Band of Brothers (2001, Based on a novel by Stephen Ambrose)

“What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives… “

Introduction

So I did watch this a long time ago. Initially with Al and Ollie (a man who appeared in Aberystwyth over a summer in 2003 and never returned…) and then again when I purchased the boxset. A tin boxset at that something I was incredibly proud of until I found that you could get the tin boxset for £15. Bloody HMV. Nevertheless, for God-knows how long I have been telling Sarah to watch it and, following a failed viewing of a scratched-DVD of Generation Kill and completing series 2 of Mad Men we thought now was the time to embark on Band of Brothers. Not to mention howit (a) featured Donnie Wahlberg (who was often mentioned recently in the house due to the Saw franchise topic of recent weeks) and (b) the semi-sequel to Band of Brothers beginning its publicity run. The second series is called The Pacific and starts in 2010 … starring no-other-than Joseph Mazzello, aka, Tim from Jurassic Park. As a 10-year old boy, it was he I always wanted to be.

What I reckon…

This could be a very long post because there are so many facets to the series, but I shall try to summarise differents aspects on an episode-by-episode basis.

Currahee
This was the critically-acclaimed beginning to the series. If I recall, this opening episode was a huge success as it showed the exceptionally high-quality of the series. Not to mention it starred Ross from Friends. I must admit, as soon as you see him its a bit awkward, but within a minute or two – “contraband!” – he shakes of his Ross-attributes and is the excessive Liet. Sobel. We see the boot camp that the ‘Band of Brothers’ – aka, Easy Company, aka, the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who were assigned to the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. Phew. Its only a 10-part series and we are expected to get to know a huge range of characters and this section gives us a little taste of the main members of the group – namely Winters (Damien Lewis who is flawless in this. I was excited to watch Dreamcatcher following this series and then my expectations of Lewis was lowered again… bloody Stephen King adaptations), Nixon (Livingston), Lipton (Wahlberg of Saw II, III and IV), Malarky (Grimes whom I”ve seen on the DVD sleeves for ER … will he be the next Clooney?) and ‘Shifty’ Powers (Youngblood Hills), Luz (Gomez), “Bull” (Cudlitz) … and loads more. My personal favourite is Guarnere (Frank John Hughes who, strangely enough, I have only recently seen in Series 7 of 24 and he turns out to be in the last series of The Sopranos) and Martin (Dexter Fletcher, aka, Babyface from Bugsy Malone and Soap from Lock, Stock).

Currahee is the hill Sobel constantly orders the company to run, jog, walk up every weekend as they break minor rules. Interestingly, Sobel in reality post-WWII actually tried to shoot himself and failed and was in an institution until he died. Weird. Strangely enough also, ‘Currahee’ is an Indian word that means ‘stand[s] alone’. So, maybe this means how the company worked together to split away from Sobel and went against standing on their own, instead opting to work as a team. The actual guys in Easy company claim that, though they despised Sobel, his demanding expectations were what got them through the war.

Day of Days
This is where we first meet Speirs – another favourite role. We see, in detail, a specific operation called Brécourt Manor Assault that, apparently, is still taught in military academies across the US. The start of the episode shows us the company landing on D-Day as people completely detroy planes attempting to drop off troops. Its crazy because you just have to imagine the horror as you see a plane alongside – scratch that – you see loads of planes doing exactly the same as you being shot out of the sky. You are inevitably going to think you are going down next. Then, upon landing, you have to navigate your way to the grouping point. We have the subtle introduction of the idea that the enemy is exactly the same as yourself – namely, malarky speaks to a ‘Kraut’ who was actually in America and brought up in a place close to him but was recalled for the war effort in Germany. Then you have the infamous sequence with Speirs as he offers cigarettes to the German POW and then guns them all down … a rumour that gives Spiers a fear that stretches across the company and demands respect.

Carentan
An episode told from the perspective of Blithe (Marc Warren) – a soldier controlled by fear. We first see him staring into the sky, far away from his company. He tags along with E-company and others soon see him as a soldier who ducks for cover – it is Winters and Spiers who give him a different perspective. Spiers advice: think that you’re already dead… (no positive thinking really) and then Winters who simply forces Blithe to accept his role: to support and help others. It is after this that he gains confidence – eventually leading others into a house, only to be shot. Many people feel this is the best episode and I think, unless you are in the military, you would always fear that you would be the one ducking for cover, constantly saving your own ass and hoping you won’t die. The credits tell us that, in reality, Blithes died a few years later in the forties. Thats not true, he lived on into the sixties. These small discrepencies don’t ruin much but, as a character, I think the fact that soldiers who might have got over their fear still died for others.

Replacements
This is interesting as we see a mission that failed – notably called Operation Market Garden. This is also within the context of a topic regarding replacement soldiers – soldiers who would replace others who died and would therefore have difficulty fitting in. Interesting cameo as James McAvoy is one of the replacements … see how it all pans out for him in this episode. We also see the episode from the perspective of ‘Bull’ – a soldier who is alot kinder to the replacements than the other men of E company.

