Company members, we’re getting half-remembered experience and basing it as fact. None of us were there and we can’t recreate the ordeals that these men suffered through. All we can hope is that they never happen again.
In the end, I wonder if our fascination with the military is a good thing. Find a World War II veteran in your area and try to get them to talk about what they saw. Very few will bother to discuss it, unless you are a close relative and willing to listen. There was nothing beautiful about this time, but we are better for it having taken place. So much learned, so much lost and nothing left the same. The Western World of today can and will never forget the soldiers of Easy Company and the related Allied forces.
WHY DIDN’T IT RANK HIGHER?
transfer is strong, but shows stylized grit and dark spots. However, there is a great deal of digital noise and edge enhancement during some of the more close-quarters fighting. The urban streets of Market Garden don’t hold up well under the scrutiny of HD, but one sore spot isn’t a reason to throw away the release. The lack of any meaty supplements also hurts the release. It’s become standard package for major HBO releases to sport a few commentaries, featurettes and added text breakdown of the material. What ends up hurting this release is the fact that it was used as a testing ground for HBO. They took one of their highest selling shows and used it to build the model for their future Blu-Ray releases. While a re-release could fix a few transfer issues and add bonus material…I don’t see it happening.
THE BEST SUPPLEMENT
Actor Ron Livingston kept an on-location diary of the ten episode shoot which has proven to be the best look at this monumental series. Spanning roughly an hour, Livingston guides us through boot camp and beyond. Livingston and his fellow actors come together as a family and learn from material gathered from the real Easy Company. Each man takes the series seriously and approaches it as more than a job. While they do have fun, Livingston’s diary allows us to see the importance of getting to revisit those dark times. If only HBO could find more material like this for their other shows.
I just thought of something. This’ll be a great story for my grandkids to ignore in fifty years.
The Pallbearer Official Fan Club.
Who’s Marcel now, bitch?
Everyone has time for a movie.