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Band of Brothers (Blu-ray)
HBO Home Video / 2001 / 705 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: November 11, 2008
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- List Price: $79.98
- Amazon Price: $24.96 (69%)
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
When director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks commit to producing a miniseries, they go all out. ‘Band of Brothers,’ one of the most complex, expensive, and expansive television miniseries I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing, not only won the adoration of critics and audiences the world over, but managed to simultaneously honor the veterans of World War II, educate the public on the sacrifices of dozens of fallen heroes, and deliver a powerful multi-character study that focused on the everyday men who selflessly gave their lives for a greater good.
Based on the book of the same name by Stephen Ambrose and first broadcast as a ten-episode HBO miniseries, ‘Band of Brothers’ follows a group of soldiers through their basic training, as they’re assigned to a 2nd Battalion force nicknamed Easy Company, and as they fight in harrowing battles throughout Normandy, the Netherlands, and Belgium. We meet key players like Major Richard Winters (Damian Lewis), Captain Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston), and Captain Ronald Speirs (Matthew Settle), and a variety of other personalities like Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), Buck Compton (Neal McDonough), Donald Malarkey (Scott Grimes), Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer), and others (played by countless other recognizable character actors and guest stars). However, the performers never overshadow their subjects, disappearing into the resolute faces of each soldier and giving their all to portray each man’s very soul.
I know there’s a small but irritable crowd out there who feel ‘Band of Brothers’ is overblown, uneven, and too liberal with its history, but I simply don’t see any basis for their arguments. Each episode unfolds like a novel -- character development is of the utmost importance when spending ten hours with a group of soldiers, and Spielberg and Hanks’ miniseries does just that. The directors and writers hired for the duration of the project bring their own sensibilities and perspectives to the story, but it never feels disjointed or unwieldy. Likewise, the actors craft fairly modern, easily relatable characters, but it never feels false or disingenuous.
Taken as a whole, the miniseries weaves complicated military strategy, disquieting interactions, and natural dialogue into a cohesive epic. Taken episode by episode, the miniseries dots the tale with wit, tension, and valor. You won’t root for every soldier… you probably won’t enjoy every character’s company… but you will hang on their words and cringe and cheer with their moves. I could go on at length about ‘Band of Brothers’ and the merits of its tone, themes, and structure, but you probably either already know (as you’ve seen the miniseries) or you haven’t had the time to give it a spin (in which case, get to your local video store and rent some discs).
As far as I’m concerned, ‘Band of Brothers’ is a phenomenal production that has continued to entertain and enthrall me ever since I first watched it on television. Do yourself a favor and revisit or experience the exploits of Easy Company… you won’t be sorry.
’Band of Brothers’ boasts an impressive 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer that effortlessly outshines the miniseries’ DVDs and HD broadcasts in every regard. The washed out palette features an unexpected selection of vibrant primaries and stark splashes of color, crisp (albeit hot) whites and deep blacks inject depth and dimension into the stark battlegrounds, and fine object detail is nearly perfect. Fleshtones are natural, gray skies are smooth (aside from a few instances of banding), and grass and other environmental touches are convincingly-three dimensional. While an unnecessary (but light) application of Digital Noise Reduction leaves skin and clothing textures looking a bit dull at times, distant soldiers, flying debris, and plumes of smoke still look fantastic. Why DNR was even used is beyond me -- grain is still an integral element of the picture and the original source appears to be in excellent shape. Honestly, I probably would not have noticed the minor loss in detail had I not been doing a side-by-side comparison between the domestic Blu-ray edition and its previously-released HD DVD import counterpart.
Ah well. I wish Warner had remained as faithful as possible to the presentation, but the relatively minimal DNR in question fails to ruin the otherwise exceptional transfer. Fans will hopefully be pleased to learn that the discs’ don’t suffer from any significant artifacting, crush, digital noise, or edge enhancement. All things considered, ‘Band of Brothers’ looks great and will satisfy most anyone who picks it up.
