By Noah Robischon
Updated August 17, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Band of Brothers

  • TV Show

The most ambitious website HBO has ever undertaken opens in June 1940 with a stream of archival photos of the Nazis trampling across Europe. Then comes a Royal Air Force transmission, an Edward R. Murrow broadcast during the bombing of London, and Winston Churchill’s triumphant ”Never in the field of human conflict” speech. And that’s just one of six three-minute-long online episodes supporting the Sept. 9 premiere of ”Band of Brothers.” The 10-part, $120 million miniseries, exec-produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, follows the members of Easy Company — an actual battalion in the 101st Airborne Division — through World War II (

The site’s mission is to lend an historical context to the events depicted in the fact-based series and to give viewers a taste of what it felt like to be a member of the Greatest Generation (”You’re about to experience D-Day,” warns the loading screen for online episode 6). But when it comes to re-creating the kind of immersive sensation that was the hallmark of ”Saving Private Ryan,” the Net and home computers can’t compete with the big screen. And this particular website is like viewing that vast war through the narrow field of a Sherman tank’s periscope.

Still, the ”Brothers” site uses sumptuous Flash montages, which are constructed of WWII-era photos and audio, and each episode is complemented by a battery of interactive sidebars. One features a newsreel directed by Frank Capra (”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”); another offers vintage recruitment posters. Episode 3 stands out from the pack for replacing the usual jumble of voices with a single first-person narrative about the Nazi invasion of Holland. The speaker — whose yarn is woven from a composite of true stories — recalls the day the music stopped playing in Rotterdam and vividly brings the war’s devastation onto the desktop.

Mostly, though, these compact collages rely on U.S. propaganda-film footage accompanied by scripts seemingly lifted from a bad WWII movie (”Weapons of war cut all men down to the same size”). The result is a one-dimensionality akin to this summer’s epic block-bummer ”Pearl Harbor.” What the site lacks is any of the tormented soul-searching and moral ambiguity that made you want to get Private Ryan home safely.

That could easily have been overcome within the site’s Living Memorial, a digital wall where veterans and their families are invited to post personal accounts of the war. But the current batch of submissions, which are vetted by HBO before being published, only serves to make the site feel more shortsighted. One of the featured stories — from a member of the original Easy Company — ends by saying that the ”low point of my life was when Bill Clinton, a person who betrayed the country and sided with our enemy, became President and had himself filmed walking the beach at Normandy….” Whether or not his point is valid, it’s unclear why HBO is lending its site as a platform for such a modern political debate. And it discourages anyone but gung ho military buffs from taking part.

Presumably, the miniseries will be more focused, since it’s based on the meticulously detailed book by noted historian Stephen E. Ambrose ( But as a supporting website,’s ”Band of Brothers” is no easy company.

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Band of Brothers

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