The mythical duo consisting of the legendary director Steven Spielberg and the beloved Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks, remembered mainly for their labors together on the big screen, from Catch Me If You Can to Bridge of Spies,has also left his mark on the small screen, through the making of the epochal TV mini-series Band of Brothers and The Pacific, released respectively for HBO between 2001 and 2010 and both centered on World War II, a historical period already addressed by Spielberg and Hanks with the war-movie masterpiece Saving Private Ryan.
It is around this context that the new TV show Masters of the Air is developed, coming exclusively to the on-demand streaming platform Apple TV+ from Jan. 26, with the first two episodes (of a total of nine) to be followed by a new installment every Friday until next March 15. Another miniseries, the third, with which the Spielberg/Hanks duo closes what is to be regarded as a a full-fledged television trilogy on the Allied war efforts against the Axis, focusing its attention – after the European front in Band of Brothers and the Pacific war front at the center of The Pacific – on the bombing raids against Nazi Germany..
Masters of the Air: Band of aviators
Written by John Orloff, also Masters of the Air benefits from an outstanding cast – Oscar nominee Austin Butler leads a team that also includes Callum Turner, Anthony Boyle, Oscar nominee Barry Keoghan and Ncuti Gatwa, among others – and it certainly looks like one of the highlights of 2024 for the serial world.
Based on the book of the same name by Donald L. Miller, Masters of the Air is the story of the men of the 100th Bomber Group, the so-called Bloody Hundredth, who amidst the myriad prohibitive conditions due to frost, lack of oxygen at high altitude and the terror of combat conducted at nearly 30,000 feet above sea level, were in charge of the dangerous air raid missions over Nazi Germany, in an effort to help destroy the horrors of the Hitler’s Third Reich at the cost of being shot down or captured, wounded or killed.
Ranging from the bucolic camps and villages of southeastern England to the harsh privations of a German prison camp and portraying a unique and crucial period in world history, Masters of the Air stands as A work with cinematic scope as much in scale as in range and ambition.
More than a Band of Brothers in the skies
It would be easy to describe the series as ‘Band of Brothers and The Pacific but set in the sky, in planes, in the world of aviation’, and technically that’s exactly what Masters of the Air is, what the project wants to be for first-time audiences and newcomers alike, what piqued the interest of executive producers Spielberg/Hanks (along with them also returned Gary Goetzman, producer of Band of Brothers).
Yet, this kind of ease, however direct and centered, would be both reductive and superficial. And staying on the surface would risk not talking about the Cary Fukunaga’s big return to television directing, author of the acclaimed 007 No Time to Die and of the first season of True Detective (here, the review of True Detective: Night Country) and here director of the first four episodes, that is, the ones that clarify the level of impact that Masters of the Air wants to communicate and achieve in the broad landscape of contemporary television/streaming.
Also necessarily to be mentioned are the contributions of fellow Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck and Dee Rees, who set up the rawness of the action scenes with the same emphasis that agitates those of the everyday, to which the young protagonists seem to want to attach themselves as much as possible before setting off on their next mission.
Finally, it is obligatory to emphasize the superb non-glorification of war enacted throughout the episodes, of its inexpressible horrors, of how much those horrors contribute to the shine of the most mundane gestures of everyday life. But beyond all that, there remains confirmation of the incredible quality of Apple TV+ products: after the fourth season of For All Mankind, we are still on another planet.