HBO has released both Band Of Brothers and The Pacific on Blu-ray before and now they've teamed the two series' up in one deluxe edition boxed set. If you previously purchased those two beautiful (and expensive) sets, this is going to annoy you - but more on that once we get to the extras department. First, let's take a look at the content:
Band Of Brothers:
HBO's 2001 ten part mini-series, Band Of Brothers, which was executive produced by none other than Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, is a pretty epic achievement in storytelling. Rarely do television series tackle projects on this scale and it's efforts like this (alongside The Sopranos and the sorely missed Deadwood) that prove HBO is really a couple of steps ahead of the game as far as their programming is concerned.
For those who haven't checked the series out, it follows the men of the 506th regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, better known as Easy Company. The series begins in 1942 with their early training and allows us to get to know some of the players a little better by eavesdropping on conversations where they discuss their home life and what they did before they joined the army. From there, they ship off to Europe to aid the Allied war effort and eventually wind up parachuting into enemy territory as D-Day explodes around them and prior to the storming of the beach at Normandy. They eventually take Carentan, France back from the Nazis, liberate a concentration camp, and storm through the doors of Berchtesgarten before their tours of duty finish up in 1945.
The ten episodes that make up Band Of Brothers are presented as follows:
Disc One: Currahee / Day Of Days
Disc Two: Carentan / Replacements
Disc Three: Crossroads / Bastogne
Disc Four: The Breaking Point / The Last Patrol
Disc Five: Why We Fight / Points
While you could argue that maybe the series isn't one hundred percent historically accurate, it's got to be pretty damn close and the attention to detail evident in the sets, costumes, props, vehicles, and even the background music all come together to make for a very impressive and legitimate retelling of some incredible acts of human bravery. Visually the series is gorgeous in its own way - despite the fact that much of it plays out in a war zone, never the most attractive of places, there's such care evident in the way that the material is shot and lit that you can't help but be impressed by it all.
Also worth noting is the excellent ensemble cast that was put together for the production. Donnie Wahlberg, Ron Livingston, Neal McDonaugh, Damian Lewis, Scott Grimes and plenty of others all turn in excellent performances and do a good job with the material. Damian Lewis, in particular, has a lot of heavy lifting to do throughout the series as he's cast as Major Richard Winters, essentially Easy Company's leader, and it's fascinating to watch his character evolve throughout the series. As Winters develops, we're able to understand how he could convince his men to follow him into battle as Lewis performance is that convincing. It's also interesting watch how these men evolve not only as soldiers but as friends. As they realize that their lives depend on one another, it makes sense that they would of course begin to respect and appreciate each other more as their circumstances dictate that they really have no choice. These relationships form a core part of what makes Band Of Brothers an interesting series to watch from a dramatic perspective and it's obvious that a lot of thought was put into the writing of the series (which was based on the book by author Stephan Ambrose). In the hands of this very capable cast the dialogue always flows naturally and fits the situations and the characters that populate those situations quite effectively.
Though it can be tough to remember who is who (a legitimate complain levied against the series by some viewers), the cast deliver believable and very sincere performances, even the generally hokey David Schwimmer (yes, the same David Schwimmer from Friends), throughout the series and all involved show some serious range. Those expecting John Wayne style determination in their WWII soldiers will walk away surprised by the humanity injected into the core players that make up Easy Company as the series plays out.
As good as the cast is, it's hard for them to not fall under the shadow of the combat scenes from time to time. The battles are as exciting and explosive as they are hard hitting and dramatic and they go a long way towards capturing what it must have been like to have to serve your country under such chaotic circumstances and under such harsh conditions. You really feel for the soldiers during these scenes and the cinematography helps pull you into the material. There's a fair bit of handheld camera work here, something that can tend to get dizzying after longer spats, but it's hard to imagine the series shot any other way and it certainly proves to be an effective way of relaying to the audience how frightening and completely insane it must have been to survive some of these fights.
Despite a couple of problems keeping various characters straight, Band Of Brothers stands tall as a very fitting tribute to a group of men who put their lives on the line to make a difference in the world. It's a dramatic tale of human bravery of the highest order and it makes for compelling viewing. It's wonderfully directed, it's exciting, it's intense and it's generally quite fascinating look back at a very important part of world history and those who changed it for the better. Fully deserving of the Golden Globe and Emmy Awards that it won in 2001, the series should be considered required viewing for anyone with an interesting in the history of the era or anyone who just enjoys well made television in general.
