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War Films on DVD Provide Important Link to History

2 Mar, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

I'm a little behind the times, I know, but I want to talk about Band of Brothers today.

I don't have cable, so I did not see this miniseries when it originally aired, and I've never really had a huge World War II fixation, so I wasn't too sad about missing it. At the time it aired, I remember thinking — seeing the producer credits of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks — “So, what, Saving Private Ryan was so good, now they're making it into a miniseries?”

When HBO released it to DVD, I remember the hubbub about it, but didn't join the fray for a couple of reasons. First, at 10 hours long, I thought I'd probably never get through it (this was before I became a TV DVD addict). Second, I have a rough time with war dramas or any traumatic or touching story that's based on real life. They get to me. I have to cover my eyes. I have nightmares. Basically, I get sucked in and ripped apart emotionally.

My youngest brother, a World War II fanatic, organized a family outing to see Saving Private Ryan the weekend it opened in theaters years ago. I called him in the middle of the night, every night, for days afterward, just to let him know how well I wasn't sleeping thanks to the lingering visual images and heartache from that film. Those feelings also kept me away from Band of Brothers; I knew just how it was likely to affect me.

At any rate, I was working on a story a few weeks back about the TV DVD market and was a little surprised to see that Band of Brothers is still one of the top-selling releases of the genre, even though it's been out since November of 2002 and is pricey, at about $100 SRP.

My boyfriend, though, is a big World War II buff, and his Band Of Brothers set is one of the most prized in his varied and extensive DVD library.

It had been raining in California — I don't know for how long, but I could count the pucker rings on my toes — so on Presidents' Day, we holed up inside and began watching this series, and I became immediately engrossed.

I can't believe how long I went without watching it. It was so beautifully done, such an amazing story. I had so many questions for my boyfriend, who is very well versed in the historical background of this war, and the 101st airborne in particular. We had to keep pausing the disc so he could answer all my queries. I kept comparing it to Saving Private Ryan: “So, right now is when Saving Private Ryan guys were on the beach getting slaughtered, right?” I asked as paratroopers fell from the sky over the beach in Normandy.

What also came in so useful for me was the special feature on each disc, the “field guides” that help keep all the characters straight.

Yes, I cried — more than once. Yes, it still gets to me in the dark if I think about it too much, but it's OK. It's more than OK, it's important.

I realized as we watched the extra features disc — which holds the interviews with surviving members of the 101st — how important that DVD set is to posterity. One of the vets was talking about his grandson and I thought: “What a cool thing to have as part of your family, to point at this DVD and say, ‘that was my grandpa,' or ‘that was my dad.”

It made me think about my two Veteran grandfathers — one Air Force, one Navy.

It also made me think about my 2-year-old niece. By the time she's my age, there won't be any World War II vets around for her to hear stories from in person. (Let's hope there aren't any World War III ones, either.)

DVD sets like this and like A&E's “The World At War” series are more than entertainment, and these are going to help keep those generations connect in a very profound way. My niece may not grow up in a world where the cultural import of the second world war is a tangible, notable presence in society, like my parents and to a lesser extent, I did. But she can still watch Band of Brothers with her dad someday and cry a little, understand a little.

It's a beautiful thing, even if it hurts.

I went to Washington, D.C., for the first time last summer and was looking forward to seeing the Vietnam Memorial. I was born the day Operation Rolling Thunder launched in 1972, so I've always had a little twinge for that time in history.

First though, I visited the new World War II memorial, and I was touched and impressed, and a little bit awed. I sat and looked in the reflecting pool and thought about my grandfathers and my brother and all the World War II buffs in my life.

I wish I had already seen Band of Brothers then. I would have been thinking of those men whom I've never met and yet now feel so close to as well.

Memorial Day's coming up. I know it may sound cheesy, but thanks to that DVD set, it's going to mean a little more to me than it ever has before.

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