Want We Want to See, Volume III: Visceral Battle Experience in the Vein of “Band of Brothers” and “Saving Private Ryan”

Some will see this as an addendum to a previous entry, as Greg talked about the level of violence that should be seen in the series. But for me, it isn’t so much the level of blood that should be on screen. Rather, the “visceral” experience, where instinct kicks in, and we see combat as combat, and not just some glorified version of the event, is what I’m most interested in seeing in the series’ epic battle scenes.

Scenes like this from “Band of Brothers” showed the brutal impact of WWII combat.

I’ll never forget the moment I first watched Saving Private Ryan back in 1999. I had known that the battle scenes were going to be very violent, but even those warnings did not prepare me for the experience. For 24 agonizing minutes, we were with the men on Omaha Beach, June 6th, 1944. For the first time ever, I was seeing on screen combat in its most brutal and raw form. Men were torn to pieces by bullets and artillery. But not only did the movie hit you with its graphic images of torn bodies. The real brutality came from the intensity of the battle itself. From the sounds of men yelling and running, to the bullets and shells, to the sense of death and destruction all around, Saving Private Ryan gave viewers a visceral experience of combat. What Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg successfully brought to the big screen with this film, they perfected with their two HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

There are two definitions of visceral that fit these projects well: “1. characterized by or proceeding from instinct rather than intellect; 2. characterized by or dealing with coarse or base emotions; earthy.” One of the things that Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and The Pacific showed was the instinctive habits of the soldiers in combat. The soldiers of the Second World War were, like soldiers from previous wars (including the American Civil War), drilled in combat and battle for hours every day, so that when the men were thrown into battle, their instinct would be to fall back on their training, and they would just do what they knew to do instinctively. At the same time, combat brings out the rawest of emotions. Whether that emotion is hatred, cowardice, courage, or fear, battle seems to bring out those in brutal detail. The three productions that Spielberg and Hanks brought us show what warfare brings out in man, and what it can cause man to do to others. The raw emotions experienced by veterans in war were recreated as close as they could be in a dramatized film.

Before To Appomattox begins filming, the actors who are to portray the soldiers depicted on film should have a chance to learn Civil War era drill as best they can in a short period of time. That way, when they go to film the battles depicted in the series, they will have knowledge of drill to fall back on, and that can help them create that moment when instinct kicks in, and the soldiers are falling back on their training in order to survive combat. The filmmakers may also want to help create the visceral experience of war from a technical standpoint. Through the use of blood, yes, but also through sound and visual effects, to give viewers the full experience of Civil War combat at its fiercest. When acting, storytelling, visual and sound effects kick in together, they can transport viewers back to those harrowing moments, when it took men of courage and audacity to go into a place where bullets, artillery shells, and flashing sabers met in its most brutal form.

For more information on To Appomattox, visit the Official Website, the official and fan site pages on Facebook, and the IMDb page for further news and updates.

About Steven Hancock

I am an avid student of American and World History, with a particular interest in the American Civil War. I am currently a student at American Public University, working toward a Master's Degree in United States History. I am also a Civil War Reenactor, donning the uniform of the common Union and Confederate soldier at reenactments throughout the year.
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5 Responses to Want We Want to See, Volume III: Visceral Battle Experience in the Vein of “Band of Brothers” and “Saving Private Ryan”

  1. Meg Thompson says:

    One of the advantages to using reenactors in war movies is that they already “know the drill.” They usually have their own period clothing, and the ability to add life to characters with small things like pipes, glasses, or a tune of a harmonica. There have been many used in war movies since the 1980s, I believe.

    And yes–I agree with you on all counts!

    • I agree about the reenactors. But for the actors who will be playing soldiers in the series, they will probably do what they’ve done with shows like the ones I mentioned, and put the actors through a “boot camp” to get them trained in the drill of the era. So when they stand side-by-side with the well-trained reenactors, viewers will note little or no difference between them.

  2. Gettysbuff says:

    Sigh. “Visceral Experience” was done with the Scotts’ “Gettysburg”. Look you already well know my feelings on the show by now, so i’m not looking to restart the whole debate. BUT you cannot overlook this aspect of the show just because you disliked it for other reasons. Most of the people who criticized the show for inaccuracies actually also applauded it for the effects and “visceral experience”. I believe Greg was one of these people too. Your extreme bias is really evident when you fail to include “Gettysburg” in your article, and you chose only to give examples of “visceral experience” from shows that you liked for other subjective reasons. Yes, i said SUBJECTIVE. Because that’s what you are being here. It’s unfair to the people that worked on the Scotts’ production and created the VISCERAL EXPERIENCE that was GETTYSBURG. If you fail to see how good this aspect of the show was when almost everybody else who hated the show can, and did (as mentioned above), then there’s something truly wrong with you.

    • That is one of the few things I liked about the Scott Brothers’ production of “Gettysburg.” But considering everything else, from the history, to the highly unauthentic look of the Confederate soldiers, and other things, are the reasons I have dubbed the doc “Crappysburg.” If everything else had been done as well as the visceral battle scenes, then it would truly be a classic. But since everything else about the doc was wrong, hence why we berate it.

      Also, I used examples that the majority of people consider classics, such as Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and (to a lesser extent) The Pacific. I know a number of people liked the Scott Brothers documentary, but most who know the history agree that it is not that good beyond the visceral battle scenes. Sorry if you disagree on this point.

      • Gettysbuff says:

        No i actually agree, haha. That was my whole ‘angle’ in defending the production when it was first released and i still stand by that. My argument was never that the effects alone make a good production, but rather that effects can attract an audience to a production and in this case create interest in the Civil War (which ‘Gettsyburg’ certainly did from the amount of visitors to the town i have conversed with since May 2011). What was so good about ‘Gettysburg’ was the fact that it was the FIRST movie or show to create a harrowing depiction of Civil War battle never seen before. It was a refreshing change from the tired old shots of reenactors walking back and forth through fields like the ones from “Civil War Journal”, episodes of which are constantly repeated every Tuesday morning on Cable TV in my area. And as much as i love 1993’s Gettysburg, the battle scenes do not compare. I guarantee if it wasn’t for those trailers for the Scott’s show exhibiting some of those amazing scenes, then there would have been many people out there that wouldn’t have tuned in last year. And THAT’S why i have always applauded it, for creating interest in a subject by presenting it in a modern entertaining way. And that’s the way MORE history shows should be – modern, and entertaining. The year is 2012 and we need to move forward. Yes the show was inaccurate, BUT (and this will be the last thing i will say as i am in danger of starting the whole debate again – something i do not wish to do) i would rather somebody who has little or no interest in the Civil War be started on the subject through an entertaining modern (but flawed) show, than a perfectly accurate (but boring) one. I believe the former will do more to inspire the uneducated viewer to dig deeper, where as the latter may do little to create excitement and interest (this is especially true when it comes to kids). Somebody who has no interest in ANY subject, not just the war, is more likely to have their minds changed by an exciting presentation of that particular subject. People with no interest are not turned on by facts. Plain and simple. Facts are for those that already have a strong interest but little education – THEY are the ones that tune into shows to be educated, not entertained. And the sooner people realize this the better. Hope you have a better understanding of where i am coming from now. I know you’ll never agree, but it would nice if you could just see my point.

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