When Band Of Brothers turned out to be a critical and commercial success, it made perfect sense to do a follow up and thus was born The Pacific, a similar mini-series that focused not on the action that took place in Europe but in the Pacific Ocean. Logically, such vastly different locations require vastly different operations and as such (it kind of goes without saying that fighting the Japanese in a tropical jungle environment is going to be a different war than that fought against the Germans on European soil), we get a very different take on the war than what we were given with Band Of Brothers, but it's no less moving and dramatic.
The series follows the exploits of three men after the events of Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into the conflict. We meet and follow Corporal Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello) and Prviate First Class Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and their Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone (Jon Seda) as they head across the Pacific Ocean to engage the enemy in such famous battles as Guadalcanal, Iwo Jiwa and Okinawa to name only a few. As the series progresses we not only see these three men bond and adjust to their new lives away from home but we also see how their absence affects those they've left behind on friendly soil. This gives the series plenty of fodder for heartfelt drama but at the same time, the very fact that they're out there fighting in a massive war means that there's no shortage of action either. Whereas Band Of Brothers portrayed the strategic chaos of the European conflict, The Pacific puts its central characters right in the heart of darkness. Cultural differences are more extreme here and the fighting seemingly more savage if that's possible.
The ten episodes that make up The Pacific are presented as follows:
Disc Eight: Part One / Part Two
Disc Nine: Part Three / Part Four
Disc Ten: Part Five / Part Six
Disc Eleven: Part Seven / Part Eight
Disc Twelve: Part Nine / Part Ten
The acting is fantastic across the board. Bit part players who pop up throughout the series add some good spice to the mix and flesh things out the way a good dramatic series should, leaving the three central leads there to do most of the heavy lifting. All three men prove to be more than up for the task, each one basically sheds his skin as an actor and becomes his character in the truest sense of the word so far as we can tell from the other side of the screen. There are no chips or cracks in the work that Mazzello, Dale and Seda deliver here and each man is completely convincing in his role regardless of which one of the entire range of emotions he may be portraying at any given time. The quality of their work here makes the nuances of the writing all the more powerful, with the series, like the one before it, taking on a scope of truly epic tragedy and really nailing home not only the honor and bravery that these men showed in their words, deeds and actions but also the absolute horrors that they and so many others were confronted with in the name of protecting the common good.
The series also hammers home the very human side of the war, taking its time in letting us get to know each of the three core men whose stories it sets out to tell not only in the context of their collective occupation as soldiers but also as very real and subsequently very flawed human beings. While it's made clear in no uncertain terms that these men made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and that this was the noblest of acts on their parts, it is made just as clear that, like everyone else, they are prone to making mistakes and letting their emotions get the better of them. Egos will clash, bucks will be passed, some will make mistakes that will cost others dearly and have to live with those mistakes while others will resent them for their actions. The series shows us how they are able to get over these issues, however, as once again there's that common good that they're all fighting for and unlike those involved in so many modern conflicts, all involved this time around seem to completely believe that what they are doing is the right thing, and history has agreed with them.
Like Band Of Brothers this series is based on memoirs written by those who were actually there so there's an absolute focus on realism and again helps make the show as riveting as it is. On a technical level The Pacific is exceptional. Taking the very scope of what a TV series can be and opening it right up, we're thrust into the middle of some very exciting and entirely brutal battle scenes shot in such a way as to try to make us feel the fear, the hesitation, the excitement and the flat out terror that those thrust into such skirmishes must have felt themselves. It might take a little while to get going but once the series kicks us onto the beaches and takes us to Iwo Jima, it moves very quickly though like its characters, viewers may find themselves exhausted at times only because it does such a good job of pulling you in and making you think and feel. We're pulled through the humid Hell that the soldiers find themselves in and we're all the better for it.
