Sunday, March 29, 2015

Band of Brothers (2001)

Based on: 'Band of Brothers' by Stephen E. Ambrose
Cast:         Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Matthew Settle, Scott Grimes, Donnie Wahlberg

The story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne division and their mission in WW2 Europe from operation Overlord through V-J Day. It consist of ten episodes and was an HBO DreamWorks production . Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg served as executive producers with the former directing one episode as well. With a budget of $125 million, it was the highest budgeted TV show at that point of time.

I had obtained 1080p print of Band of Brothers some time back (joys of ultra-fast XIMB broadband) but had postponed watching it primarily due to the involvement of Steven Spielberg. I am not really a fan of his and the fact that Saving Private Ryan played some part in the production of this series didn't really fill me with a great deal of confidence despite the great reviews that it got. My skepticism could be justified because SPR also got similar reviews when in fact it was a thoroughly average film after the first thirty or so minutes. It turns out that Spielberg was involved late in the production only, to serve as a final eye on the project, and it was largely developed by Tom Hanks and Erik Jendersen. My fears about it were thoroughly misplaced and Band of Brothers was a fucking great watch like everyone said it would be.

The entire story is based on the war efforts of Easy Company and therefore what we are getting is as much of an authentic account that we could possibly get in this format of what it was like for them. By the same token we don't get a strategic account of what really happened during the war and so it is more of a micro look as opposed to a macro one. The main advantage that BoB had over the SPR is the length with which it can work and they were not really under pressure to establish the main characters in the story immediately. In fact I actually started recognizing most of the characters by around fifth episode only. The first episode have them getting trained in USA first and then in England in preparation for D-Day while the second episode depicts their actions on D-Day. I found the third and fourth episodes to be like the low points of the series as they served more as disjointed accounts of some operations that they did. The fact that we don't have any protagonists as such made those episodes quite uninteresting for me but for people who like seeing army maneuvers and such it should still be enjoyable. After that, each of the episodes are told from the perspective of a particular protagonist and it gets better and better. The best two episodes of the entire series are the sixth one (Bastogne) and the seventh (The Breaking Point), both of which are set in Belgium during the brutal winter. By the end of seventh episode we are involved so much into the series that we don't mind the low key nature of the later episodes as the series stay true to what really happened with the war winding down. That said the ninth episode had a brutal depiction of them discovering a concentration camp for the first time. I got to say even though it was quite harrowing, I was affected much more when I saw the concentration camp episode from the documentary series 'World At War', which is also a must watch. 

Like many I guess, the favorite character from the show is the bad-ass Captain Ronald Speirs and the favorite scene would be his mad run in 'The Breaking Point'. I think my opinion of third and fourth episodes will change if I re-watch them because the fact that I know the characters now might alter my perception of it. The series was filmed largely in England and the snow filled Belgium episodes were done inside a hangar. The production quality of it is something else and at around 12 million per episode you can see how it managed to beat films of this genre. If you are hell-bent on finding faults with it, you can maybe criticize for the binary portrayal of most of its protagonists. It is understandable since most of these details are gleaned from the real life characters involved. Each episodes contain several brief interviews with real-life counterparts but their identities are only revealed at the end of tenth episode. Overall it is must watch and I would say the best TV series that I have seen in terms of the overall production quality. As far as favorites in TV drama series go, I think it will be third after 'The Wire' and 'True Detective'.

Rating: 4.5/5