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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Tour of Duty: The Complete First Season (1987-1988)

Sgt. Anderson: He was a good man.
Capt. Wallace: They were all good men.

- Terence Knox, Kevin Conroy

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: June 13, 2004

Stars: Terence Knox, Stephen Caffrey, Tony Becker, Ramon Franco, Miguel A. Nunez, Jr., Eric Bruskotter, Joshua D. Maurer, Stan Foster
Other Stars: Steve Akahoshi, Kevin Conroy, Bob Fimiani, James Pax, Tia Carrere, William Russ, Mako, James Hong, Ving Rhames, Tim Thomerson, Carl Bruskotter, Pamela Gidley, William Allen Young, Talia Balsam, Patrick O'Bryan, Kristoffer Tabori, Robert Fuller, David Alan Grier, Rosalind Chao, Jon Cypher, Marshall Bell, Everett McGill, Rob Garrison
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, adult themes, brief language)
Run Time: 16h:43m:00s
Release Date: June 08, 2004
UPC: 043396052055
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-C-B- D-

DVD Review

The Vietnam War is a difficult subject to cover in any medium. Its complexities are evident, as are its repercussions. As we all know, several films have managed to cover different aspects with quality results; Oliver Stone's Best Picture-winning Platoon is admirable, but tends to overemphasize the trippy, stoner aspect of the war; Randall Wallace's We Were Soldiers, a superb film in its own right, depicts the early days of the conflict before dissolution and death took its massive toll. The first television series on the war in Vietnam, Tour of Duty, stands out as a project that attempts to cover all the bases, with varying levels of success.

Set in Vietnam, circa 1967, the show follows a group of soldiers operating out of a remote field base, dubbed Firebase Ladybird. The pilot episode goes through the ropes of introducing the main characters. After a group of men are lost at Ladybird, the charismatic, hardened Sgt. Zeke Anderson (Terence Knox) begins recruiting from a nearby base. Seeing a group of men playing volleyball in the mud, he asks for the winning team to line up, and begins selecting. To make the network happy, and to show what kind of a man the sergeant is, Anderson tempts the recruits with the promise of fine Vietnamese dope. None are interested, of course, for Anderson will not tolerate stoners. Anderson, on his third tour, seems too sane to be in country for so long. Nevertheless, his dedication, caring and battle instincts will be the glue of the unit.

Top recruits include Cpl. Danny Percell (Tony Becker), a former rodeo riderŅa seemingly typical American cowboy, with a heart; Pvt. Alberto Ruiz (Ramon Franco), a street-wise kid from the Bronx, whose skill with a 60-caliber frequently comes in handy; Pvt. Marcus Taylor (Miguel Nunez, Jr.), another slang-talking street kid from Detroit, whose camaraderie with the men keeps their spirits up; Pvt. Scott Baker (Eric Bruskotter), a half-baked California surfer with a clear athletic background; Pvt. Roger Horn (Joshua D. Maurer), a harmonica-playing war protestor who vows not to kill. These characters mesh pretty quickly, creating a cohesive unit, the leader of which is the intelligent, capable Lt. Myron Goldman (Stephen Caffrey). Ladybird itself is led by Capt. Rusty Wallace (Kevin Conroy), a standard leader who tends to bow to command without question.

This television series originally aired on CBS. Consequently, the level of gore, violence, language and/or substance abuse that is commonly found in other projects, and in history books, cannot been shown in such a format. Still, the show pushes the envelope, showing violence when necessary, and utilizing quick-cut editing tricks to subliminally flash more graphic images at the viewer. Another pitfall of this format is the good old Red Shirt Syndrome. When a new batch of unnamed faces shows up in a squad, well, guess what? They're probably going to die. Though main characters do die on occasion, adding to the show's impact, I watched with a level of comfort concerning the safety of the stars, even when they were in dire straits.

Does this network watering-down weaken the show? Somewhat. This is certainly no Band of Brothers in way of overall quality and impact, but the heart of what makes the legendary HBO series so memorable is present: characters that we ultimately care about. The show does not forget the importance of such individuals, developing each of them in due time. Personal lives are examined with the same care as the heat of battle.

In Nowhere to Run, Goldman is reunited with his old lover, a military nurse; the two had to go their separate ways when war broke out. Their relationship continues in Angel of Mercy and The Hill. Goldman's history, including his pressure-inducing, war hero father, is further explored in Blood Brothers; The Battling Baker Brothers introduces, well, Baker's twin brother; Percell is developed in Nowhere to Run, when, after receiving a "dear John" letter, he accidentally kills a child. Through desperate determination, Percell tries to right his wrong by saving another helpless boy. In Soldiers, Percell visits his dying, estranged father in Honolulu, only to witness the horror of Vietnam's aftermath through a ward of wounded soldiers. Anderson's battle-ready nature is shaken after a nearly fatal mortar attack in Roadrunner.

