Masters of the Air is among the most anticipated wartime miniseries in recent memory. Starring Austin Butler and from the minds of Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010), buzz has continued to grow since Apple TV+ uploaded a teaser to YouTube. Now, the streaming service has premiered the opening title sequence, giving an additional taste of just what can be expected from the production.
Word of the series, based on the book by Donald L. Miller, first arose in 2012, with HBO initially confirming the news. Seven years later, Apple revealed it’d inked a deal with Playtone, the production company founded by producer Gary Goetzman and actor Tom Hanks, to exclusively premiere the series on its Apple TV+ streaming service. Famed director Steven Spielberg also joined the series as an executive producer.
Production began in the United Kingdom in February 2021, with Austin Butler, best known for portraying Elvis Presley in 2022’s Elvis, starring as Maj. Gale Cleven and Nate Mann portraying Maj. Robert Rosenthal. Callum Turner, James Murray, Anthony Boyle and Barry Keoghan are among those who’ve also been cast.
Masters of the Air was written by John Orloff, with Cary Joji Fukunaga, Dee Rees, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden each directing a selection of the nine episodes. While initially forecast for release in 2023, the streaming service has revealed that the miniseries will debut on January 26, 2024, with new episodes premiering every Friday until March 15.
In the lead-up to the premiere of the miniseries, Apple TV+ also released a sneak peek of the first episode. It features a number of the airmen before they’ve been shipped off to Europe, drinking at a bar and spending some last-minute quality time with the most important women in their lives.
As the scene pans out, we see Callum Turner as Maj. John “Bucky” Egan, who’s been promoted and is shipping out the next day. We then see Austin Butler’s Maj. Gale “Buck” Cleven, who’s with his girlfriend in a booth, talking about keeping correspondence while he’s away overseas.
Eventually, the pair and their partners come together for a light-hearted chat about their nicknames.
Masters of the Air depicts the actions of the Eighth Air Force during the Second World War. Nicknamed the “Mighty Eighth,” it served as part of the US Army Air Forces and carried out operations across northern Europe, with a focus on Germany, the Low Countries and France. Its primary objective was the planning and execution of strategic daytime bombings on German-held areas.
The Eighth Air Force had the largest combat strength in the service, in terms of personnel, equipment and aircraft. It featured over 200,000 personnel by mid-1944, and was capable of sending 2,000 bombers and 1,000 fighters on a single air raid. This amounted to 440,000 sorties, during which 697,000 tons of bombs were dropped.
Following the German surrender, its members were transferred to Okinawa to train new groups for combat against the Japanese Empire. However, the country surrendered before the group’s first combat sortie in the Pacific Theater. Of those who served with the Mighty Eighth during World War II, 556 became air aces. There were also 17 Medal of Honor recipients, 442,000 Air Medals awarded and 220 Distinguished Service Crosses handed out.
The brave men and women of the Eighth Air Force have continued to serve as part of the US Air Force ever since.
As aforementioned, Masters of the Air is from the minds that brought Band of Brothers and The Pacific to the small screen. Both projects involved Spielberg and Hanks, with the former based on the 1992 book by Stephen E. Ambrose.
Band of Brothers tells the story of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division throughout the course of the Second World War. While it follows the course of the paratroopers’ service, from their training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia to their involvement in D-Day, Operation Market Garden and the Siege of Bastogne, the 10-episode series opts to focus more on the individuals who made up the team, rather than solely on the engagements they fought.
For his book, Ambrose not only conducted his own research, but interviewed surviving members of Easy Company. To ensure increased accuracy for the HBO miniseries, the minds behind Band of Brothers conducted further research, which included the memoir by Pvt. David Kenyon Webster. This was on top of additional interviews with former Easy Company members, with whom the actors had contact with, and consultation with Dale Dye, a US Marine Corps veteran.
While all this ensured Band of Brothers was as historically accurate as possible, Hanks later said a few changes had to be made for the series to fit on television:
“We’ve made history fit onto our screens. We had to condense down a vast number of characters, fold other people’s experiences into 10 or 15 people, have people saying and doing things others said or did. We had people take off their helmets to identify them, when they would never have done so in combat. But I still think it is three or four times more accurate than most films like this.”
Among those to appear in Band of Brothers were Damian Lewis, Colin Hanks, Michael Fassbender, Donnie Wahlberg, Jimmy Fallon and James McAvoy. Their acting, and that of the rest of the cast, resulted in the series winning both a Golden Globe and Emmy for Best Miniseries.
Nine years later, HBO released The Pacific, which focused on the US Marine Corps’ fight in the Pacific throughout WWII. In particular, it centered around three Marines – Pfc. Robert Leckie, Cpl. Eugene Sledge and Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone – who served in the 1st, 5th and 7th Regiments of the 1st Marine Division.
The series is based on a number of books written by the men and those who knew them, specifically Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific and Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. Sledge’s other memoir, China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life After World War II, and Red Blood, Black Sand by Chuck Tatum were also used as references. Tatum had served alongside Basilone during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
With the Old Breed was based on the notes Sledge kept tucked away in his Bible while fighting in the battles of Peleliu, one of the bloodiest engagements in Marine Corps history, and Okinawa, while Helmet for My Pillow follows Leckie’s service during the Second World War, beginning with his enlistment following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Bruce McKenna, one of the main writers on Band of Brothers, led the development of The Pacific, alongside Spielberg, Hanks and Goetzman. The miniseries cost $200 million to produce, making it the most expensive ever made for television.
The series covers a number of engagements fought by the 1st Marine Division in the Pacific, including the Guadalcanal Campaign and the Battle of Cape Gloucester. It starred James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello III and Jon Seda as the three main characters, as well as Rami Malek, Ashton Holmes and William Sadler, the latter of whom portrayed legendary Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller.
It was met with critical acclaim, receiving a 91 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also won a number of awards, including the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, and was nominated for Best Miniseries or Television Film at the Golden Globes.
Along with Masters of the Air, Hanks plans to bring another project to Apple TV+, the sequel to 2020’s, Greyhound. He wrote the screenplay for the first movie after reading C.S. Forester’s novel, The Good Shepherd. The book covers the events of the Battle of the Atlantic, something Hanks’ version mirrors.
In Greyhound, the actor’s character, Capt. Ernie Krause, is tasked with commanding an escort guarding a fleet of merchant ships against German U-boats as they make their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1942. The storyline for the follow-up has yet to be revealed, as does a release date. As of publishing, it’s currently in production.