Band of Brothers / The Pacific: Special Edition Gift SetOverview -
From executive producers Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman the two critically acclaimed 10-part HBO Miniseries 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific' Blu-ray gift set with special documentary “Called to Service” featuring never-before-seen interviews from the Easy Company and 1st Marine Division veterans.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
While I love 'Band of Brothers' and have owned the tin-case DVDs for nearly a decade, it's one series I didn't want to double-dip on until it was packaged together with its companion series 'The Pacific.' The only differences between the new special edition gift set and the stand-alone individual Blu-ray releases are the packaging (the set arrives in a large glossy book in a magnetically closed box) and the new documentary 'He Has Seen War.' This is the version that every fan and collector should own.
I believe that there are four movies/mini-series that one should watch to get a realistic take on what it was like to fight in World War II (I assume that these are accurate portrayals because of the way that veterans speak of the accuracy): 'Band of Brothers,' 'The Pacific,' 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Letters from Iwo Jima.' Both 'Band of Brothers' and 'Saving Private Ryan' are set in Europe, the war that's most emphasized in American history. 'The Pacific' and 'Letters from Iwo Jima' take place in the war zone least taught in American history, the war in the Pacific. In reality, the two were completely different wars fought in different locations, against different enemies and in the most different fashion. Not to make the war in Europe sound any less damaging to the soldier than the other, but the war in the Pacific was a dirty, mentally challenging one. The camaraderie and brotherly bonds from 'Band of Brothers' are missing in 'The Pacific' - not due to the writing of the series, but due to reality. If you're expecting the brotherhood of 'Band of Brothers' in 'The Pacific,' prepare for let-down. 'The Pacific' sheds honest light on the Post Traumatic Stress, a.k.a. shell shock, and the effect that it had on our men. When you watch the new Playtone-produced documentary 'He Has Seen War,' found only within this giftset, you'll learn exactly how it affected several of the real men featured in both series.
While 'Saving Private Ryan' is a powerful film that honestly portrays the grim reality of war, the story and characters were mostly fictional. But both 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific' are based on actual people and the factual events that they went through. It's not over dramatized. If you pick up the books that both are based upon, you'll discover that for yourself. And solidifying the accuracy of these series are several of the survivors themselves. More so with 'Band of Brothers' than 'The Pacific,' because of the nine-year gap between production on the two, 'Band of Brothers' features many more tellings of the stories from the soldiers themselves than does 'The Pacific.'
Before watching these series and films, I had no clue just what our men - men like my grandfather - went through during World War II. 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific' have made me understand it, made me appreciate the sacrifice of those who do such a thing - both then and now. I originally knew both series in the standard definition format, but revisiting them in HD has made me appreciate them even more. As cheesy as it may sound, via the superb video and (especially) audio quality, I appreciate it even more. The 'Band of Brothers' / 'The Pacific': Special Edition Gift Set on Blu-ray is an education tool that takes you just one more step closer to empathizing with those who truly went through these events. Watch them in this heightened format and you'll be moved more than ever before.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Unlike the metallic tins that housed both the 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific' series, the gift set comes in one single box that measures 11 3/8" x 7" x 1 1/2" deep. The top of the box features side-by-side maps of the heart of Europe and islands in the Pacific Ocean. Foiled stamped in the middle are the logos for both 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific' preceded with "Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg Present." The front flap of the bog magnetically keeps the top down. Once open, under the lid of the box is a list of episodes, their credits and special features. Inside the box is a single black book the size of a small coffee table book. A ribbon is glued into a slip at the bottom center of the box, meant to wrap all the way around to the top of the book to make it easier to extract - much like batteries in a discman (if you remember those things). The book is made up of 20 thick glossy pages that have indentations for the discs to slide into. Each series receives a full spread for it's title, with the page in the middle featuring the gift set exclusive documentary disc. Iconic glossy high resolution images are featured on the pages within. All 12 series discs are dual layer BD-50s, but the exclusive disc is only a BD-25.
'Band of Brothers'
'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.
Detail, detail, detail! That's the first thing you'll notice about this near-flawless 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. 'The Pacific' looks near perfect presented on Blu-ray. Fine detail is some of the best I've ever seen. During close-ups on the actors every fleck of dirt, every smudge of mud can be seen in stunning clarity. The rigid texture of their uniforms pop off the screen. There's one astonishing scene in the very beginning of the series as the new Marines watch in the distance as Navy ships fight Japanese ships in the harbor. A bright fireball explodes, and it looks perfectly real and believable. The detail of this show is just breath-taking there's no way other to describe what you'll see when you purchase this set.
Shadow delineation, during the day, creates stark clearly defined shadows that never seem to engulf or obscure features. Instead the top-notch delineation adds to an already detailed picture. Colors are strong, with the greenery of the tropical jungles being the dominant color. Red is another color that's featured strongly throughout the series. The dark, red blood is everywhere, covering almost everything. As much as you may want to get away from it, the blood-reds that populate this series are perfectly rendered, giving us even more of a sense of what the bloodshed was like.
