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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Band of Brothers / The Pacific Special Edition Gift Set Blu-ray Review

Considered two of the finest depictions of the sweeping panorama of World War II, the HBO Miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific are being offered, for the first time, in one ultimate collector’s edition – just in time for holiday gift giving.  Band of Brothers / The Pacific Special Edition Gift Setwill be available November 8, 2011 in an all-new premium packaging including both ten-episode miniseries, all the special features from previous editions, plus the exclusive never-before-seen documentaryHe Has Seen War featuring surviving veterans of Easy Company and the 1st Marine Division, whose stories are told in Band of Brothers and The Pacific.  From their initial steps at reintegrating into civilian life to the lasting impact the war had on each of their lives, “He Has Seen War” features veterans and their families relaying their own unique stories. Complemented by renowned historian and author Donald L. Miller, as well as rarely seen archival and documentary footage, it captures the struggle and ultimate triumph of a generation who, after helping rescue the world from unprecedented calamity, reclaimed their lives and re-forged a country.

Band of Brothers

A landmark moment for television, Band of Brothers brings the extraordinary events of World War II dramatically to life.  True portrayals of courage, sacrifice, camaraderie and heroism, Band of Brothers recounts the remarkable achievements of Easy Company who parachuted into France early on D-Day 1944. Described as “a TV triumph never to be forgotten,” (New York Daily News), it received six Emmys including the awards for Miniseries and Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special.

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

The series starts at Camp Toccoa, Georgia which is where it all started for the men it’s covering.  These new recruits will be incorporated into the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) which is an experimental airborne regiment trained to parachute behind enemy lines.  Training at the Camp is very difficult especially under the tyrannical command of Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer) who drives Easy Company “The Screamin’ Eagles” harder than any of the other regiments.  The training includes battle drills, airborne school, and of course the exhausting physical training that included running three miles up the large hill known as Currahee and then running three miles back down the hill.
When Easy Company is sent to participate in Operation Overlord, their mission is to capture and clear the entrance of Causeway 2, a route off of Utah Beach which is where the troops will be landing for D-Day.  1st Lt. Dick Winters (Damian Lewis) and his men drop over Normandy, France where they have to rush to their designated target.  Since his commanding officer is killed on the way there, Winters takes command and leads his men in capturing four German heavy guns that would have proven even more devastating to the Allied invasion forces.
Easy Company is then sent to the French village of Carentan where many of their number are killed by the heavy German resistance.  Soon, replacement soldiers join Easy Company to replace their fallen men.  Things get even worse when they are ordered to take part in the ill-advised Operation: Market Garden which was largely a failure.  They are also part of the Battle of the Bulge where they have to hold off the better equipped and more numerous German troops.  Their meager existence is shockingly bad as they are running low on supplies, ammunition, and proper winter clothing which makes surviving the harsh winters difficult in the frozen Ardennes Forest especially under constant mortar fire.
Finally moving into Germany, Easy Company discovers a concentration camp that fills them with horror and disgust at what they find there.  They later discover Hitler’s mountain retreat known as the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden where they are the first to enter the retreat.  With the war over in the European theater, those with enough time served are allowed to go home while the others prepare to be shipped over to the Pacific where they will have to fight the Japanese.  For these survivors, they still have a battle to fight as many of them will be forever scarred by their experiences and the readjustment to civilian life  may be an even greater challenge than war was for many of the soldiers.
Hands down, this is the greatest mini-series ever made.  The attention to detail, the historical accuracy, the enthralling scripts, the expert direction, and an excellent cast make this an even greater achievement than the more costly and even bigger follow-up – The Pacific.  We feel for these characters, not only because they are true to the actual people that they are based on, but also because of the way the series was done.  We are with them during their grueling training at Currahee and we are with them when they parachute into Germany during D-Day to help save as many Alllied lives as they can.  We go through every ordeal, artillery bombardment, death, and wave of destruction that these brave soldiers dealt with and their struggles engender a lot of empathy from us viewers.
The cast in this is phenomenal and their dedication to the series and to their respective person they are portraying is readily evident.  The actors went through an extensive boot camp to prepare for their roles and talked with the real person who they were portraying to make sure that their performances were accurate.  The battle sequences in this series are harrowing and much kudos must go to the cast and crew for filming these scenes as realistically as possible.  It may not be the real thing, but it’s as real as you can get without putting the cast in mortal danger.  The pyrotechnics are supported well by the makeup and prosthetic teams who created extremely realistic looking injuries.
After his milestone achievement with Saving Private Ryan (which is a perfect companion piece to this), Steven Spielberg teamed with Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman to bring this series to life for HBO.  Band of Brothers was the most expensive series made at that point, and every dollar is on the screen.  This series is so true to the period, the history, and the veterans that is might as well be a time portal back to 1944.  This is a monumental achievement and it’s the perfect way to remind the world of what happened and why we fought to stop an evil that would have encompassed the world.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

