"It's a bit of a life-changing episode to go through the making of a movie like Saving Private Ryan," Hanks says from the set of an L.A. production lot. "I had read Band of Brothers [the 1992 bestseller by Stephen Ambrose] in preparation for Saving Private Ryan and somewhere in there I said, 'Oh, my god, it's perfectly made [to deal with] the bigger story of World War II.'"

Thus was born the latest and in many ways most ambitious of Hollywood's WWII films. With friend and Saving Private Ryan director Steven Spielberg signing on as co-executive producer, it took three years and a $120 million budget to make Hanks' Band of Brothers inspiration into reality. The sweeping 10-part drama [see photo caption page 44] tells the true story of one of WWII's most extraordinary and elite rifle companies - Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army - from its savage training in Georgia (crawling across fields littered with pig guts was a favorite drill) to its nighttime parachute drop behind Ger-man lines on D-Day. Frostbitten valor in the Battle of the Bulge and a final, glorious capture of Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" at Berchtesgaden were and are part of the program. The "Band of Brothers," as Easy Company came to be called, took 150 percent casualties during the war, becoming one of the most celebrated groups of soldiers in American history.

Thought the Omaha Beach landing sequence from Saving Private Ryan was amazing? Band of Brothers makes that scene look like the chapter in the long war that it is. By the third episode of shooting, Band of Brothers special effects teams had blown more pyrotechnics than were used in the entire production of Saving Private Ryan.