I do have a few slight nitpicks with the transfer though. Whether this is because of the transfer or the filming conditions I don't know, but the low-light scenes suffer from some very slight crushing. The amazing detail during the daytime is somewhat obscured at night. There are a few times I noticed blacks taking on a flattened matte feel during the nighttime scenes. During the last episode, some aliasing is noticeable on tightly woven suit jackets that creates a shimmering effect on screen. There is some slight ringing that can be seen throughout the series as well.
While that may sound like quite a few blemishes, believe me, in the grand scheme of this series it isn't. For the most part, 'The Pacific' on Blu-ray shines as an intricately detailed visual account of what our Marines went through during the war against Japan.
'Band of Brothers'
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.
I had some nitpicks with the video, but it's safe to say that I have no qualms whatsoever with this amazing reference audio presentation presented here. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is one of the best mixes I've heard on Blu-ray ever. That's right, I feel safe in saying that this will now end up being your demo disc when you want to show off what your sound system can do.
Where most Blu-ray soundtracks fail is having lively, engaging surrounds. Here, the rear speakers are constantly working to produce a soundfield so lifelike you'll feel like bombs are being dropped right on your couch. I've never heard an HD audio mix use panning effects like this one. Planes are constantly buzzing from one end of the soundfield to the other. Mortars lob in overhead and explode with frightening ferocity. Bullets whiz by the front of the soundstage as the characters on screen yell orders at each other.
The rousing, patriotic Hans Zimmer score booms forth through each channel engulfing the listener. The low-end frequency is almost non-stop as bombs, mortars and grenades explode constantly. The sub works overtime just to keep up with all the LFE that is required during the intense battle scenes. When planes fly overhead the room rumbles to life with deep, resonating bass.
Dialogue is perfectly prioritized and, even though all hell is breaking loose around them, voices and orders can still be heard through the center channel. Even during its more subdued times, like when Leckie finds himself in a Naval hospital far away from the battle crowded rooms and mess halls offer a nice change of pace, but still have a wonderful mix of surround sound activity thrown in to keep us swallowed up in the overall meticulous sound design.
If I had to describe this entire audio experience in one word, it would have to be "perfection." It's demo-worthy in every sense. It's an amazing, engaging tour de force that will keep you completely enveloped for the entirety of the series.
'Band of Brothers'
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 min.) – 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 min.) – 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 min.) – 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 min.) – This short featurette takes a look at the event celebrating the miniseries’ premiere.
- Historical Prologues (HD) – Each episode comes with a prologue where Tom Hanks and others, including historians and Marines, give a historical background to the episode in question.
- Profiles of 'The Pacific' (HD, 48 min.) – All of the main characters are featured here with stories of their war experiences, their family dramas, and how they became Marines. Each of the segments can be played separately or you can use the Play All feature. The Marines covered here are John Basilone, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie, Sidney Phillips, R.V. Burgin, and Chuck Tatum. Most of these guys have passed away or were killed in battle so family members and historians talk about how they are remembered. It's a treat though, when we get to hear Chuck Tatum, Sidney Phillips, and R.V. Burgin talk about their own experiences in the war as they are still alive.
- Making 'The Pacific' (HD, 22 min.) – Honestly, for a ten-part series of this scale I kind of expected a longer, more in-depth making of feature. Many of the interviews seem very promotional and EPK-like. Tom Hanks does make a few appearances here and there. The actors that play each character are given time to explain their character's motivations. They talk about the boot camp that all the actors had to endure in order to know exactly what the real-life Marines went through. Overall, this is more of an overview of the series with scenes from the episodes interspersed with promotional interviews. Kind of a letdown actually.
- Anatomy of the Pacific War (HD, 10 min.) – Historians discuss why Japan wanted to expand its empire and why the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in the first place. The most interesting part of this short featurette is when the historians talk about the propaganda that was used on both sides.
Gift Set Exclusive
- 'He Has Seen War' (HD, 53 min.) – This documentary is the only feature previously unreleased. Produced by Playtone, it features more interviews with the living survivors that both series are based upon, their families and World War II historians. Like any well-made documentary, it serves a single purpose - to effectively tell the story of what happened to soldiers after returning home from war. Once again, these war veterans and their families intimately open up about the psychological effects of war. The iconic image of a soldier kissing a girl in Time Square is void of meaning after watching this documentary. In some ways, it was harder to return from war than it was to fight in the war. 'He Has Seen War' shows the hardships that many soldiers faced upon returning, as well as the government-established programs to help them reintegrate into society and family living.
As if these series weren't of must-own quality before, now they really are. Unless you're a collector or a die-hard fan wanting to see 'He Has Seen War,' it might not be worth the double dip, but if you've never owned these series in high-def, this gift set is just for you. Stack the demo-worthy main features with the overwhelming amount of high quality special features and this sharp new combined packaging and you have one must-own gift set.
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