As expected, the video quality for Band of Brothers is outstanding.  Its 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is beautifully detailed and it captures every gritty aspect of Easy Company’s journey in amazing detail.  They did a lot of filming using hand held cameras, giving it a “you are there” authenticity which adds momentum to the battle scenes but it also is part of the their deliberate presentation of the series.  Some may wonder why the images look so desaturated and without a drop of color present, but that’s a deliberate creative decision that serves the series well.  The series’ color schemes perfectly suit what’s going on the screen and I especially like the gunmetal greyish tones while they were being shelled in the freezing Ardennes Forest.  Just looking at the picture makes you feel cold and it’s just one of many elements they use to bring the viewers into the thick of things along with Easy Company.  Clarity is excellent and black levels are solid and wonderfully dark which is a good thing since a lot of the series takes place at night.  There is some grain present occasionally, usually in the darker scenes but it’s not enough to complain about it.  This Blu-ray release completely blows away the previous DVD release!

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)  

Band of Brothers’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless mix packs a visceral punch that is without a doubt reference quality.  This is a fully active mix that isn’t afraid to use every channel you’ve got to completely suck you into this series.  The combat scenes sound incredibly life-like and they surround you completely.  Gunfire, mortars, tanks, planes, and more whizz across the room with startling accuracy.  Every channel is full of ambiance that makes you feel as if you were there.  Dialogue is crystal clear throughout the series and placed accurately within the sound-scape.  This mix is one of the finest I’ve ever heard on Blu-ray and it’s so real and powerful that you will feel as shell-shocked as the men of Easy Company.  This is a series that you should watch without the presence of anyone that complains about the volume or the bass since this mix blows the roof off and shakes the window.  This is one of the mixes that you can not only hear but can also feel and it’s fantastic!  This mix is reason enough to throw out your DVD set and upgrade to the Blu-ray edition!

Special Features (5 out of 5 stars)  