Crossroads
This episode is directed by Tom Hanks and so has to be held up a little higher than other episodes, but considering Hanks produced the series he had first pick, no doubt, of which one to direct. This episode is different to the others – non-linear and showing Winters last bullet fired during the war. Some incredible themes as we see how difficult it is to adapt to civilian life – with memories haunting you. While we see Winters adapt to a more office-bound promotion.

Bastogne
Up until now, you see the war as similar to a computer game. Great teams, working together, shooting the bad guys. This episode shows the reality of war during the forties before 90% of the things we have. Low on ammo, low on supplies, low on medical provisions and, ultimately, low on morale. This is from the perspective of ‘Doc’ Rowe aplyed increidbly by Shane Taylor and we see how many people died simply under the conditions -freezing conditions wearing no socks loses you your foot. We even find how Buck, mind the pun, is buckling under the pressure of war and the casualties of war.

The Breaking Point
From Lipton’s perspective as he attempts to keep people positive even though everyone is dying and everyone is ill and hope is almost lost. They have an awful CO who dodges any responibility and leadership leaving Lipton to lead everyone. We then see Speirs in action as he assumes responsibility by putting his life on the line … amazing episode that brings us out of the depths of despair in Bastogne.

The Last Patrol
We now begin to see the war finish and talk of the war ending. Nobody wants to take unneccessary risks and therefore no-one wants to fight anymore … they had got this far, they don’t want to die in the final stretch. Its fascinating as we see this from the perspective of Webster as he missed out on Bastogne and, to some extent, is dislike because of this. It is really great to see the specific organisation and the realistic implications on taking on such a mission – the last patrol refers to a patrol and capturing of German troops that a specific unit is assigned to for the sake of information. The expendability of troops by their superiors is clearly shown here … but we do see Winters human side and how he decides to tackle such a difficult issue.

Why We Fight
This is great because is focusses on, at this point, why the soldiers continued on. People had died for this war and they were seeing selfish Nazi soldiers surrendering and the thought taht the soldiers who are dead are not worth the Nazi’s that survived … but it answers this question by showing the reason why they fight. For the victims who are innocent. For the civilians who have done nothing wrong. The jews in concentration camps. The German children who are unaware of the atrocities of their fathers. You have a great coda whereby a destroyed village is being cleared up by the villagers – a camera pans across the entire site beginnning and then ending the epidoe with a four-piece string quartet.

Points
The war is all but over and E-company are sent to the eagles nest where Hitlers holiday getaway is based. The idea that ‘in a different situation we could be friends’ with reference to the nature of war is a prevailing topic and it finishes the series. We see French and American allies murder others and the brutality and violence war creates. Who is good and who is bad is blurred here and so, we don’t think “Well done us, we won the war” – it was more, what is the point? A great finale as we are revealed who the war-veterans who introduced each episode is and where their lives ended up. A nice suprise mid-episode as Captain Winters has to demand a Liet to “Salute the rank, not the man”

This has an amazing cast – and it is not suprising than the majority went on to do better and those who didn’t must have made some enemies somewhere because a role in this must have been gold on a CV. In 2001, this was the beginning of the new-wave of credible TV. It makes Saving Private Ryan appear to not have enough scope and, to be honest, I reckon only computer games with their impressive length can cover so much ground. But, as a TV-series, this shows how the depth of The Wire and the gradual growth of character sustains and makes a TV-series better than cinema. Then again, the series demanded cinematic value. An episode directed by a cinematogapher for The Abyss, Mikael Salomon, music by Robin Hood: Prince of Theives composer Michael Kamen, Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel, Wimbledon director Richard Loncraine directing other episodes and obviously Spielberg and Hanks makes it a series that is more cinema than TV – but alas, the depth could never be covered in a three-hour film. Maybe TV series should begin to be shown in the cinema because this, in a cinema, would be incredible …

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7 comments

  1. It'll be interesting to see how their upcoming The Pacific mini-series turns out. What they learned from the original, and how they manage to tackle what is a rather lost segment of the war since most games and movies concentrate heavily on the European battle series. Recently Letters from Iwo Jima/Flags of our Fathers, and The Thin Red Line shed some light on it though.

  2. I'm playing Call of Duty: World at War and it has a similar omaha beach landing sequence but based off of the pacific. Interesting possible start methinks and a way Spielberg can recreate his start to saving private ryan.

  3. This was one of the best TV series ever. The way each episode was done meticulously like a regular movie is just stunning, not to mention the breathtaking cast which includes probably all the best actors of the modern generations.

    Although, we in Europe never like when Americans speak of WWII only from their point of view (being the big saviors or something like that), these stories depict individual dramas and personal sufferings of many ordinary people lost in the maelstrom of war in a very profound way.
    I've always considered this show much better than SAVING PRIVATE RYAN 🙂

    Nice blog Simon, I'll be sure to keep following your updates 😉

  4. I'd agree! Saving Private Ryan is good – but this shows how much more scope a TV series can do! I guess Spielberg and Hanks knew that as they produced the series. You can imagine the conversation in Post-Production of Saving Private Ryan… “Yeah Spielberg, your a good filmmaker and all but … this could be so much better if…”

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