Vietnam in HD Review

In the last three decades, the Vietnam war has been reduced from ethical and political nightmare to musical backdrop, political talking point, and series of montage images, set to either “All Along The Watchtower” or “Time of the Season”. To try to divine some human perspective from it is a tall order, and it should be noted that Vietnam in HD doesn’t entirely succeed; at least one of the songs above makes an appearance. It is, however, judicious enough in selecting its participants that it never feels quite like either a survey of key points and figures or a diary set to pictures and music, but hovers comfortably in the middle without ever taking a stance. It is perhaps not fully satisfying as either, but it is a more sensible account of the conflict than has appeared in at least a decade.

Visually, Vietnam in HD fills in the outline nicely sketched out by its predecessor, WWII in HD; exhaustive amounts of verite footage, set to music and sound effects, and intercut with personal accounts of the war by those who either fought in it or waited at home for those who did. For the most part, these accounts are interpreted by actors, but occasionally, there are flash-forwards to the modern day with their real-life counterparts, looking thoughtfully off into the distance while discussing.

There are two main differences between Vietnam and WWII, though, the first being that Vietnam is considerably more recent, so there is a great deal more color footage to work with. WWII in HD was a shot in the arm largely because it colorized a war that was previously seen in newsreel footage when not seen through a Hollywood production system, so it felt as if a great deal more was being discovered. Color footage of Vietnam is somewhat less of a novelty, so the directors have to work that much harder to make it interesting. A great number of the veterans portrayed here are still alive, so Vietnam is able to cut to present day far more frequently than WWII did, but unfortunately, it is only able to come up with so many things for them to do, and mainly limits them to staring thoughtfully out of windows.

The other major difference is that World War Two has a far more satisfactory timeline to follow, with its major events largely known to the public; Pearl Harbor, D-day, the dropping of the atomic bomb. The conflict in Vietnam has an origin spread out over several decades, and a layered conclusion that took many years to play out. As a result, Vietnam leans heavily on Michael C. Hall’s narration to introduce key events and figures, as well as significantly less engaging footage of protests state-side.

Much (if not all) of that lost power is regained when the soldiers themselves or the rediscovered footage is allowed to take center stage. Unmannered and totally devoid of grandstanding, the accounts cover everything from the massive parties that the Army would hold its soldiers on the beaches of Vietnam, to details of the long slog up Hamburger Hill, to the uncertainty that greeted wives and mothers who were hoping to find out exactly what was happening to their loved ones. In translation to screen, these stories lose none of their gravity, and their voices never become repetitive even over a decade-long timeline, or act as mouth-pieces for contemporary viewpoints. They are familiar, to be sure, but their very ordinariness lends them a necessary air of authenticity, especially when juxtaposed against the statements of Johnson and Nixon.

Vietnam in HD may stretch itself a little too thin (it surely didn’t need to include footage of Watergate at the conclusion), but its timeline, not necessarily that of an evolving war but of a transforming war, is faithful and accurate.

SPECIAL FEATURES

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"Vietnam in HD" is on sale December 6, 2011 and is not rated. Documentary, Television. Written and directed by Sammy Jackson. Starring Adrian Grenier, Armie Hammer, Dean Cain, Dylan McDermott, Glenn Howerton, James Marsden, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Connolly, Michael C Hall, Zachary Levi, Blair Underwood, Tempest Bledsue.

Dec
06
2011
Anders Nelson • Associate Editor

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