- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

LOS ANGELES — There's a scene in the second hour of HBO's "Band of Brothers" in which American airplanes, loaded with paratroopers, swarm the French coast as part of the D-Day invasion.
Parachutes blossom in the night against the eerie illumination of German anti-aircraft fire and U.S. planes engulfed by flames.
Such a cinematic wallop is rare in a made-for-TV project. So is the $120 million budget — which HBO says is the largest ever for a TV production — and the backing of big Hollywood guns such as Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
What really makes "Band of Brothers" a landmark, though, is its wrenchingly honest dramatization of men at war.
"There's no phony romance. There aren't any jokes that people didn't tell at the time. The action is the way that it was," says historian Stephen E. Ambrose, whose "Band of Brothers" book was the basis for the 10-part miniseries about a unit, nicknamed "Easy Company," in the 101st Airborne Division in World War II.
The series debuts with two episodes at 9 p.m. Sunday, with other chapters on consecutive Sundays through Nov. 4. A documentary on the company's real-life soldiers will be shown on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
In Europe, the miniseries will be broadcast by the BBC and by France 2.
Details of events and relationships are based on Mr. Ambrose's book and further interviews conducted with the veterans. The actors contacted the men they were playing to check details down to clothing and speech.
Mr. Ambrose's books, including "Band of Brothers," have gained a wide audience, but it was the success of the 1998 war drama "Saving Private Ryan" that propelled the 1992 book's translation to film.
Mr. Hanks, who starred in the Oscar-winning "Ryan," and Mr. Spielberg, who directed it, were executive producers on "Band of Brothers." Mr. Hanks also joined in the writing and directed the fifth episode, "Crossroads."
"The way 'Saving Private Ryan' entered into the national consciousness, I knew the opportunity was there to explore the venue and to deal with the themes to a greater extent," Mr. Hanks said during production in England.
The search for what he termed "the perfect book, the perfect idea and … the perfect medium for it" led to Mr. Ambrose's detailed account of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment's E Company and to the TV miniseries format.
"You could take one of these guys and study him, but it's much better if you get a wider palette of the American male experience and carry it over a longer template of time than just one campaign in the war," Mr. Hanks says.
Mr. Spielberg, who had been considering adapting another Ambrose book, "Citizen Soldiers," joined the project.
Mr. Hanks already had produced a weighty miniseries for HBO, the space saga "From the Earth to the Moon." For a channel that markets itself with the slogan "It's not TV, it's HBO," an ambitious war drama seemed a good fit.
"It's always a question of what do we do next, and this certainly puts us at a level that's unlike anything we've done before," says Bruce Richmond, vice president for production, HBO Original Programming.
The filmmakers set out to re-create the exploits of Easy Company, which was caught up in many of the war's crucial events.
The miniseries follows the young soldiers from training camp in Toccoa, Ga., in 1942 to the June 6, 1944, European invasion and through offensives including the failed Operation Market-Garden in Holland and the nearly disastrous engagement in Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.
There are grueling, unromanticized battle scenes reminiscent of "Saving Private Ryan," with the action backed by an evocative score by Michael Kamen.
The production took unprecedented advantage of digital technology for all aspects of editing, Mr. Richmond says. By working with the film in a digital format, for instance, scenes shot under widely varying temperature conditions could be precisely color-matched, he says.
"That digital representation on the hard drive becomes the negative. … As the producers are going through saying it would be nice to lose that scene or add a scene, everything that happens is virtual."
At the end of the editing process, letterbox, high-definition (a first for an HBO miniseries) and film versions of the drama were carved out.
A companion Web site offers further historical detail and a message board for personal exchanges.
"Band of Brothers" was filmed largely at a former aerospace facility in Hatfield, England, where some scenes for "Saving Private Ryan" were shot. The miniseries set was far more extensive, with two soundstages and a 12-acre village built to serve as 11 different European locations.
There were 500 speaking roles and another 10,000 parts for extras. David Schwimmer ("Friends") is among the few American "names" appearing in the miniseries. A key role, that of Lt. Richard D. Winters, went to British actor Damian Lewis.
Dale Dye, a retired Marine Corps captain who served as a consultant on "Saving Private Ryan," did double duty on "Band of Brothers": He plays Col. Robert F. Sink, the 506th Regiment's commanding officer.
The cast had to commit to a lengthy production, starting with a two-week version of boot camp run by Mr. Dye to toughen them up and familiarize them with Army routine, says casting director Meg Lieberman.
"I was there the day that everybody came back from boot camp, and they all got off the bus, and they were singing and marching," she says. After nine months of filming, "The whole experience became deeper than the part. It wasn't just acting. They became these people."

WHAT: "Band of Brothers"
WHEN: Sunday night at 9 with two episodes and other chapters to follow on consecutive Sundays through Nov. 4.

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