The History Channel does these sort of productions very well, and this one is no exception. This four+ hour crash course on the war in Vietnam tells a number personal stories and includes some stunning archival footage, presented in high-definition.
Movie Grade: B+
DVD Grade: B+
After the success of WWII in HD it seems perfectly logical that The History Channel would eventually continue moving forward and tackle the Vietnam War in 1080p. And that's exactly what we get here on Blu-Ray, in this two-disc collection of the six-part Vietnam in HD that originally aired in November 2011. Spanning nearly five hours the series in understandably cursory in its documentation of the entire war, but the angle employed here is to tell the story "in the words of Americans who served there", and by doing so with a dozen or individuals who were there it helps to put a face to some of the horrific battles that are examined, both physically and emotionally.
The series is narrated by Michael C. Hall, who provides a proper degree of Dexter-esque somberness to the proceedings, while an odd batch of actors - Dylan McDermott, Dean Cain, Tempest Bledsoe, Glenn Howerton, James Marsden among them - deliver voiceover for the 1960s-era recollections by the people who served. These voiceovers will often transition and dovetail to the voice of the actual person - shown in current day interviews - and while an interesting effect that gives the sense of suddenly having moved ahead a few decades in the middle of a conversation. Some of the actors - especially Blair Underwood - do an especially nice up sell on the content, but to be truthful the engaging honesty of the comments are usually so personal and descriptive that the added dramatics of this gimmick is almost unnecessary.
The six episodes - each of which run approximately 42 minutes - present a fairly rapid chronological history, and consist of The Beginning: 1964-1965, Search & Destroy: 1966-1967, The Tet Offensive: 1968, An Endless War: 1968-1969, A Changing War: 1969-1970 and Peace With Honor: 1971-1975. There is obviously a seemingly insurmountable amount of material to cover in just under five hours, but in addition to the up-close-and-personal angle it is the home movies and graphic archival footage used where this series thrusts audiences headfirst into Vietnam. Now I have no way to know if the footage being shown during a particular description of a particular battle is actually from that event, or simply found footage that is similar enough to what's being discussed. All I do know is the impact is nerve-rattling, and when combined with the aggressive surround presentation it creates a jarring "you are there" feel to the central narrative.
Over the course of six episodes I did learn a few things I didn't know about the Vietnam War. The tagline, however, for Vietnam in HD is "it's not the war we know, it's the war they fought" and what that means is that there is primarily a focus on individual scenarios balanced by a general overall history. That's the main hook - combined with an abundance of truly remarkable footage - and one of the personal stories interwoven throughout the run, even amdist all of the carnage, is especially heartbreaking.
All six episodes are presented in a collection of AVC-encoded 1.78:1 transfers, and given the wildly mixed bag of original source material the presentation here is understandably mixed, as well. The modern-day segments featuring interviews are really the 1080p high points, sporting bright colors and strong image detail. The image quality of the home movies and archival footage is where things become waffly, though I certainly would not expect this to look any better than it does given the conditions much of this material was shot under. Depending on the clip colors may be faded, there may be debris, there may be some blurring or miraculously some of the footage looks as if it could have been shot yesterday. The biggest sin, however, is the method of stretching some of the old 4:3 material anamorphically to 16:9, which creates some distracting image issues at times.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is impressive, an aggressively mixed track that features deep bass for the frequent artillery fire/bomb drops, while all channels crackle with gunfire, a cacophony of voices and an often overwhelming sense of battlefield chaos. The mix does an excellent job enhancing/augmenting the visuals, creating the type of audio experience that could rival a feature film in scope. The narration by Michael C. Hall is rich and sonorous, as are the voiceovers provided by a number of actors (including folks like Edward Burns, Blair Underwood and Jennifer Love Hewitt).
This two-disc set contains no supplemental material.