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band of brothers (2001)

Band of Brothers (TV miniseries)

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Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers' intertitle
Approx. run time 705 minutes
Genre War miniseries
Written by
Directed by
Produced by
Starring see Cast below
Editing by
Music by Michael Kamen
Cinematography
Country
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
Language
Original channel
Original run September 9, 2001 (2001-09-09) – November 4, 2001 (2001-11-04)
No. of episodes 10 (List of episodes)

Band of Brothers is a 2001 ten-part television World War II miniseries based on the book of the same title written by historian and biographer Stephen Ambrose. The executive producers were Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who had collaborated on the World War II film Saving Private Ryan (1998).[1] The episodes first aired in 2001 on HBO and are still run frequently on various TV networks around the world.[2][3]

The narrative centers on the experiences of E Company ("Easy Company") of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment assigned to the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. The series covers Easy's basic training at Toccoa, Georgia, the American airborne landings in Normandy, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of Bastogne and on to the end of the war, including the taking of the Kehlsteinhaus (Hitler's Eagle's Nest).[1]

The events portrayed are based on Ambrose's research and recorded interviews with Easy Company veterans. A large amount of literary license was taken with the episodes, with several differences between recorded history and the film version.[4][5][6] All of the characters portrayed are based on actual members of Easy Company; some of them can be seen in prerecorded interviews as a prelude to each episode (their identities, however, are not revealed until the close of the finale).

The title for the book and the series comes from a famous St. Crispin's Day Speech delivered by the character of Henry V of England before the Battle of Agincourt in William Shakespeare's Henry V; Act IV, Scene 3. A passage from the speech is quoted on the first page of the book, and is also quoted by Carwood Lipton in the final episode.

Contents

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Development

Band of Brothers was largely developed by Tom Hanks and Erik Jendresen, who spent months detailing the plot outline and individual episodes.[7] The role of Steven Spielberg most prominently consisted of his being "the final eye" on the series and using Saving Private Ryan, the film on which Hanks and Spielberg worked together earlier, as a template for the series.[8] The accounts of Easy Company veterans such as Don Malarkey were later used in production to add as much detail as possible.[8]

Plot synopsis

The Band of Brothers miniseries details, if at times exaggerated or condensed, the real-life exploits of Easy Company during the Second World War over the course of ten episodes, starting with their jump training at the Currahee training site in Toccoa, Georgia and ending with the capitulation of Germany. The experiences of Major Richard Winters (1918–) are a primary focus, as he attempts to keep his men together and safe. While the series stars a large ensemble cast, episodes generally feature one character prominently, following their particular actions during certain events (for example, the Siege of Bastogne and Operation Market Garden).

As the series is based on real-life events, the fate of the characters is the same as their real world counterparts. Numerous characters either die or sustain injuries, some of which lead to them being sent home or escaping from the hospital to rejoin their comrades at the battlefront. The experiences and the moral, mental, and physical hurdles the soldiers must overcome are central to the story.

  Production

Budget and promotion

Promotional poster for Band of Brothers.

Band of Brothers was the most expensive television miniseries ever made by HBO or any other television network.[9][10][11] An early report placed the budget at $110 million.[8] In fact, the budget was approximately $125 million, which comes to an average of $12.5 million per episode, more expensive than any other television show, including other HBO productions.[8] An additional $15 million were allocated towards the promotional campaign, which involved, among other things, hosting screenings for WWII veterans.[9]

One of those screenings was at Utah Beach, Normandy. On June 7, 2001, 47 Easy Company veterans were flown to Paris and then by chartered train to the site, where the series premiered.[10][12] Also sponsoring the miniseries was then German-American owned automobile manufacturer Chrysler, as its Jeeps were used to great extent in the series, with an estimate of 600 to 1000 vehicles.[13] Chrysler spent $5 to $15 million on its advertising campaign, based on and using footage from Band of Brothers.[13] Each of the spots was reviewed and approved by co-executive producers Hanks and Spielberg.[13]

The BBC paid £7 million ($10.1 million) as co-production partner, the most it had ever paid for a bought-in program, but screened it on the minority BBC Two channel. It was denied that this was because it was "not mainstream enough."[14][15] Negotiations were monitored by then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who personally spoke to co-executive producer Spielberg.[16] Producer of comedy film An Everlasting Piece Jerome O'Connor alleged in a 2001 lawsuit against DreamWorks, Spielberg's own film studio, that Blair also loaned military equipment and 2,000 troops, while Spielberg gave Blair's son Euan a job in the production.[17] According to O'Connor, his movie was "sabotaged" because DreamWorks feared it would interfere with Spielberg receiving his British knighthood, which he did in 2001.[17]

[edit] Location

The series was shot over 8 to 10 months at the Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire, England, on which various sets, including replicas of European towns, were built.[12] This location was also used to shoot the film Saving Private Ryan.[8][11] Twelve different towns were constructed on the large open field, including the towns of Bastogne, Belgium; Eindhoven, Netherlands; and Carentan, France.[18]

The village of Hambleden, in Buckinghamshire, England was used extensively in the early episodes to depict the site of the company's training in England and also for scenes later in the series.