The Band of Brothers/The Pacific Special Edition Gift Set is packaged in an all-new, premium case featuring maps from the European and the Pacific fronts of World War II as well as high-gloss sweeping photography from both productions.  Both the book and the case are gorgeous and a very nice bonus to the package.  The new documentary that’s exclusive to this set, “He Has Seen War” and “We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company” are both in high definition while the rest of the extras are in standard definition.
  • He Has Seen War – This is the new extra that can only be found in this Band of Brothers/The Pacific Gift set that features the surviving veterans of Easy Company and the 1st Marine Division, whose stories are told in Band of Brothers and The Pacific.  We hear about their efforts to reintegrate back into civilian life only to find that some of their jobs/wives/girlfriends were no longer available to them.  We also see the lasting impact the war had on each of their lives as told by the survivors or their family who recount the terrible toll the war took emotionally and psychologically on the returning soldiers.  This extra also features renowned historian and author Donald L. Miller, who helps us understand the background of events that served as the backdrop to this tragic tale.  We also get to see some rarely seen archival and documentary footage from the War Department training videos that were made to help transition the men back to civilian life.  While many soldiers weren’t able to cope with the past as well as others, this documentary captures the struggle and ultimate triumph of a generation who, after helping rescue the world from an unprecedented evil, had to return home to rebuild their lives.
The set also contains all of the original extras from the original home entertainment releases including:
  • We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company - This hour and seventeen minute documentary is very well done and gives the viewers even more information behind the events that took place during the series.  Through interviews with the survivors of Easy Company along with archival film and photographs, we get an even better understanding of what happened and why.  Hearing firsthand accounts is always moving especially when the subject is something like World War II.  This is a fantastic documentary and fans of the show will really enjoy it!
  • The Making of Band of Brothers – This is a shorter thirty minute featurette that covers the behind the scenes production efforts to make the series.  We see how the series came about, the casting of the company, and just how difficult the series was to make for both the actors and the crew.  This extra reinforces my belief that everyone involved in this series gave their all to make it as good as possible.
  • Ron Livingston’s Video Diaries - An hour long candid views of the making of the series from one of the cast members.  Ron Livingston (who played Nixon) captured a lot of footage of the series being made.  Since he’s filming it, this is isn’t the usual EPK fluff you would normally get, instead it shows an unfiltered look at the cast and crew trying to make the series as realistic as feasible.  This is an excellent way to experience the year and half that it took to make the series.
  • Premiere in Normandy - A three minute look at the series’ premiere that was held at Utah Beach.
  • In the Words of Easy Company – This is one of the best extras and it’s only available on the Blu-ray releases.  This Picture-in-Picture Video Commentary offers video commentary from the actual members of Easy Company where they describe what really happened as the series plays the the pertinent scene behind them which allows you ton cotnrast the two, or at the very least, get a better understanding of what’s going on.  This video commentary is accessible for every episode and it adds quite a bit to the overall experience.
  • In the Field with the Men of Easy Company – Interactive Field Guide - This extra presents an on-screen timeline that covers multiple point of interest.  There’s a variety of topics including maps of the battlefields, biographies of Easy Company, definitions of all of the military lingo,  tracks the progress of each episode, and a bunch of other cool facts.  Unlike a lot of other interactive extras, this one is very easy to use and offers a lot of really interesting information.  This too, is also available for every episode.

Final Thoughts (5 out of 5 stars)  

The best mini-series ever made has been released in a worthy edition that enhances and adds to the viewing experience.  The perfect audio and video quality coupled with some excellent and in depth extras that includes stories from the men it’s based on, makes this Blu-ray a stellar effort all around.  I cannot recommend this series enough and if you’ve never seen it, you should correct that right now!  This series is a true testament to the brave men who answered the call to stop an implacable threat that would have taken over the world.

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The Pacific

When I heard that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks were gearing up to make The Pacific, I was ecstatic.  While Band of Brothers took place in the European Theater, The Pacific focuses on our war with Japan and the brutal fighting done island by island on the way to Japan.  When the series was finally released, I signed up for a trial period with HBO just to watch it.  The Pacific ended up being nominated for twenty-three Emmy Award nominations and won eight of them including: Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Sound Editing, Outstanding Sound Mixing, Outstanding Special Visual Effects, Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup, Outstanding Makeup (Non-Prosthetic), Outstanding Casting, and Outstanding Art Direction.  It also received twelve Golden Globe nominations.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)  

