ABC returns to the docudrama business with a vengeance in "Heroes of Desert Storm," at 9 Sunday night on WJZ-TV (Channel 13).
This cheaply produced, two-hour grab-bag of dramatized vignettes based on the lives and deaths of real soldiers in the Persian Gulf war takes ABC even further beyond the pale of social irresponsibility than its last great attempt at military docudrama, "Challenger."
ABC was criticized so roundly for exploiting the deaths of the astronauts that the network said it was getting out of what it called the "ripped-from-the-headlines business."
Then came the chance to make "Heroes."
The film opens with the following disclaimer on the extent of the mishing and mashing of fact and fiction: "This film is based on true stories, and interweaves news footage and dramatizations with actors and actual events. To achieve realism, no distinction is made among the elements." (Translation: Good luck trying to figure what's true and what's make-believe.)
The first image we see is that of George Bush telling us what a holy war the action in the gulf is. From there we move to actors portraying Iraqi soldiers who are killing babies and shooting civilians point-blank in the face.
Alternated with these atrocity images are scenes of American soldiers having barbecues, moving into new houses, kissing, getting married and hugging their children. It looks like the Reagan campaign commercial "It's Morning in America Again" --only the acting and photography are not nearly as good.
The entire production is shot on videotape instead of film, for which there are two reasons. One, videotape is much cheaper. Two, you can't tell when you are looking at actual CNN news footage of the war or a scene cooked up on a Burbank back lot by director Don Ohlmeyer, a former network sports producer and executive.
There are innumerable problems with this film -- ranging from its total acceptance of the administration's version of the war to its use of promotional footage supplied by major defense contractors to celebrate the performance of "smart weapons." The main problem, though, is the way it distorts a historical event and takes liberties with real peoples' lives to meet entertainment formulas.
In other words, it's all right to invent, distort and even lie "to achieve realism."