For quite a few years I didn’t watch “Band of Brothers” because I expected it to be some lame cliche story that suffers from the lack of production values I assumed were typical of TV. The fact that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced it… well I might not have known that fact but even if I had, there was only so much you could do on a TV budget. I was wrong.
I first watched “Band of Brothers” streaming on HBO-Go. In episode one all the assumptions I had were gone and I saw it for what it is, a sequel, or expansion of “Saving Private Ryan”, not of the story, but of the war.
As is typical of Spielberg’s work, it’s an inherently human story, which means it’s going to deal with the specifics of a specific guy in a specific moment. It’s an examination of one man’s experiences, and the more specific it gets, the more universally human are the issues that arise.
Each episode begins with interviews, which brought “When Harry Met Sally” to mind. Each interview is just as poignant. Though, unlike “When Harry Met Sally” “Band of Brothers” is about war. Like “When Harry Met Sally” each interview is broken up and organized according to the subject matter about to be viewed.
After the interviews, the real episode begins. The lettering, the logo, the style, they’re straight out of Ken Burns’s “The War”, which is his documentary on WWII. It’s brilliant and powerful and instantly told me I was in for something unexpected.
Many war movies start at bootcamp. “Band of Brothers” is the same. It’s a person, usually a sergeant, but in “Band of Brothers” it was a lieutenant. It’s about breaking a person, taking them from a sane person who has natural instincts that killing is wrong and replacing them with someone who will kill without hesitation. If a soldier hesitates, they die. If they die, chances are the guy next to them dies too.
The production value of “Band of Brothers” is almost as good as those in “Saving Private Ryan”. And this is where this story gets really interesting.
Prior to “Band of Brothers”, we’d had expectations of what TV could be. I mentioned those biases earlier. HBO turned those expectations on their heads, while at the same time redefining what it means to be TV. Many argue that later shows are the ones that shifted the model, other HBO shows like “The Wire” or “Six Feet Under”. And they’re right.
“Band of Brothers” isn’t just revolutionary TV. It’s better. If TV is rated on a 1 - 10 scale, shows like “Band of Brothers” has to be an 11, not because it’s better, which it is, but because it’s unfair to compare it to other shows. The 11 rating isn’t saying it’s better. It’s putting it outside the normal bounds of categorization. The only other show I know of that’s as good is “Breaking Bad”. They are in a completely separate category and must be judged accordingly.
I recently bought the Blu-ray version of “Band of Brothers”. The quality difference in color and resolution makes it an entirely different, superior experience. Color becomes part of the narrative. Light and texture become intentional, not “What can we do with our budget?” but “What’s the best way to amplify our already existing metaphor?”
The show goes into the most powerful moments of WWII, from the D-Day invasion, to the Battle of the Bulge, all the way through the defeat of Nazi Germany. Since it’s a human story, it ends with a prologue of the surviving members of Easy company. They return to social living, getting jobs, being managers and plumbers, businessmen and mailmen.
In their memory, always they have the horror and the highs of what it is to do something great.Tom Brokaw wrote a book about them and called them “The Greatest Generation”. They came back and made this country what it is, for better or worse. They are the foundation of modern America.
“Band of Brothers” is a record of their metamorphosis.