Band of Brothers (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 11 Min Read

Review by: Daniel Pulliam

Plot: What’s it about?

1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” forever changed the way the war film was made. One need not look any further than HBO’s 2001 10-part miniseries “Band of Brothers” to see its immediate influence on the genre. But where that film preached to its audience with heavy-handed “bookend” scenes and a story that was more fabrication than reality, “Band of Brothers” wisely lets the action and drama speak for itself, while sticking to the real men and events that shaped the course of the last World War. It would be difficult to overstate just what a difference this subtle change in storytelling makes to the overall impact of this series, but it is a substantial one nonetheless. In addition, by using relative unknowns in most of the biggest roles, the suspension of disbelief is carried that much farther, allowing the actors to truly become the men that they portray. Each episode begins with an introduction by a few of the real men who were there, and one gets a new appreciation of the casting done for “Band Of Brothers” when one can almost recognize the young actors in the old men’s faces before us. That each of those actors is also able to play these real-life heroes so effectively is nothing short of a mini-miracle.

“Band of Brothers” shows us a side of World War II that we’ve rarely been shown in telling the story of the war through a single regiment of officers through their entire campaign. Somehow, a perfect balance is struck here between all-too-important intimate character moments and equally-necessary scenes that depict the overall scope and overwhelming scale of the events through which only some of those characters manage to survive. While I’ve gone through the entire series twice now from start to finish, I can’t say I recall many of the soldiers’ names. Oddly, though, I know every one of their faces with vivid clarity, and it speaks volumes about the power of this series that it allows you to so effortlessly connect with so many of those faces without having names on which to anchor many of them in the end. I suspect that this might mirror something of the actual experience of a war that involved this many people. On the one hand, these men knew each other deeply and personally. On the other, and as one of the actual men states in the intro of one of the installments, the tendency was to never get so attached to any one man as to be unable to accept it should he be the next to perish under fire.

But possibly the single best choice that HBO made in developing “Band of Brothers” was to allow the profundity of events that transpire to happen organically. Never once did I feel I was watching a director or an actor try and push a particular idea or sentiment onto me. In fact, in one of the series’ finest moments ? the discovery of a concentration camp in the episode “Why We Fight” ? it isn’t the swell of an orchestra or even the frighteningly real portrayal of the starving, brutalized, or murdered Jews that causes the sequence to stay with you long afterward. It’s how, through eight exquisitely produced episodes that preceded it, you became a part of this world and experienced this War through the eyes of the men who lived it. I had never seen the Holocaust presented in this way (as a shock to the men who exposed it), and it gave me a new perspective on what a discovery of that magnitude must have felt like to those men. I had also become so enthralled by the events leading up to this episode that I felt the shock right along with them, as if I had been so engrossed in the machine gun fire of D-Day and exploding tree trunks of Bastogne that I forgot the real, underlying purpose behind it all. And when I remembered it, it hit me as if I was suddenly forced to witness something that I had purposefully repressed. “Band of Brothers” is drama at its most awe-inspiring and powerful.

Video: How does it look?

“Band of Brothers” comes equipped with an outstanding 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer. Colors are de-saturated (as intended), and contrast is likewise blown out to lend to an almost mono-chromatic feel to the footage. These are, of course, stylistic choices (again, much like the aforementioned “Saving Private Ryan”) which serve the series wonderfully. With a series like this, compression is absolutely key as intense, quick action happens very frequently throughout. Thankfully, this package truly excels in virtually every area of video quality, from the rock solid blacks to fine object details that really give the show an eye-catching quality. Those who have this series on standard DVD need not worry if the video upgrade warrants a purchase. It certainly does, and I can’t imagine anyone feeling let down by these presentations. I’ve read that the Japanese HD DVD version featured a transfer that was ever so slightly better than the one presented here, with a hair less noise reduction applied to the final image. While I’ve admittedly not seen that version of “Band of Brothers”, I can verify that DNR, if it is employed here, has been done so both sparingly and tastefully and never distracts from the experience.

Audio: How does it sound?

As one might expect on a title like this, “Band of Brothers” sounds just phenomenal on Blu-ray. This is, quite frankly, the kind of title that makes lossless encoding an absolute necessity. The DTS-MA soundtracks on these episodes are absolutely stellar in every way. I hate to keep drawing the same comparison, but “Saving Private Ryan” is the closest approximation of what to expect here (well, that and the standard release of this same series, though truthfully, the lossless track here simply blows both of those releases out of the water). Your subwoofer will get one hell of a workout, as will the surround channels, which are nearly constantly engaged in some capacity. The level of immersion is staggering, and not just during battle sequences. Even quieter scenes come alive with ambience and sounds of distant battles raging far away. The sense of time and place afforded to the viewer through audio this well-done is simply indispensible, and this may well be the first title I’ve ever reviewed where I felt that the sound was actually a more significant element to the overall experience than the video. It really is that outstanding.

Supplements: What are the extras?

If there is one set of extras on any home video release that I hold above all others, it would probably be the one on “Band of Brothers”. “We Stand Alone Together” is, in my humble opinion, nearly worth the entire price of this Blu-ray on its own. The stories told by the men of Easy Company are as harrowing and touching as they are heartfelt and profound. It’s a sobering thought that firsthand accounts of World War II will very soon become a thing of the past. To have these men tell of their experiences in their own words, and to have that recorded for all time, is perhaps more valuable than the contents of the rest of this set combined. It’s a documentary that I plan on revisiting often. Also included are commentary tracks, largely derived from this same documentary, which show up at various points during the actual episodes. This is an especially interesting use of Blu-ray’s picture-in-picture feature, and again, it lends quite a bit of credibility to the onscreen action when the men who were really there walk you through what you’re watching take place. A short clip of the world premiere of the series (for which all surviving members of Easy Company were in attendance) is also included, as is an interactive map (also a new Blu-ray exclusive) with which you can track the movements of the men as you watch the series unfold. This is an extremely impressive and intuitive feature that allows the viewer access to all sorts of information as it becomes relevant in the show, and it’s a welcome upgrade over the standard set. A 30-minute making of documentary is included as well, as are “Ron Livingston’s Video Diaries”, which both focus on the cast’s experiences at boot camp in preparation for filming. A virtually perfect technical presentation of a sensationally well-done mini-series equipped with a terrific supplemental package, “Band of Brothers” earns my most enthusiastic recommendation.

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