Hanks and Spielberg also agreed to follow Ambrose's thoroughly researched book faithfully. This meant not glossing over the less noble actions of war, including those perpetrated by our own "heroic boys overseas."

"We show Americans gunning down prisoners," Hanks says. "The fact is, these guys looted. We kick people out of their houses, we take stuff from them. We don't editorialize to make a point, but we're not interested in turning this thing into a whitewash version."

The Band of Brothers cast is largely unknown - "I don't think viewers care if there's a star around or not," Hanks says - with occasional appearances by familiar faces such as David Schwimmer and Jimmy Fallon. Schwimmer, in particular, is impressive as the arch tyrant of Easy Company, the sadistic commanding officer whose severity during training in Georgia made his men hate him unconditionally, but who nonetheless forged the company into a ferocious fighting unit. But forget about a sweet Hollywood finale - remember Richard Gere and Lou Gossett Jr. fighting and earning each other's respect at the end of An Officer and a Gentleman? Schwimmer as Captain Herbert Sobel is despicable to the end.

"He's a good actor," Hanks replies when asked about the unexpected casting of the Friends galumph in the role of unrelenting dictator. "You're talking to a man who was in a sitcom [Bosom Buddies] on TV, as well." Hanks smiles here. "As a producer, I try not to punish actors for things they've done in the past."

Like Hanks, Spielberg began his career in television - he directed episodes of Columbo and Marcus Welby, M.D. - one of several parallels that now make it seem inevitable that the generation's most celebrated actor and most celebrated director would even-tually team up to reintroduce America to its historic legacy.