Band Of Brothers and The Pacific both look excellent in these 1080p 1.78.1 widescreen presentations. While the gritty look of the picture might irk those wanting pristine visuals, the look of the series transfers very well to HD (as they were shot on high definition digital video there are no issues with print damage at all) with excellent and very natural color reproduction and plenty of detail evident in every frame. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there aren't any obvious issues with mpeg compression artifacts (save for a couple of the more intense handheld scenes) or heavy digital noise. Edge enhancement is never a problem nor are there any issues with shimmering or aliasing worth writing about. Band Of Brothers isn't the type of transfer that pops off of your screen as the content uses a very 'earth tone' centered color palette. What this means is that most of the image is made up of green, brown, grey, and darker and flatter looking colors but in the context of the story and the setting that it all takes place in, things really do look great. The Pacific is a bit more colorful just based on the locations where the action takes place, so there are some nice greens and blues used throughout that look fantastic in high definition, but it too has that sort of gritty aesthetic to it that was used so well in the first mini-series. Either way, for both series there's a lot of detail to enjoy, particularly in the close ups, but also in the backgrounds and you really get a sense of just how much effort went into the costumes and set design for this production when you get a chance to check it out in high definition. All in all, an excellent effort as far as the transfer is concerned.
The primary audio mix supplied on this release is an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix but standard definition tracks are provided in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo for Band Of Brothers and French DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, Spanish DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, Polish DTS 2.0 and Spanish DTS 2.0 mixes for The Pacific. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Brazilian while closed captions appear in English only (for the feature only) for Band Of Brothers and in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, and Swedish with closed captioning provided in English only (for the feature only) for The Pacific.
So how does the audio shape up? Thankfully, it's just as good as the video presentation. The combat scenes are incredibly lively and active with excellent use made out of the rear channels where attentive listeners will notice all manner of ambient and background effects. Explosions pack a very serious punch, as go gunshots, and the battle scenes definitely make your subwoofer work overtime to provide rock solid bass response without overshadowing the dialogue. Whether it's a firefight in the middle of a bombed out part of Europe or a trek through a humid, sticky Asian jungle, there's lots of ambient noise throughout the presentation to help build atmosphere. The quieter and more dramatic moments are also handled well, with clever surround usage in place to help heighten tension and offer a little more emotional resonance than there might have been otherwise. Both series really benefit from some very well thought out audio work, ensuring that the quieter moments are nice and relaxed while the action scenes sound just as intense and chaotic as they need to. This is reference quality material, and the DTS-HD mixes for both series are fantastic.
Let's start with Band Of Brothers. HBO has carried over everything from the first release which means that the biggest and best of the extra features in this collection arrives in the form of the eighty minute feature length documentary, We Stand Alone Together: The Men Of Easy Company (HD). Much more than a standard look back at the events that inspired the series, this excellent documentary allows the actual men who inspired this story to tell their tales and look back on their time in the service. Plenty of great archival photographs and film and video clips are used to illustrate various points and add some visual interest to the production and this winds up a fascinating and at times quite touching and emotional look at the horrors of war.
Also included is a thirty-minute featurette entitled Making Of Band Of Brothers (SD) where we get a look behind the scenes at the work that went into creating the costumes, sets and props for the series. We get to spend some time with the cast and watch as they work on their parts and we get to check out some decent behind the scenes material as well. The Premiere In Normandy (SD) is simply a quick, three-minute long look at the series premiere while Ron Livingston's Video Diaries (SD) is just short of an hour's worth of on set footage shot while the series was in production and which does a fine job of showing us what the cast and crew went through over the year and a half that it took to make this series.
Last but certainly not least, every one of the episodes includes an exclusive picture-in-picture commentary. These commentary tracks allow the actual surviving members of Easy Company to tell their stories about what it was like during their time in the service and to tell some interesting stories about their experiences in the military. Also included is an interactive field guide which presents a timeline explaining important events as each episode plays out. This makes for some pretty interesting viewing and helps to put the events that take place in the series into the ever important historical context. Here we're treated to biographical information for the various players, interactive maps, video clips, and more. The commentary and field guide make for a great way to learn more about the history behind this series and are absolutely worth checking out, particularly for military history buffs.
