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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


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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