While Band of Brothers followed an ensemble cast representing the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment through the course of the war, The Pacific instead follows the lives of three marines, Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), John Basilone (John Seda), and Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale).  In fact, the series is based the memoirs from two of those marines:  With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge and Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie.  This change in focus allowed The Pacific to show the home life of the marines before and after the war and provides a closer examination of the physical and psychological effects of war on these men.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many young men were eager to sign up for military service to mete out some revenge.  Among those men, were John Basilone, Robert Leckie immediately signed up while teenage Eugene Sledge was told by his physician father that he couldn’t join any service due to a heart murmur which left him devastated.  especially since his best friend Sidney Phillips (Ashton Holmes) enlisted in the Marines.
After some abbreviated combat training, the young marines are sent to Guadalcanal where they quickly learn that war isn’t quite the heroic enterprise they imagined it to be.  After landing unopposed on the beach they venture forth into the jungle and discover mutilated corpses of other marines.  This brutality shown by their enemy is unlike any experienced before.  When the 1st Marine Division participate in the Battle of Tenaru, which was the first of three major offensives made by the Japanese who were determined to recapture the airfield they had lost to the Allies.  Back home, Eugene finally convinces his parents to let him join the war and he enlists as a marine.  John Basilone and the 7th Marines soon arrive at Guadalcanal to bolster the defenses at the airfield.
By September 1944, Sledge is able to join the 1st Marine Division before the Battle of Peleliu which was predicted to last four days but ended up taking two months to win.  The battle proved to be the most costly because Peleliu had the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific War and it was for a island that had no real strategic value.  From there the marines were sent to Iwo Jima which was the first direct attack on the Japanese home islands which provided the Japanese even more of a desire to do all they could to stop the Allied advance.
By the time the marines are sent to Okinawa, the intensity level of the fighting has increased beyond imagination as the Japanese have nothing to lose at this point and the kamikaze attacks increase even more.  The Battle at Okinawa resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 Japanese troops while the Allies lost 50,000 men.  There was an additional tens of thousands civilians that were either wounded, killed, or committed suicide.  This was the first time the marines had encountered Japanese civilians and they were horrified to see the civilians be used by the Japanese military as shields.  At this point in the war, even the once compassionate Sledge has no problem shooting man in the back which shows just how much the war has changed him.
With the dropping of the Atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the war is declared over and the survivors are shipped home.  Unlike Band of Brothers, we follow the marines home to see how their lives have changed by their wartime experiences.  None of them will ever be the same as they were before the war, and each of them must discover a way to cope with the loss of their comrades and what they’ve done and seen.  In the end, World War II resulted in at least 50 million deaths and it’s highly likely that the final toll is closer to 70 million deaths.
This series has a larger scope than Band of Brothers but at the same time also takes the time to follow the three main characters from the start of the war to the end and back home again.  Although I didn’t think the performances in The Pacific were as good as the ones in Band of Brothers, the sheer scope of this series was phenomenal.  I can only imagine the logistics involved in putting this all together and then coordinating so many different actors and stunt-men, not to mention all of the explosions and the rest of it.  Much like it’s predecessor, The Pacific puts the viewer right into the thick of it and shows what kind of experiences that the marines had to survive and at what cost.
The series also brilliantly showed how the two Theaters of war were so different.  The Japanese soldiers followed a code of Bushido where their deaths were seen as purifying and as a duty, a concept not something seen in the European Theater, where outnumbered soldiers surrendered and were placed in POW camps.  For the Japanese, surrender was not an option and every man was supposed to die for the good of the nation and their Emperor, whether it be from a suicide kamikaze attack or a banzai charge.  American soldiers had never experienced this kind of mindset or savagery and this alien kind of thinking triggered an equally brutal response back from the many of the marines.  As bad as the war was in Europe (and it was terrible), this new level of brutality combined with the weather conditions made the war in the Pacific barbarous and horrifying.
By once again making the series as realistic and accurate as possible, Spielberg and Hanks and the rest of the production have created another perfect look at an imperfect war.  I would have preferred to lose the scenes at home and just continued the the successful format used for Brothers, but I can understand why it was made this way since it was based on their memoirs.  It’s just unfortunate because those scenes really slow down the series every time the story returns to the United States.  It may not be as good as Band of Brothers, but The Pacific is another towering achievement that pays tribute to the men who fought in in World War II and especially those in the Pacific Theater, for the betterment of mankind.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)  

