by Coop Cooper
In honor of Veteran’s Day weekend, I felt it prudent to point out two of the best depictions of World War II ever set to film and to encourage anyone who missed them to put them both on your “must-see” list. “Band of Brothers” (2001) and “The Pacific” (2010) were produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and are arguably the best projects either of these two powerhouse names have ever been involved with.
Based on the Stephen E. Ambrose non-fiction book of the same title, “Band of Brothers” chronicles the story of Easy Company, the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne division. All ten episodes cover their time in Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day. Each segment focuses on a different member of the company and their own personal struggles while encountering events such as The Battle of the Bulge, The siege of Bastone, to the discovery of the death camp Kaufering IV and the capture of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat. Marketed as a “Saving Private Ryan: The Miniseries,” “Brothers” surpassed the film that launched it to become one of the most important and moving depictions of WWII ever filmed.
The miniseries also launched the careers of many young actors, some of which are now famous, but you’ll miss them in the series if you blink. Each of them were required to endure a ten-day bootcamp in order to learn the weapons, tactics and Army lingo of the time period.
The miniseries can be found as a DVD box set, for rent on Netflix and airing in marathon succession on the History Channel and other cable networks.
Prompted by the critical and ratings success of “Brothers,” “The Pacific” took a slightly different approach to portraying the war. It raised the bar by telling an even grittier narrative of U.S. Marines invading the Pacific Islands occupied by the Japanese Empire. Based on a number of books, “Pacific” follows the lives of three Marines in different regiments of the 1st Marine Division. The first storyline involves John Basilone, the most decorated war hero in the history of the United States. The second details the experiences of Robert Leckie, future author of the wartime memoir Helmet for my Pillow. The third is based on the wartime accounts of Eugene Sledge from his book The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa.
While “Brothers” had a proud, bittersweet tone, “Pacific” unflinchingly reflects the horrific conditions the Marines and Japanese faced on the muddy islands. The program does not shy away from the war atrocities committed by both sides and many episodes end on a grim note. Basilone’s romantically heroic storyline balances out the horror witnessed by the other two protagonists, and his finest moment at Iwo Jima gives the series a climax that easily puts it on equal footing with “Brothers.”
If you’re reading this on Friday (Nov. 11th) at noon, “The Pacific” marathon on HBO2 has already begun. Check your local listings as it will run on into the evening hours. If you miss it, you’re still in luck because the “Band of Brothers/The Pacific” Special Edition Gift set was just released on Tuesday (Nov. 8th) on Blu Ray and DVD. Whether you buy, rent it or catch it on cable, these two miniseries events cannot be missed.
Rating: 5 out of 5 for both “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”