The scenes set in Germany and Austria were shot in Switzerland, in and near the village of Brienz in the Bernese Oberland and the nearby Hotel Giessbach.

 Historical accuracy

In order to preserve historical accuracy, additional research was done outside of the Band of Brothers book by Ambrose, Spielberg, and Hanks. One such source was Easy Company soldier David Kenyon Webster, whose memoir, Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich, was published by LSU Press in 1994 after his death in a boating accident. Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers book quotes liberally from Webster's then-unpublished diary entries. Webster's trained eye, honesty, and writing skills helped give the book and miniseries a tone not available in other G.I.s' diaries because it captured in detail the daily life of the infantryman working his way with comrades across Europe.

Dale Dye, a retired Marine Corps captain and consultant on Saving Private Ryan, as well as most of the surviving Easy Company veterans, such as Richard Winters, Bill Guarnere, Ed Heffron, and Amos Taylor, were asked for input.[8][19] Dye (who additionally plays the role of Robert F. Sink) had the actors undergo a 10-day boot camp.[19] Similarly, great attention was paid to details of weapons and costumes. Simon Atherton, the weapons master, corresponded with veterans to match weapons to scenes, and assistant costume designer Joe Hobbs extensively used photos and veteran accounts.[8]

Similarly, most actors had contact with the people they were meant to portray, often by telephone, and several of the veterans came to the production site.[8] Nonetheless, co-executive producer Tom Hanks admitted that they could not provide complete accuracy: "We've made history fit onto our screens. We had to condense down a vast number of characters, fold other people's experiences into 10 or 15 people, have people saying and doing things others said or did. We had people take off their helmets to identify them, when they would never have done so in combat. But I still think it is three or four times more accurate than most films like this."[12]

As a final accuracy check, the veterans saw previews of the series and approved the episodes before they were aired.[20]

Nonetheless, some inaccuracies did manage to get into the series, such as in the case of Albert Blithe. Blithe is a focal point of the third episode, which incorrectly states that he died in 1948. In fact, Blithe lived on to 1967, dying while on active duty in the Army.[21]

Cast and characters

From left: Damian Lewis as Major Richard Winters and Ron Livingston as Captain Lewis Nixon.

Since Band of Brothers focuses entirely on the exploits of "E" (Easy) Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 101st Airborne Division during the Second World War, the series features a large ensemble cast, based on existing persons. The main character of the show is arguably Major Richard Winters (1918–), played by Damian Lewis, who leads the cast for most of the episodes and is the main subject of the episodes "Day of Days", "Crossroads" and the final episode, "Points". Tom Hanks, co-executive producer of the miniseries, explained that they needed a central character to tie the story together, and felt that Damian Lewis was best for the role.[22]

Ron Livingston portrays Captain Lewis Nixon (1918–1995), Major Winters' best friend and frequent confidant during the series. The episode "Why We Fight" largely centers on him, dealing with his problems with alcoholism in particular. Captain Ronald Speirs (1920–2007), played by Matthew Settle, leads the Company into the field in the latter half of the series and is subject of rumors between the soldiers starting in the third episode, "Carentan."

Appearing alongside Winters and Nixon in all ten episodes are Donnie Wahlberg as Second Lieutenant Carwood Lipton (1920–2001), Scott Grimes as Technical Sergeant Donald Malarkey (1921–), Peter Youngblood Hills as Staff Sergeant Darrell "Shifty" Powers (1923–2009) and Shane Taylor as Technician Fifth Grade Eugene "Doc" Roe (1921–1998), although both were uncredited in the opening sequence. The episode "The Breaking Point" features Lipton prominently and the importance he carried in regards to Easy Company's morale, while "Bastogne" features Doc Roe's experience as a medic during the siege of Bastogne.

Appearing in nine episodes are Rick Gomez as Technician Fourth Grade George Luz (1921–1998), Michael Cudlitz as Sergeant Denver "Bull" Randleman (1920–2003), Nicholas Aaron as Private First Class Robert "Popeye" Wynn (1921–2000), and James Madio as Technician Fourth Grade Frank Perconte (1917–). Denver "Bull" Randleman was the subject of his own episode, "Replacements". This featured Randleman's escape from a German-occupied village in the Netherlands. Philip Barrantini as Private Wayne A. "Skinny" Sisk (1922–1999) is uncredited in the opening sequence but also appears in nine episodes.

