'Brothers' Lives Up to the Hype

Tom Hanks, who was co-executive producer of Home Box Office's 10-part World War II epic Band of Brothers
(with Steven Spielberg), has said the conflict is now something of a "cottage industry." He should know: the pair helped create it with Saving Private Ryan.

But as Pearl Harbor
and Enemy at the Gates
made clear, intriguing subject matter and spectacular visual effects aren't enough to make a hit: You also need characters to care about. Band of Brothers
has the best of both worlds.

Based on a Stephen Ambrose bestseller, Band of Brothers
tells the story of Easy Company, a U.S. Army infantry rifle unit from the 101st Airborne division. They're a group of volunteers who chose to join the newly formed paratroopers and fought on the front lines during some of the war's fiercest action.

follows this group from boot camp in Georgia in 1942 to the capture of Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" mountain compound in the southern Bavarian Alps in 1945.

In between are a parachute jump into France on D-Day, the massive German counteroffensive in the Ardennes Forest — which saw the 101st fight off 15 advancing Nazi divisions while lacking winter uniforms, sufficient food or ammunition — and the climactic Battle of the Bulge.

With a budget of more than $100 million, Brothers
is the most expensive made-for-cable production ever. Shot on many of the same sets as 1998's Saving Private Ryan, it has the same gritty look.

The battle scenes are gripping, but the camera work — which uses Ryan's frenetic infantryman's-eye view — is not for everyone. It's stomach-churning and can make the action hard to follow. But that's the point: Soldiers don't always see everything going on around them as the bullet rounds whiz past.

The ensemble cast is made up mostly of unknowns, with a few recognizable faces, including David Schwimmer (Friends); Dale Dye (Saving Private Ryan); Neal McDonough (Star Trek: First Contact) and former New Kids on the Block member Donnie Wahlberg.

The troops's hearts belong to Damian Lewis, who serves as narrator and plays Easy's commanding officer, Dick Winters.

Band of Brothers
debuts Sept. 9 on HBO.