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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Spielberg epic fails to impress
By entertainment correspondent Peter Bowes in Hollywood
Steven Spielberg's 10-part World War II epic, Band of Brothers, has debuted on US TV to mixed reviews.
The mini-series is based on historian Stephen Ambrose's 1992 book which follows the soldiers of Easy Company, an elite paratroop unit, fighting their way across Europe.
The $120m (£84m) production is laced with extravagant special effects.
And it has been dubbed the TV sequel to Spielberg's movie blockbuster Saving Private Ryan, on the same theme and starring Tom Hanks.
The Oscar-winning actor took on a production role for Band of Brothers. The programme is the most expensive TV mini-series made to date.
The collaboration of Spielberg and Hanks has guaranteed the series, broadcast in the US on the Home Box Office (HBO) cable channel, a considerable amount of hype and pre-publicity.
It also comes at a time of enormous media attention on the World War II period in history.
A few months after cinema-goers gave Pearl Harbor the thumbs down, Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker questions the staying power of Brothers.
He believes that "pop culture WWII overload" has resulted from a number of factors including "baby-boomer guilt over never having served in a 'good war'".
Aimed principally at a more discerning cable TV audience, the series attempts to portray the full horror of war without invoking superficial eye-catching big screen tricks.
"Spielberg and Hanks attempt an admirable fusion," writes Mr Tucker.
"They want to combine the documentary realism that made Private Ryan so compelling (using the freedom of HBO to show the atrocious gore of war), while also invoking the vivid male-bonding camaraderie of older WWII films like John Ford's they Were Expendable (1945) and Sam Fullers The Big Red One (1980)."
However, he concludes, "the result is an inevitable artistic hodgepodge".
Much of the film's enormous budget was spent on the special effects used to recreate the sheer hell of war.
At times, the same jerky camera technique used in Saving Private Ryan is adopted to depict the unpredictable terror of combat.
But Time magazine's James Poniewozik questions the series's dependence on "realism and reverence".
He writes: "Recreating the horror of battle takes more than crafty camera work, special effects or even an honest-to-God true story.
"It means inspiring the fear that you could die at any instant, vicariously, through strong characters you are invested in."
The cast includes 74 primary characters and 500 speaking roles, although there are few recognisable names and faces.
One exception, in the first episode, is Friends star David Schwimmer who plays a pompous lieutenant.
Most critics agree that Brothers avoids many of the errors that lead to Pearl Harbor being slated for the way it sanitised - for the sake of Hollywood - the true nature of war.
Mike Duffy, TV critic for the Detroit Free Press, writes: "Band of Brothers does not obliterate human-scale drama with explosions and special effects.
"It never turns the currently fashionable fascination with World War II and the 'greatest generation' into a shallow nostalgia fest."
Mr Duffy applauds the series for avoiding "simplistic, wham-bam patriotism".
He adds: "In portraying the utter chaos of combat as honestly as possible, the film creates some agonising images of violence and suffering, including the occasional bloody stump after a leg is blown off in battle."
Band of Brothers, which was filmed mostly in Britain, has been bought by the BBC for £7m - making it the most expensive programme ever purchased by the corporation. It will be screened on BBC Two in the autumn.
The series appears to have won the grudging respect of some writers in the US. Robert Lloyd from the LA Weekly points out that Brothers was not a project that he would be "constitutionally predisposed to like".
However, he describes the epic drama as "tense," "terrifying", and "perversely thrilling".
He adds: "Certainly it makes clear just how primitive a business wars are, or used to be before we invented robots to fight them, and how much the outcome of this particular war came down to a matter of who had more meat to throw into the grinder.
"Band of Brothers is the next best thing to being there - well, better, obviously."
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