They dared to depict a war in progress

Critics' Picks : New Dvds

March 19, 2006|By DAVID ZURAWIK

OVER THERE: THE COMPLETE SERIES / / Fox Home Entertainment / $39.98

As the first TV drama ever set in an ongoing war, Over There was a cultural milestone before a frame of it ever aired last summer on cable channel FX. The series, which follows seven fictional American soldiers stationed in Iraq, was also an artistic success for the gripping way that it took viewers inside the feelings and thoughts of the battlefield recruits.

But the disappointing ratings that led to cancellation after 13 episodes suggest that Over There might have been too intense for its own good. Going inside the skin of these young soldiers was an unsettling experience.

Steeped in such graphic images as those of a combatant's legs trying to run by themselves after the rest of the soldier's body had been blown away, this was never a series for those seeking escape in front of the TV at the end of a long day.

Furthermore, as much as the lines between news and entertainment have been blurred in recent years, there is nevertheless something eerie about watching a drama in which the characters look and act like American GIs one has been seeing in life-and-death firefights on all-news cable channels.

Still, the DVD, scheduled for release on Tuesday, makes for an illuminating and powerful viewing experience. The grunt's-eye view amid the chaos of battle calls to mind the war in Vietnam -- as it communicates a visceral sense of the fear the soldiers feel, along with the bravery many of them display in spite of it.

On this third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Over There: The Complete Series offers those viewers who do not have cable -- or who missed the series during the summer -- a chance to experience one of the more daring prime-time dramas of the decade.

Special features: The commentary by creator and co-executive producer Chris Gerolmo (Mississippi Burning) is a revelation. As the pilot plays, he explains how he sought to have the cinematographer frame images of the soldiers on the home front in symmetrical ways so as to create a sense of order and stability. Then, once the soldiers arrived in Iraq, the style of photography changed 180 degrees to the use of jagged and off-center framing to communicate the confusion and disorientation of the war. Tour of Duty, an 80-minute documentary on the making of the final episode, offers equally rich insights into the evocative visual imagery of the series.

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[DAVID ZURAWIK]

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david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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