The show is ambitious in terms of what it tries to cover; each episode begins with a factoid about the war, hinting at what the episode will cover. Racial tensions are examined with a set of somewhat stereotypically presented guest characters (most notably Ving Rhames) in Burn, Baby, Burn; the tragedy of innocent, civilian deaths in the powerful Brothers, Fathers, and Sons; the warmongers, seen through a "hot shot" sergeant in War Lover and a visiting Captain in the tightly paced Under Siege; drug usage, confronted by Ruiz in Blood Brothers; anti-war protestors and accusations of "baby-killing" are faced head-on by Percell, Ruiz and Taylor in Soldiers, which ends with a poignant recognition of the senselessness of war and the duty of a soldierŅa fine balance that characterizes the show's commendable avoidance of strict, partisan pitfalls; Agent Orange and the senselessness of war in the memorable finale, The Hill.

Combat is depicted with a palpable sense of intensity, despite its sanitized look. Using handheld cameras that follow the men through the bush, there is an early glimpse of the kind of filmmaking that would be made so common by Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Just about every episode covers some kind of battle (this is a show on the Vietnam War, after all), causing one to look like another from time to time. Occasionally, there is a bit too much lurking around the bushes, playing cat and mouse with the VC to create a compelling episode. Likewise, some entries take on a more action-film-oriented style, cheapening the material.

Still, there are some combat-centered standouts, including Sitting Ducks, which begins with what looks like an easy gig for the platoon: Guard a village during an irrigation project. However, the VC makes easy targets of the men on patrol, indicating someone it tipping off the enemy from inside. Aside from villagers and a group of Buddhist monks, the soldiers are alone. The truth is revealed with a powerful lesson on hypocrisy; Pushin' Too Hard, one of the best of the season, addresses the war's perception through the media. When an attractive female reporter begins to shadow the men, it begins as a distraction. Soon, she becomes familiar with the sting of combat, death, and the power her camera has in writing history.

In the face of this bitter violence, there is a constant concern for the preservation of humanity. These men are not mindless killing machines, bent on victory at any price. Dislocations powerfully shows the sacrifices some American soldiers were willing to make for those they firmly believed they were protecting: The citizens of Vietnam. When his superiors order him to abandon a group of civilians the platoon is escorting, Goldman refuses; children are defended and protected in Brothers, Fathers, and Sons and War Lover; Goldman gives up his food for a wounded VC's family in The Gray-Brown Odyssey. Other moments of loss, sorrow, and charity make for some powerful statements on morality, and the sacrifices made by American soldiers.

Tour of Duty contains a solid cast with some quality performances, but its clear strength is its writing, which carefully attempts to dissect the many aspects of the complex situation. It should be mentioned that the original episodes contained an engaging soundtrack of classic rock tunes from the era, most notably the Rolling Stones' Paint It Black over the opening credits, but had to be removed for syndication and this video releaseŅthe rights for those are pricey. In its place is a load of messy, '80s synth score, which works at times, but is distractingly inappropriate at others. No music would have been better than this stuff. The lack of original rock tunes hurts the experience, but the quality of the material still makes this noteworthy.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is disappointing. This is one of the most peculiar releases I have seen in terms of inconsistent transfer quality. The first two episodes appear to be sourced from film, showing a slight shudder with the titles. Contrast is high and the colors generally look washed out. From here on out, quality takes a nose-dive, looking no better that VHS. Video noise is rampant, as is a lack of color stability and detail. The frame rate even looks slightly different after episode 2. Here and there, a shot may pop up that looks out of focus or extremely grainy. I suspect these later entries were mastered on video, since the titles appear rock solid, and look to be electronic, not optically printed. A shoddy looking job, but if the sources were bad to begin with, what can be done?

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is a serviceable stereo track, with no surround information encoded. There is little in way of channel separation, but fidelity is decent, and dialogue, clear. There is some hiss to contend with.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 126 cues and remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Black Hawk Down, S.W.A.T., Tears of the Sun, Columbia Original Programming TV (various titles), Columbia TV Action Favorites (various titles)
Packaging: Box Set
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Season One's 21 episodes are split between five discs, with the first four containing five entries. The season finale and additional trailers are on Disc 5. I'm not sure why they decided to cram so many on each disc—this may partially explain the less than stellar video quality. Each episode contains only six chapter stops, and there is a play all feature on the first four discs.

Though the cover art is a bit cheap looking, the interior, fold-out digipak contains some tastefully designed artwork, utilizing production photographs. Inside you will find an insert with a summary and credits for each episode, along with another pamphlet covering Columbia's other TV releases.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Tour of Duty's ambitious scope attempts to cover all angles of Vietnam. Within an inherently sanitized network television format, it is quite successful, showcasing high quality writing and a solid cast. Columbia's DVD set is not the best quality, but it's still nice to see this show on disc. Sure, there are better Vietnam projects out there, but this is still a tour worth taking.


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