Updated: Nov 12
Is Netflix’s The Liberator The Perfect Series to Watch On Veteran’s Day?
The 3rd Battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment otherwise called the Thunderbirds is known for two things, liberating the Dachau concentration camp during WWII and the diversity of the soldiers who made up the regiment. This is especially significant in a time when discrimination was a common occurrence. Yet, instead of focusing and fleshing out these two details, The Liberator sacrifices the potentially compelling narratives that could come from them to focus on the leader of the battalion, Second Lieutenant Colonel Felix Sparks.
The Liberator claims to center around diversity and makes it a point to address the different races that make up the battalion … Cowboys, Mexican, and Indian Americans, but it barely attempts to distinguish the soldiers from each other. This story is about Felix Sparks, a caucasian male, and any suggestion that it does more than that only hurts the series. That being said, The Liberator is captivating and engaging. Both because of the unique animation style and because of the brutally heroic story. If you’re looking to watch something fresh to honor Veteran’s Day, The Liberator would be my first choice.
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The Liberator starts with Lt. Sparks arriving at Fort Sill where he is tasked with shaping up a rebellious battalion of soldiers and leading them on the battlefield. These soldiers are full of minorities who lashed out against racist superiors. Sparks gets them to submit to his leadership by looking past their differences and empathizing with them. Through Spark’s lens, we see him and The Thunderbirds 500-day war-torn journey from Sicily Italy to the Dachau Concentration Camp. Each episode details another operation inside Nazi-controlled Europe.
The 4 episode mini-series written by Jeb Stuart has an exciting story that captures the brutal reality of war. The emotional toll of constant death and destruction is almost insufferable. It causes people to do things they never thought they would and yet, it’s also a common bond between soldiers everywhere. In some scenes, Stuart shows small moments of vulnerability with German soldiers that remind us that Nazis, despite interpretations, are not all evil beings but are human beings. Even the different storylines and characters didn’t help this series max out it’s potential. This can be attributed to it only being a 4 episode limited series instead of 8 episodes as was originally planned. 4 hours proved not nearly enough to tell the fully developed story of The Thunderbirds.
The story behind The Liberator is an interesting one. Perhaps just as interesting as the actual series. The Liberator started out as an 8-hour live-action series sold to the History channel through A&E studios. When the studio budgeted out Stuart’s script, they found it would cost $15 million/hour for 14 months of production. The project was halted for about a year until the producers along with A&E brainstormed a solution. They decided to animate the story.
The History Channel was not interested in the animated version but Netflix was. With Netflix on board, the producers looked to Trioscope enhanced hybrid animation. If you don’t know what that means that’s okay, I barely do either. It’s a very new form of animation that blends live-action footage with 3D CGI painted environments and traditional 2D animation.
Animation is an ever-evolving medium. What used to be a medium used for comedy or children’s stories is now used for war-torn vignettes. Trioscope does not sacrifice any quality in The Liberator and many of the best scenes are a convergence of beautiful animation, stellar acting, and an engaging plot.
Characters and Cast
The most disappointing part of The Liberator is the characters. Outside of Felix Sparks, played by Bradley James, Corporal Gomez, played by Jose Miguel Vasquez, and Private Otaktay, Tatanka Means, I couldn’t tell you who else was in the series (I only remember Otaktay because there was an entire scene dedicated to pronouncing his name). Unfortunately, this puts The Liberator right beside the rest of the war films that have generic, no-name characters running around shooting guns. However, the cast did well with what they had. No one stood out as terribly out of place or stood out as exceptional. They were believable and sometimes that’s enough.
In honor of Veteran’s day, Netflix released a series to tell the stories of those who sacrificed their lives in WWII. The Liberator does just that by telling the largely unknown story of The 3rd Battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment or “The Thunderbirds”. One of the most diverse battalions at the time. Yet, we barely get to see the amazing stories that came from those soldiers.
As Alex Kershaw, the writer of the book the series is adapted from, puts it,
“No force in history was thought to have freed so many people and marched so far to do so.”
The narrative choices that Stuart chose were strange considering the amount of compelling and heroic stories that were available. There is a lot that could be better developed and fleshed out. Overall, The Liberator will keep you fascinated because of the war story (we love action), and the unique animation style, but fails to deliver what could’ve been so much more.
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