It would be nearly impossible to succinctly catalogue the number of documentary series' produced on wars in the 20th century; however, it's a much easier task to give craft a solid list of documentary series that are not only worth one's time, but more importantly, possess an inherent quality in their efforts of relaying facts that a viewer would want to invest their money for hopes of repeat viewings. I think few would argue that the 1973 26-episode, 22.5 hour series "The World at War" is not only the definitive World War II documentary series but one of the finest examples of the format (for the record, while I love Ken Burns' work, "The World at War" is so comprehensive, Burns' efforts feel like a primer in comparison). Sadly, I don't think I could list a single series, long or short, that adequately provides viewers insight into the Vietnam War, one of the most controversial wars in modern US history; not even after viewing the phenomenal but inherently flawed "Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War".
A Canadian production of 1980, "Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War" is a very straightforward, to a fault, 26-episode series that covers key events of the nearly 20 year conflict in 25-minute installments. Written by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Peter Arnett (who won his Pulitzer for his mid 60s coverage of that very war) and narrated with an old fashioned tone you don't get anymore by Richard Basehart, the series has one solitary, sometimes drolly executed agenda: present the facts. In historical context, the program is very much a product of its times, produced in an era where refreshingly (in modern context) all people wanted were the facts without any sly commentary from its producers. However, more often than not, the way the facts are presented in this program, interview subjects inherently build towards a viewpoint that would be fully justified by expert historian commentary. For a modern audience this bunt presentation may be unnerving at nearly 13-hours total in length, hard to digest in a short time frame.
What the series lacks in true polish it makes up for wit the very facts that somewhat bog it down. The various episodes cover early American involvement in the country, the French involvement in the early years all the way through key events as the Tet Offensive and Bombing of Hanoi. Additional episodes sometimes take a broader look at defining elements of the war, from the American method of war to the environment and cultural conditions that live on in infamy. Thankfully the late 70s to early 80s time frame nets the producers veterans with fresh memories and provide them an open platform to tell their tale (one that can be very chilling, as is the case in a late series episode on POWs). At only 25-minutes an episode, no viewer will walk away with any form of expert knowledge in one area of the war, but the production goes far beyond the basic facts. It's an incredibly solidly constructed piece of educational programming, but one that has aged in some aspects poorly and lacks that expert commentary we come to expect from the modern documentary.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer is in rough shape, showing signs of its videotape origins. Stock footage varies all over the spectrum of quality from grainy black and white footage to some over saturated color footage. Detail levels are middling at best, while colors are in the semi-natural range but can be over saturated one moment or washed out the next. Compression artifacts are a mild but common element throughout.
The English Stereo audio track is incredibly flat, with Basehart's commanding voice lacking the aural quality it deserves and interview subjects sounding like something you'd hear off a local in-studio news report of the era. The sound suffers from a minor tinny quality at times and overall, the age of the program is heard loud and clear.
While not the definitive Vietnam War documentary series in the vein of "The World at War," "Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War" is one of the most comprehensive I've witnessed, even if focus is vast in breadth and shallow in depth. For it's age, it holds up remarkably well, if one can handle the dry presentation and haggard A/V quality. Recommended.