A Different Time: An in-depth dissection of HBOs Band of Brothers miniseries
Steven Spielberg was on to something when he signed on to direct Saving Private Ryan. Craft the grittiest and most realistic World War II film ever made. To this day the film’s stomach churning opening scenes at the peek of the Normandy invasion remain some of the most startling pieces of celluloid ever made–a gritty, in your face cinematic experience that captured the true horror of warfare like no other film before it. It’s as if Spielberg filled in the now infamously lost Robert Capa D-day photos–the shaky camera, the soiled lens, the utter chaos of first couple hours of the invasion.
Saving Private Ryan as a whole, however, suffers from its lack of human emotion and personal perspective. While the film follows a company along its mission to seek out Private Ryan, the film never truly allows us into the minds of the characters or let’s us feel the true emotion of camaraderie, of triumph and loss–to this extent even though the film has a skilled ensemble of actors the characters lack back stories and building character arcs. While differing in its account of the war and its scope, the ten-part miniseries Band of Brothers is very much the well-needed extension to Private Ryan, focusing less of its attention on the brutality of war and more on its emotional toll.
Based on the true experiences of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment also known as ‘Easy Company,’ chronicled in Stephen Ambrose’s book of the same name, Band of Brothers is quite possibly the most epic war film ever produced.
It makes sense that Spielberg and crew (including Ryan star and producer Tom Hanks) chose HBO as the vehicle for their ambitious miniseries. Created on the heels of the network’s newfound success with its original series, films and documentaries, not to mention the wonderful award winning miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (of which Hanks also produced), Band of Brothers was too big for basic television. The censorship of primetime television wouldn’t suit the story’s need for authenticity. Advertisement breaks would distract viewers from the series’ flow, and a project of this breadth would call for creative independence, an appropriately epic budget, and above all the time and patience needed to get the job done. HBO is notorious for its artistic integrity, unrestricted content and persistently advocating for quality over ratings.
Following in the footsteps of past HBO series and films, Band of Brothers was also the perfect match for the DVD niche market–a sprawling ten hours that could be savored piece by piece every Sunday night or inhaled in a more concentrated viewing schedule (the latter providing a more in-depth experience in regards to following complex storylines and tackling large character ensembles).
After discovering most of HBO’s flagship series on DVD (never until recently having access to the paid cable service) I missed Band of Brothers initial airing back in 2001. I steered clear of its censored basic cable, commercial heavy syndication on The History Channel and only until recently picked up the series on DVD. Rather than review the series as a whole I thought I would carefully pick apart the series chapter-by-chapter, episode-by-episode. As is the case with most miniseries of this nature some of the best moments often end up being the most forgotten tidbits–a short interaction between two characters or a bit of back-story perhaps–with this in mind a more in-depth look at Band of Brothers was in store.