A lot of what’s seen in this six-hour, three-part miniseries is “new,” in that it has been culled by History’s “film corps” researchers from private individuals’ home movies or forgotten stock. History has cast the net about as wide as one can in this quest for old film that was shot by soldiers in the field.
What they found — and then digitized into the sharpest possible experience — can be quite immediate and surprising. It’s also part of larger effort on History’s part to assist veterans groups in amassing an archive of Vietnam veterans’ photos and movies, the stuff kept in spare closets for years, into an accessible public collection.
Yet for all the clarity in the pixels, the essential murkiness that was the Vietnam War remains. It is never just a war, which is how “Vietnam in HD” quickly becomes tangled in its intentions. It understandably wants to include the stories of the home front, the protest movement, the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and everything else that comes with the word “Vietnam.” Within the first hour or two, it loses its way.
We are introduced to real people who will frame the entire story — former UPI correspondent Joe Galloway; Army veterans Barry Romo and Charles Brown; and a dozen other soldiers, spouses, etc. — who tell us their tales in on-camera and voice-over interviews, but, strangely, their voices are overtaken by those of celebrities, whose voices lend the words more . . . drama, I guess? Thus, Galloway’s voice becomes the voice of movie actor Edward Burns. Romo’s becomes that of “Entourage’s” Adrian Grenier; Brown becomes Blair Underwood.
For some reason, History’s obsession with HD visuals leads to overblown aural enhancements, as well. In addition to the celebrity voice-overs, “Vietnam in HD” adds sound to vivify what would likely be the silence that accompanied the original amateur footage. This means a lot of work for sound-effects artists, who make sure no jungle bird goes unchirped, no leaf goes uncrunched, no bullet unwhizzed, no shell unexploded — re-creations all. If they could find a way to shake your sofa, they’d do that, too.
With the line between documentary and amusement-park ride now crossed, it’s easy for a critic to start noticing “Vietnam in HD’s” other narrative and technical shortcuts with filler and stock footage, splicing in wherever needed the images we have seen before, including those familiar payload-perspective views of bombs being dropped over the hills and villages.