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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 10/14/02



Band of Brothers
2001 (2002) - Playtone/Dreamworks/HBO (HBO)

review by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Band of Brothers Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/B-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/B+

Specs and Features
Approx. 600 mins (10 episodes at 60 mins each), NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, custom metal case with gatefold packaging, 6 single-sided, dual-layered discs (2 episodes each on Discs One-Five, extras on Disc Six), We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company documentary (78 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), The Making of Band of Brothers featurette (29 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), Ron Livingston's Video Diaries (56 mins total in 12 parts - 4x3, DD 2.0), Premiere in Normandy featurette (3 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), interactive Who's Who: The Men of Easy Company featurette (12 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), photo gallery by episode, Jeep commercial/sponsor introduction video, episode summaries and interactive Field Guide on each disc (includes timelines, maps, soldier profiles, glossary and more), preview trailers for each episode, DVD credits, DVD-ROM extras (including weblinks), animated program-themed menu screens with music, scene access (6 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround, DTS 5.1), Spanish and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish, Closed Captioned

Band of Brothers is the story of the men of Easy Company - the U.S. Army's 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division - from their formation at Camp Tocca, Georgia in 1942 to their last days in Europe in November, 1945. Based on the book of the same name by historian Stephen Ambrose, and actual interviews with the surviving soldiers, this 10-part mini-series recalls the experience of Easy during World War II. We follow these men through thick and thin, from the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day and the subsequent invasion of Holland, to the blistering Battle of the Bulge and Easy Company's eventual capture of Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" in the German Alps. It features a cast of largely unknown actors (save for David Schwimmer, Ron Livingston and Donnie Wahlberg) and a variety of different directors (including Tom Hanks). The scale is impressive and the budget is massive. And it is, quite simply, an amazing television experience - the recent winner of the Golden Globe for Best Mini-Series and a very fitting tribute to the young men (many of them teenagers) who risked everything to save the world... simply because it was what they had to do.

The 10 episodes of the series are (in order) Currahee, Day of Days, Carentan, Replacements, Crossroads, Bastogne, The Breaking Point, The Last Patrol, Why We Fight and Points. Each episode begins with the recollections of actual surviving members of Easy Company to ease you into that particular part of the story. And to be honest, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to say anything else about them. You really need to go into this with a clean slate. Suffice it to say that the overall experience is well worth the time it takes to view each episode.

I'm pleased to say that viewing them on DVD is an absolute joy. The video quality of the episodes in this set is superb. The 10 episodes are presented 2 per disc on 5 discs, so each episode has lots of room, and thus a nicely high video bitrate. They're presented in anamorphic widescreen, mastered directly from the original high-definition source. Contrast is excellent, with deep blacks and good shadow detailing. The footage often has a slightly washed-out, gritty look that's a stylistic choice. At all times, though, colors are exactly as intended. The picture is crisp, clean and gorgeous, with only light edge-enhancement. It's rock solid video, that beautifully renders the original filmed image.

The audio is also good, presented in a variety of options. The main choices are English Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Both offer a smooth, wide, front-biased soundstage, with clear dialogue and excellent overall presentation. The surround channels are used mostly for ambiance and aren't quite as active as some 5.1 mixes. But during battle scenes, they do get much more aggressive, with good channel-to-channel panning and directional effects. Low frequency is more than adequate in both mixes. I would have to give a very slight edge to the DTS track for sounding a bit smoother and more natural. But these tracks are well matched in terms of quality - so much so that it's a draw in my book. A nice touch is that when you select DTS on one episode, you don't have to select it again when you watch the other episode on the disc - it defaults automatically. You also get English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and French and Spanish 2.0 stereo options.

Before I get into the extras, I want to mention Band of Brothers' packaging, which is one of the classiest presentations I've yet seen for any DVD release. You get an absolutely gorgeous metal tin, with the name of the mini-series embossed on the front and both spines. When you open the case up, inside the left cover is disc-by-disc list of the set's episodes and special features. And on the right side is a fold-out "digi-pack" style holder containing all 6 discs and featuring sepia-toned photographs from the series. High marks!

Most of the supplemental materials are contained on Disc Six of the set, but the episode discs do contain a couple of things. There's a text summary of each episode available with the chapter selections. And the episode discs also contain an interactive Field Guide, that features text-based information that helps you to better appreciate the program. You get a timeline of events, profiles of each of the individual solders, a glossary of terms used in each episode, a breakdown of how the chain of command works, an interactive map that shows the movement of Easy Company through Europe during the war and more. It's a cool feature and there's definitely something everyone will find interesting or useful. One of the tough things about war movies is that it's often hard to keep the characters straight. The soldier profiles proved particularly useful during my viewing.

Disc Six features a terrific 78-minute documentary called We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company. It's presented in anamorphic widescreen and features interview footage of the actual surviving soldiers recalling their participation in the events. The structure of the program is very similar to the mini-series, starting with stories of the formation of the Company in boot camp moving on to its last days in Europe and what the survivors made of their lives after the war. It features a tremendous amount of archival film footage of the real events to go along with the interviews. It's like seeing the mini-series from the other side of the coin - a more straight factual presentation - and it's a great companion piece.

Next up is a more fluffy, EPK-style featurette, The Making of Band of Brothers, that runs about a half-hour. It's got a typically promotional feel, but it does cover a lot of aspects of the production and so feels more thorough and welcome here than you'd first expect. There's also a brief look at the premiere of the mini-series in Normandy with the surviving soldiers, which featured a memorial service in addition to the screening. And there's a multi-part, interactive featurette that provides clips of each of the characters from the mini-series set to music. Once again, it's nice in that it helps you to tell who's who.

The best of the rest is definitely Ron Livingston's Video Diaries. They run a little under an hour in all, broken into 12 parts. Strangely, however, while the set claims that these give you "a glimpse into the lives of the actors, directors and crew during the 18 months of filming", what they really amount to is a 12-part look at the soldier "boot camp" that the actors went through to prepare for their roles. You see nothing of the set, the filming or the usual behind-the-scenes stuff. That's actually okay, because the boot camp is interesting enough. And Livingston (who plays Captain Lewis Nixon here - you might also remember him from Office Space) is funny, charming and candid throughout. He starts shooting video in the HBO offices and allows you to see his own personal preparation for the role (including a going-away party he held attended by the real Lewis Nixon's widow). You're there on the plane when the cast flies to London and you're there every step of the way through actor boot camp, run by the infamous Captain Dale Dye. There are lots of funny and interesting moments throughout. It's well worth a viewing. The only drawback is that each segment features the same introduction, which gets a little repetitive when you use the "play all" feature.

The rest of the rest includes a photo gallery (broken down by episode), a lame Jeep promotional spot that really could have been left off the set, and a few ROM-based extras (weblinks, etc). I would have liked episode audio commentaries, perhaps with Stephen Ambrose, Tom Hanks and some of the cast, but they're sadly not to be. On the whole, while what you do get isn't the best set of extras you'll ever find on a DVD, it's plenty adequate and the documentary and video diaries are real stand-outs.

I'm a life-long student of history, and I've always been fascinated with the world wars in particular. In my opinion, Band of Brothers is as good a retelling of some of the real experiences of WWII as you'll ever see. Executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have done a wonderful job in bringing the story of Easy Company to the small screen. And with this classy DVD set from HBO, that small screen experience becomes quite big indeed. Highly recommended.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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