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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tour of Duty: First Season
Tour of Duty: First Season
Columbia/Tri-Star // Unrated // June 8, 2004
List Price: $49.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Blair | posted September 27, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Movie:
During the Vietnam War, soldiers were required to serve 12-months combat patrol in the war-torn country. This one-year span was known as the tour of duty. Tour of Duty - The Complete First Season originally aired from 1987 to 1988, and was the first TV series about the Vietnam War. With a constantly changing cast of rising, young actors, and episodes crammed with intense battle scenes, Tour of Duty quickly built a strong fan base and became a must-see show for many during the late 1980's.

Part of the show's popularity arose from the dramatic stories told by the characters; stories which touched on politics, faith, teamwork, ethnicity, racism, and love for one another. Tour of Duty wanted to be more than a narrow-minded shoot 'em up action series. It wanted to stir thoughts about the Vietnam War, as well as entertain. And it wanted to convey a message to its viewers whilst creating empathy for the characters and their stressful encounters.

This was my first time viewing the show and despite the overall good comments I had heard, I dove in a skeptic. After all, there were so few TV shows made in the 1980's that one could consider "great." I quickly discovered that this would be a hard show to become immersed in. The pilot episode starts off interestingly enough in midst of a nighttime battle scene where Firebase Ladybird undergoes heavy enemy fire, and as a result the U.S. base suffers severe casualties. The next morning Sgt. Anderson (Terence Knox) goes to headquarters to recruit new men (the season's cast) to replace the ones lost the night before. My problem with the episode had nothing to do with the action or special effects, which were really quite good for an 80's production. My problem dealt with the acting.

As soon as the opening battle scene ends, we're immediately hit with melodramatic dialogue trying to force us to feel empathy for the lives lost. The writing is clichéd, over the top, and so poorly executed by the actors, I seriously considered not watching any more episodes. The first half of the pilot left me feeling like I was watching a bunch of eager actors giddy about their first big break, rather than a group of scared-as-hell soldiers fearing for their lives. In addition to the poor acting, we're presented with just about every stereotypical character ever created: the dumb, strong farm boy, the funny, hip black guy, the crazy Latino, the war protestor, and the wise, experienced leader who tries to bring unity to the ragtag bunch of newbies. If you don't let your hair down quickly, the pilot episode can leave a real bad taste in your mouth.

But, as with most TV shows, Tour of Duty thankfully gets better as the season progresses. The acting, although still poor by today's standards, gets marginally better with each episode, and the storylines get substantially more intriguing. Most of the following episodes deal with internal conflicts rather than direct combat situations. This is good because it allows us to become better acquainted with the characters so we can actually feel empathy for them when the dialogue wants us to. Throughout the season we witness the soldiers deal with jealousy, disobedience, sabotage, sibling rivalry, racism, heartbreak, new leadership, trouble at home, injury, and death.

Tour of Duty is a five-disc set with 21 episodes (counting the pilot). The storylines run the gamut for Season One, so it's almost hard to imagine what the writers came up next for the following seasons. But given that a new cast gets assigned to duty for Season Two, I'm sure that allowed for fresh character-driven plots.

It took a few episodes to get into, but I ended up liking Tour of Duty. The storylines were not nearly as clichéd as the characters, and the action was never too far away when things started to slow down. It's easy to see how this show became popular during its original run on TV. If you're a fan of the show then you know what to expect, but even if you're new to it and love war shows, you might want to check it out.

Episodes:

Pilot
1. Notes From The Underground
2. Dislocations
3. War Lover
4. Sitting Ducks
5. Burn, Baby, Burn
6. Brother, Fathers, And Sons
7. The Good, The Bad, And The Dead
8. Battling Baker Brothers
9. Nowhere To Run
10. Roadrunner
11. Pushin' Too Hard
12. USO Down
13. Under Siege
14. Soldiers
15. Gray-Brown Odyssey
16. Blood Brothers
17. The Short Timer
18. Paradise Lost
19. Angel Of Mercy
20. The Hill

Video:
Tour of Duty is presented in its original 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio. When watching on a tube television, the picture doesn't look too bad for a show made in 1987, however, once you switch over to a large projection video system, things get nasty. Pixelation is fairly bad, and is most noticeable in background scenes of landscapes and wide-angle shots. Also noticeable right from the get-go is edge enhancement, as halos are seen surrounding the introductory credits. Thankfully the halos are harder to discern during the feature, but even when you're caught up in the action you still catch an annoying glimpse every so often. Black levels ranged from average to poor, and jagged edges ran rampant throughout the entire feature.

Normally I would have forgiven such a lackluster transfer because of the age of the source material, but having recently seen the fantastic video transfer achieved with the recent (and older) Star Wars Trilogy, I know this set could have looked much better. (Lucas's dollars this transfer has not) However, when viewed on a smaller TV set the episodes don't look bad at all, and I wouldn't be surprised if they looked better than when the show originally aired. If you're a big fan of the show, don't let this transfer scare you away, but I strongly recommend watching it on a tube TV or perhaps smaller projection system.

Audio:
Tour of Duty offers a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track. Naturally your expensive 5.1 audio system will go mostly unused for this feature, as no sound comes out of the rear or surround channels. Dialogue is easily heard through most of the episodes, but there were times where it was not. This show is chockfull of explosions, so the LFE channel gets frequent use, although the bass is not as tight as more recent war movies or TV shows such as Band of Brothers. For a 1980's television production I didn't expect much, and unsurprisingly I didn't receive much. Overall the audio is adequate, but uninspiring.

Extras:
There are no extra features offered on this DVD set.

Final Thoughts:
Tour of Duty - The Complete First Season may not have the dramatic impact of newer war shows such as Band of Brothers, but it takes on interesting topics and has plenty of action for diehard war buffs. The acting is often hokey, and the dialogue can make one cringe at times, but overall Tour of Duty is entertaining and worth your time, that is if you can spare the hefty 17 hours needed to finish this massive 5-Disc DVD set. Recommended.

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