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is flawless. Colors pop off the screen whether it’s the lush jungle or the gushing blood, but it’s consistently vibrant and brilliant.  The image has an amazing amount of detail and it’s so sharp you can make out small print in books.  Black levels are solid and inky as they should be and the contrast level is fantastic.  I have a few minor quibbles about a couple of low light scenes but when viewed as a whole they are so negligible that it would almost seem petty to complain about them. HBO did a fantastic job on this transfer especially for all of the daylight scenes that are so good and have such depth that it feels like you are in the jungle with them.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)  

If you thought I gushed over the video quality then this part will be downright embarrassing!  This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is reference quality! And I don’t mean one of the movies you pull out to show off your system. I’m saying that this is the only disc you will ever need to pull out. As much as I love the mix for Saving Private Ryan, this mix blows that one away.  If the video quality made me feel like I was standing in the jungle with the troops, then this surround track had me convinced that I was standing in the middle of an all out war! I’ve heard some active mixes before but nothing like this.  The panning across channels was the most convincing and stirring mix that I’ve ever heard. The rear channels are in constant use providing atmosphere, effects and music while the the rest of the channels completely envelop you into a cocoon of combat.  LFE is a constant companion and hits you with every explosion, plane flyby, and every mortar attack.  This is a mix that will rattle the windows and shake the house and I loved it.  Whether it’s bullets whizzing by, or planes zooming across the room, or battleships bombarding an entrenched position, this track has it all and it has set the bar for every other movie to try to beat.  If I could give it more than a five rating I would!

Special Features (5 out of 5 stars)  

As to be expected, all of the special features are informative, thorough, and very entertaining especially if you are as fascinated by World War II as I am.  Not only do none of these extras contain any EPK fluff, but they are all extremely well done and even better, are all in high definition.

  • Enhanced Viewing Experience – Every episode of The Pacific has an optional Picture-in-Picture companion track which is very like the one offered on the Band of Brothers Blu-ray set.  The enhanced experience offers interviews with some of the surviving veterans and also some of the family members.  There’s also a lot of other information offered as we hear from a group of historians, other accounts of what it was like to fight in the Pacific Theater and there’s also some interesting pop-up facts, biographies, and photos.  This is extremely extensive and well worth buying the set for if you want to learn more.



  • Field Guide – As if the enhanced viewing experience wasn’t enough, each episode also has an interactive field guide which is comprised of  animated maps, interviews with veterans and historians, more archive material that includes photos, newsreel footage, biographies, and more. Between this and the enhanced viewing experience, I think just about every detail is covered.  This is so comprehensive it could qualify as a history course.



  • Profiles of The Pacific –  A look at the lives of some of the marines depicted in The Pacific.  What I liked is that it continued the story from where the series left off. We learn what happened to the surviving marines and what they did with their lives and also hear about those that didn’t make it.  With a look at John Basilone, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie, Sidney Phillips, R.V. Burgin and Chuck Tatum we learn the full story.  Only Sidney Phillips, R.V. Burgin and Chuck Tatum were still alive to participate in recent interviews but we get to see either newsreel footage of the others, or past interviews done while they were still alive so none of them are shortchanged.  We also get to hear from some of their family members as well.



  • Making The Pacific – The only featurette on the set that’s devoted to making of the movie.  Despite only being thirty minutes, it packs in a lot of information as we hear from Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and the cast and crew of the series.  We get to see the preparation of battle scenes, the boot camp experience that the actors did before filming, and a candid discussion on the differences between this and Band of Brothers.



  • Anatomy of the Pacific War – A discussion on the cultural differences there were between the United States and Japan and how that played a role in the conflict.  There’s talk about how Japanese culture made kamikaze attacks possible and how relations between the two countries changed after the war.

    Final Thoughts (5 out of 5 stars)  


    This is an amazing set! Drop whatever you are doing and run out and buy this set or at the very least click on the link below and buy it!  Not only is this series remarkable all on it’s own, but this Blu-ray set put together by HBO is simply stunning!  Just take a look at the pictures of the gift set below to see how nice it is!



    Order this amazing gift set today!


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