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HTF Review: Lock n' Load with R. Lee Ermey - Season I


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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

Leo Kerr

    Screenwriter

  • 1,699 posts
  • Join Date: May 10 1999

Posted February 01 2010 - 02:56 AM

Lock-N-Load with R. Lee Ermey
The Complete First Season

A History Channel program, distributed in the United States by New Video.  Four standard-definition DVDs, thirteen episodes, letterboxed 16x9.  Total run time: 10 hours, 11 minutes.  Average program-time, 47 minutes.  Dolby Digital stereo sound in English, close-captioned for the hard-of-hearing.  Externally, the case looks like a common, standard thickness DVD-style box.  Inside, two double-sided ‘leaves’ hold a disc on each side.  Program listings are only printed on the DVDs themselves.  Menus are simple and fast, and apart from an unskipable ten second anti-copy warning and a History Channel logo, there is very little in the way between the viewer and the content. 

The Program — •••
Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey, USMC-Ret.(Hon.), takes the viewers on a historical tour of the machines and tools invented over the years to kill people.  And then when better tools were invented to kill people, the tools that were invented to kill the tools being used by the other side to kill your people.  And so on.  Artillery, Machine Guns, Tanks, Pistols, Helicopters, Armored Vehicles, Shotguns, Rifles, Bunker Busters, Rockets, Blades, and Ammo.  For those who came in late — such as myself — R. Lee Ermey retired from the Marines where he had been a drill instructor — among other things.  After a medical retirement from the military, he was found by Hollywood, and has been in things ranging from Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, to his voice in Toy Story and Kim Possible. 

[Aside: Ermey retired from the Marines as a Staff Sergeant.  For his role in Full Metal Jacket, he received an honorary promotion to Gunnery Sergeant in 2002.]

From a true historical perspective, it lacks.  But on the other hand, he generally does not talk about something that he can not demonstrate — and some of the old, exotic weapons are hard to find outside of a drawing, much less in a nice, wide open space where it can be loaded up and fired off.  This leads to some episodes that seem to lurch through time and space, dwelling on some minor changes here and there, before jumping ahead to a significantly different version.  Some episodes, because of the unavailability of some of the more key factors of a system’s development, seem a little more redundant than others — cannon and artillery, for example, spends a lot of time comparing various sizes of guns that are, apart from muzzle-bore, are essentially identical.  Others, however, like Pistols, is even just a tiny bit rushed, squeezing barely into the 47-minute episode time, without much redundancy. 

Programs are interspersed with “statistic” pages, with titles read out by the Gunny with facts like caliber, number of shots, range, and size of the crew required.  Computer animations give cut-away views of the various mechanisms and modes of operation, and then, of course, the demonstrations.  Most of the time they are conducted by the Gunny, or are demonstrated by local experts, or, in the case of modern US Military rocket systems, by the soldiers who will be using them in the field once their training is done.  After all, the History Channel is not terribly likely to shell out $80,000 for a Javelin missile system so the Gunny can push the trigger, watch something blow up, and shout “hu-rah!”  And in most of these cases, he’s happy enough to stand nearby, watch something blow up, and shout “hu-rah!”  Come to think on it, I’d hate to think how much they’re spending (retail,) on watermelons as targets.  The program happily illustrates the finer details of things going “boom!” with high-speed cameras, often from multiple perspectives. 

Within the limitations of the program’s parameters, however, it’s not a bad show.  Commercial breaks are almost invisible, and the animations are generally useful.

The Video
— ••½
The picture is a 16x9 letterbox inside a 4x3 image — not anamorphic.  And, very much ‘standard definition video’ — interlaced.  The video is generally clean, except in some very brutal sections — even at 7.2 megabits/second, interlaced leaves in the wind starve the MPEG-II compression.  There is some edge-enhancement, in such a way that makes me suspect Principal Photography was done with Betacam-SP — analog, component video tape.  Some of the stranger shots from small cameras often suffer due to the limitations of the cameras or lenses — but other times, it is impressive how good the picture looks — often times those small cameras can be seen taped to the side of the tank, looking over his shoulder at the controls, for example.  High speed photography, however, is done with modern digital progressive camera systems, and look a whole lot nicer than the rest of the video.

The picture’s limitations are visible on the small screen, and are fairly obvious on a big screen.  Not enough to be really distracting, but definitely makes me wonder, why was this not shot in some form of HD — or even just progressive SD?  It makes a difference.

The Audio
— •••
The stereo sound is not ‘very’ stereo, not surprising given the field-rough documentary style of the shooting; dialog and ambient sound is mostly centered-mono.  For people accustomed to modern films with heavy bass emphasis to anything that goes “boom!”, there may be some disappointment in how the gun sounds are recorded — tending toward realistic — until they shift to slow motion, at which point they manufacture and emphasize the sound.

The biggest strike against the audio is the intelligibility of the Gunny’s narrations and voice-overs.  While suitable for a drill instructor bellowing at his cadets, it is a trifle grating, and, combined with age and regional accent, sometimes not immediately intelligible. 

Extras
— 0/5
A special note on accessibility.  I am not impaired in any manner described under the Americans with Disabilities Act, however, given where I work, and our push toward “universal accessibility,” I am perhaps more aware of many of accessibility issues than many others.  This program is captioned for the hearing-impaired by Line-21 closed captioning.  They say.  Between my two software players on my computer, and my Blu-Ray player talking to an HD projector, I have no way of verifying the existence of the closed captioning.  Given that most common methods of embedding Line-21 captioning during the edit provide 99% of the information required for a DVD authoring package to create a subtitle stream, I can not imagine why such a stream is not included.  The data-stream payload is not significant, and would provide accessibility for a wider percentage of the audience.

[Note that the overall review score is being dinged half a mark for how the captions are handled.]

In The End — ••½
In general, not a bad production, although I am not sure where Season Two might go — at some points, they seemed to be scraping the bottom of the barrel.  The repeated content from episode to episode is generally fairly limited, but when watching multiple episodes together, becomes more obvious.  Not that there is a lot of repeated footage, and it is generally re-used in places where it makes sense to do so.