Neal McDonough as First Lieutenant Lynn "Buck" Compton (1921–), Dexter Fletcher as Staff Sergeant John "Pee Wee" Martin (1922–2005), Ross McCall as Technician Fifth Grade Joseph Liebgott (1915–1992) appear in eight episodes. George Calil as Sergeant James "Moe" Alley Jr. (1922–2008), Nolan Hemmings as Staff Sergeant Charles E. Grant (1922–1985) and Rick Warden as First Lieutenant Harry Welsh (1918–1995) and Robin Laing as Private First Class Edward "Babe" Heffron (1923–) , although uncredited in the opening appear in eight episodes. Ben Loyd Holmes appeared as Private Mcintosh in unknown episodes.

Credited in the opening in seven episodes or fewer are:

[edit] Episodes

Reception

Critical reception

Band of Brothers has been met with largely positive reviews. Caryn James of The New York Times called Band of Brothers "an extraordinary 10-part series that masters its greatest challenge: it balances the ideal of heroism with the violence and terror of battle, reflecting what is both civilized and savage about war." However, the article did criticize the generation gap between the viewer and characters, which the journalist felt was a significant hurdle. TV Guide ranked it #54 on their list of TV's top 100 shows.[23]

Robert Bianco of USA Today said the series was "significantly flawed and yet absolutely extraordinary — just like the men it portrays", rating the series four out of four stars. Bianco noted that it was hard to keep track of and sympathize with individual characters during battle scenes.[24]

Tom Shales of The Washington Post was not as positive, stating that though the series is "at times visually astonishing", it suffers from "disorganization, muddled thinking and a sense of redundancy". Shales noted the lack of presence from the cast: "few of the characters stand out strikingly against the backdrop of the war. In fact, this show is all backdrop and no frontdrop. When you watch two hours and still aren't quite sure who the main characters are, something is wrong."[25]

Ratings

The premiere of Band of Brothers on September 9, 2001, drew 10 million viewers.[26] However, two days later the September 11 attacks occurred and HBO immediately ceased its marketing campaign.[26] The second episode nonetheless drew 7.3 million viewers.[26]

Awards

The series was nominated for nineteen Emmy Awards, and won six, including "Outstanding miniseries," "Outstanding Casting for a miniseries, Movie, or a Special," and "Outstanding Directing for a miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special." It also won a Golden Globe for "Best miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for Television," an American Film Institute award, and was selected for a Peabody Award for "...relying on both history and memory to create a new tribute to those who fought to preserve liberty." It also won a 2003 Writers Guild Award (Television, Adapted Long Form) for episode six ("Bastogne").

Blu-ray, HD DVD and DVD releases

All ten parts of the miniseries were released in a DVD boxset on November 5, 2002. The set includes five discs containing all the episodes, and a bonus disc with the behind-the-scenes documentary We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company and the video diary of actor Ron Livingston, who played Lewis Nixon. A collector's edition of the box set was also released, containing the same discs but held in a tin case. Band of Brothers is the highest-grossing DVD set of all time, having brought in over $200 million in revenue.[27]

The series was released as an exclusive HD DVD TV series in Japan in 2007. With the demise of the format, they are currently out of production.

A Blu-ray Disc version of Band of Brothers was released on November 11, 2008 and has become a Blu-ray Disc top seller[28], though many video enthusiasts contend that the HD DVD version features superior visual quality due to the presence of digital noise reduction on the Blu-ray release.[29][30]

See also

Further reading

A variety of books have been published, either before or after the HBO miniseries, which give further insight into Easy Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, the company known as the original Band of Brothers.

Books include:

  • Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose. Originally released in 1992.
  • Parachute Infantry, by David Kenyon Webster Published posthumously in 1994. (Webster died in a shark fishing accident in 1961).
  • Beyond Band of Brothers, by Major Richard Winters and Colonel Cole Kingseed. The first of Dick Winters' memoirs.
  • Biggest Brother, by Larry Alexander. The second of Dick Winters' memoirs.
  • The Way We Were, by Forrest Guth and Michael de Trez. This is a collection of Guth's war time pictures, published by a European company.
  • Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends, by William Guarnere and Edward Heffron with Robyn Post. Book hit the New York Times Best Seller List.
  • Call of Duty, by Lynn Compton with Marcus Brotherton. Recounts how Buck Compton went on to have a career as attorney and prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Robert F. Kennedy.
  • Easy Company Soldier, by Donald Malarkey with Bob Welch.
  • Easy Company, by Genesis Publications. This is a limited edition, large-format, coffee-table styled book.
  • We Who Are Alive and Remain, by Marcus Brotherton. Oral history book released in 2009 featuring 20 of the surviving members of E Co.
  • From Toccoa to the Eagle's Nest: Discoveries in the Bootsteps of the Band of Brothers. by Dalton Einhorn. Self-published travelogue released in 2009.
  • In the Footsteps of the Band of Brothers: A Return to Easy Company's Battlefields with Sgt. Forrest Guth, by Larry Alexander. Part travelogue, part historical perspective, from the author of Dick Winters' second memoir.
  • A Company of Heroes, by journalist Marcus Brotherton. Penguin, 2010. Profiles about the deceased Easy Company men, as remembered by their family members.

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