Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Band of Brothers: a new patriotic tradition

The title of greatness is not something given, but earned. One cannot simply ask to be considered great. There is a reason why those who fought in World War II were christened with the moniker of being "The Greatest Generation." They had no aspirations to greatness, but were instead thrust into action and did their duty. World War II has since become a staple of pop culture. Different mediums have used the setting and circumstance to prop up their own story. It takes a great project to display and properly convey the memories of each soldier. No project before, however, has been as reverent or touching as HBO's miniseries Band of Brothers.

Based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers is based off of the real life exploits of Easy Company, a group of men who fought in some of the most recognizable battle of the European Theatre. The ten episode miniseries aired from Sept. 9 to Nov. 4 on HBO. It has since been rerun on cable television.

Be honest, how many times have you watched it?

My brother doesn't own very many DVDs, my collection dwarfs his own. Nevertheless, no DVD of mine could ever equal his copy of Band of Brothers. Really, it's more than a DVD set, it's a time capsule for the memories of those that served in Easy Company. No matter how many times my brother and I have watched the episodes on television or on DVD, we still have to sit down and watch it whenever it's on. We know everything that happens, we know how each character ends up but in the end it doesn't matter. We still become engrossed in each character. They aren't just characters on a screen, they become people we get emotionally attached to. Although it is a war series, the battles are only set pieces for the characters. Each victory is our victory and each lost member is our loss. When Bull, the cigar chomping beast, gets lost behind enemy lines it's still engaging, even though we've seen the episode a million times.

What Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have produced is the most engrossing war film ever. The end result becomes something that cannot be replicated. The Pacific, an HBO miniseries that premiered last year took the same approach to the Pacific Theatre but in the end it just wasn't as good. Maybe it was because it co-starred the annoying kid from Jurassic Park, but either way Band of Brothers is it's own masterpiece. It was just one of those rare moments where everything synergized perfectly. The Pacific didn't have that, but then again it is unfair to compare the two.

Pacific, not as good as BoB.

I plan on celebrating this Veterans Day by sitting down and watching the DVDs. It's a tradition really. It may seem a half-assed way of honoring the vets, but those ten episodes remind me how horrible war is and how little help I would be in such a situation. It makes me proud of veterans more. So even though I've seen the Bastogne episode to the point of memorization, I don't care. That's not the point. The point is to see war through a soldiers eyes, because being on a couch is much easier than being in a foxhole in the snow.

What makes the miniseries great is the characters. Ask any guy hovering around the age of twenty, and they probably have their own favorite characters from Band of Brothers. Watch the show with your friends and a debate is inevitable over who is better. Here is my personal top five Band of Brothers characters, in reverse order.

Sorry Winters but you don't count, everybody likes you.

5. Ronald Speirs- Speirs is the person everybody would like to be in war. He's the badass one. The one that can run across a whole field of Germans and have them just look at him run by. Marveling at the sheer balls the man possesses. He's the baddest dude in Europe. Played by Matthew Settle.

4. Donald Malarkey- Seeing the character arc of Malarkey showed the true effect of war. Malarkey started out a good-natured soldier who only wanted to find a Luger to send home to his brother. As time went on and friends were lost, Malarkey became a shell of his former self. Played by Scott Grimes.

3. Eugene Roe- Doc, as he was affectionately called by the member of Easy Company, was the man you trusted when you were injured. Though he was a man of few words, Doc Roe helped keep the soldiers patched up throughout the war, even when low on supplies during Bastogne. He even got to narrate his own episode. In the end Doc Roe was the dependable Cajun, filled with quiet strength. Played by Shane Taylor.

2. Lewis Nixon- I decided not to count Dick Winters because it wouldn't be fair to everyone else. Where would Winters be, however, without his best friend Nixon? The lovable drunk, Nixon helps Winters keep his sanity and brought some much needed levity to the episodes. Nixon is the friend you want by your side during the whole war because you know he'll be there for you. Plus he knows his Beethoven. Played by Ron Livingston.

1. David Webster- This decision, I know, will be slightly controversial with Band of Brothers fans. Webster was branded a coward for milking a wound he received. Because of this wound he missed the Battle of the Bulge. Webster is not the soldier anyone wants to be but, it's the soldier I would most likely be. Played by Eion Bailey.

On a side note, a good game to play is to point out actors on television or in movies that have been in Band of Brothers. With the size of the cast and extras, it's more often than not that someone you were watching once made an appearance on Band of Brothers. This game can also be played with actors from another HBO project, The Wire.

Interestingly enough, nobody on The Wire was ever in Band of Brothers

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