Moving on to The Pacific,extras kick off with the Enhanced Viewing Experience mode that is spread out across the five discs that contains the ten episodes of The Pacific - so basically this option is available for every episode of the series. This is basically a collection of Picture-In-Picture tracks that are made up of interviews with some of the men who served in the area during the Second World War, their family members, historian commentary and archival clips. As the tracks play out, you'll be able to access various pop up text based facts and look through archival photographs as well as they pertain to what's happening on screen at any given time. This covers only the historical side of the events that influenced the production, not the production itself, but for war and history devotees, it doesn't get much better than this. Complimenting this rather nicely are the Field Guide that have also been provided for each episode. This is essentially a collection of interactive maps that you can dig through for more information on a specific event but sifting through here you'll also find that these too contain some interesting interviews, archival clips, still photographs and more. Between these two episode specific interactive extras, HBO have really and truly left no stone uncovered in their examination of the history behind The Pacific and this material really gives this set a lot of replay value.
On the extras disc for The Pacific you'll find a host of featurettes starting off with the forty nine minute The Pacific which is a collection of interviews and documentary bits on six of the real men behind the characters we see in the mini-series. Here we learn the true stories of John Basilone, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie, Sidney Phillips, R.V. Burgin and Chuck Tatum by way of interviews with the surviving men and, in the case where they've passed on, interviews with the family members who knew them best. These aren't just stories of bravery and valor but interesting and sometimes very anecdote based tales that paint these men not just as soldiers but as flesh and blood human beings. This does a great job of humanizing what we see play out in the mini-series and it's quite fascinating. Making The Pacific is a twenty-three minute documentary that takes us behind the scenes of the series as it was in production and which features interviews not only with the core cast members but also with producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. It's a pretty interesting look behind the scenes and a nice addition to the set. Rounding out the disc is The Anatomy Of The Pacific War, a ten minute historical documentary that adds some more historical insight into this specific portion of the conflict that took place in the Pacific Ocean during World War II.
Now, what makes this set different from the two single series releases that HBO put out a couple of years ago? First of all there's the packaging. This isn't a big deal to some but it is to others so it's worth discussing for a moment. The thirteen disc set comes housed inside a beautiful hard cardboard box that opens with a magnetic clasp just the way the Deadwood Blu-ray set did, though this packaging is considerably larger than that as there are a lot more discs to hold inside. Those discs fit inside a glossy book illustrated with pictures from their respective series' and overall, this packaging looks great. It's sturdy, it's functional (you can get the discs in and out without scratching anything) and if it's going to be a bit of a pain for some people to display, it has a weighty quality to it that doesn't fail to impress.
Now, you may have noticed we said 'thirteen discs' up there, right? But aren't both series' represented over six discs? Yep - but this release contains an exclusive bonus disc (it's actually disc seven in the set) that contains a never before seen fifty-four minute documentary entitled He Has Seen War. Presented in high definition with DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, this feature takes a look at what's involved in the adjustment period when soldiers return home after seeing active duty overseas. Millions of men served during the Second World War and obviously many of them witnessed some truly horrific events, the kind of events that change a person for life and which sometimes leave deep emotional scars. This feature takes a look at what it was like for the countless enlisted men to try and find their way back into the American society they had gone overseas and risked their lives to protect. Put together by assembling interviews not only with the men who served but also with their wives, children and family members this documentary paints a riveting portrait of what was involved in their return. Yes, the government did put programs into place to help but there are a lot more issues than just those related to finances to discuss here, such as depression, emotional and anxiety problems, post traumatic stress disorder, and of course, just adjusting to the day to day life of a civilian versus that of a soldier.
A lot of times the highly touted exclusive new extras are little more than filler - this is not the case here. This is an incredibly well made piece and it's just as good, if not better, than all of the other supplements in this set. It's as fascinating as it is sometimes heartbreaking and the interviews, along with some well used archival clips and stock footage, really serve to peel back the layers of the issue it seeks to address and it does so with style and with class.
HBO's Band Of Brothers/The Pacific - Special Edition Gift Set may be a repackaging of sorts and the inclusion of the new documentary is sure to annoy those who spent a good chunk of change on the two series' releases the first time around BUT it's so well done and such an impressive package overall that it really deserves the DVD Talk Collector's Series rating. From the amazing audio and video quality to the extensive and wonderfully put together extra features, this is pretty much a flawless release.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.