The video transfer may not be entirely perfect, but each episode’s DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is subtle, stirring, and extremely effective. Dialogue is crystal clear and nicely prioritized, even in the midst of the most chaotic action and intense battles. Explosions, careening metal, gunfire, and sudden shouts have distinct presence and weight, relying on pinpoint directionality and silky smooth pans to enhance the already authentic and immersive soundfield. More importantly, Low-end support is bombastic and strong, the rear speakers are aggressive and persistent, and delicate ambiance and flawless acoustics allow even the quietest conversations to sound realistic and convincing.
Ultimately, I had a tough time critiquing the lossless tracks simply because there isn’t anything to complain about. I’m sure someone will point out negligible inconsistencies between the episodes, but this is easily one of the best television audio presentations I’ve reviewed. Even though Warner Brothers has habitually settled for tossing standard Dolby Digital tracks onto their releases, their efforts here are commendable and worth serious praise.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Band of Brothers’ includes all of the supplemental features that appeared on the 2003 DVD release, and even adds extensive PiP interactivity and content to each and every episode (discussed at length in the next section). Sure, some of the documentaries and video diaries are presented in standard definition, but it’s tough to complain when there’s so much to be had at an incredibly affordable price point.
- We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company (HD, 78 minutes) -- First up is a feature length, high-def documentary that digs into the events that inspired the miniseries, offers interviews with the actual survivors of Easy Company, and gives a stirring account of the trials and tribulations they experienced. I was relieved that the doc’s producers didn’t use sappy sentimentalism to exploit the veterans’ memories, but instead chose to focus on their candid stories, countless archive video clips, and an endless ream of historical facts from a variety of sources. If you don’t have the time to explore everything on the discs, make sure this documentary is your top priority.
- The Making of Band of Brothers (SD, 30 minutes) – A secondary documentary looks at the miniseries’ production, the genesis of the project, its casting, and the day to day grind the actors endured to weave such an emotionally intense epic. While it isn’t as long as I would have liked, the exclusive PiP content included on each disc makes this all-too-short behind-the-scenes jaunt seem more fulfilling than it did on DVD.
- Ron Livingston’s Video Diaries (SD, 56 minutes) -- One of the best features included in the set follows the actors and filmmakers as they stage scenes, shoot complicated battle sequences, and discover their characters. The video diaries are a fun, amusing, and revealing way to spend an hour of your life.
- Premiere in Normandy (SD, 3 minutes) -- This short featurette takes a look at the event celebrating the miniseries’ premiere.
Wow… I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Not only does the Blu-ray edition of ‘Band of Brothers’ come packed with exclusive features, it packs a PiP experience, an interactive timeline, and a collection of featurettes, interviews, and archive footage onto every episode of the miniseries (yep, all ten). As it stands, I’m simply floored by the value and quality of the supplemental package on this release.
- In the Words of Easy Company: Picture-in-Picture Commentaries -- First and foremost, each episode includes a PiP track loaded with interviews, anecdotes, horror stories, and observations from the actual surviving veterans who served in Easy Company. They discuss the differences between the miniseries and the battles they faced, the accuracy of the on-screen madness, and the haunting memories it stirred up for each of them. I know it’s an extra ten hours of precious time, but you would be well served by taking a few days and pounding through each track.
- In the Field with the Men of Easy Company: Interactive Guides -- As if ten PiP tracks weren’t enough, you can also access a snazzy Field Guide interface with each episode. These guides house real time trivia, accessible video content, interactive maps, archive footage, and a glossary of WWII military terms, abbreviations, and slang. I hate to suggest spending another ten hours with the same ten episodes, but it’s completely worth it if you have the free time to sink into everything.
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A rousing HBO miniseries, an excellent video presentation, outstanding lossless audio, and a veritable slew of standard and exclusive supplemental features (including ten PiP tracks and interactive guides) makes ‘Band of Brothers’ an absolute must have release. Moreover, the fact that Warner Brothers dropped this attractively boxed set on shelves at such a reasonable price (at least on Amazon) eliminates any excuse fans might have for spending their money elsewhere. If it wasn’t already sitting under your tree on Christmas morning, do yourself a favor and pick this one up ASAP. Seriously, get off your computer and get moving.
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