History Channel // 2008 // 376 Minutes // Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 18th, 2009
Soldiers for hire. Military specialists. Fully sanctioned.
There have probably been more egregious examples of false advertising than Shadow Force: The Complete Season One. Not many, though. This is truly one of the most misleadingly marketed and assembled series ever packaged. The DVD liner notes and opening credits promise gripping footage of private military contractors showing up around the world, kicking ass, taking names, and collecting handsome fees, since presumably all that ass-kicking and name-taking can be emotionally and fiscally strenuous. There is real impending danger depicted here, so why is this show such a chore to watch?
The simple reason for Shadow Force's failure is that, like History's other disastrous macho reality show, Ax Men, Shadow Force takes a potentially diverting premise and stretches it out beyond the point of endurance. You don't really get to see anything actually happening, you just get to see interminable footage of people preparing for something to happen. There's no shortage of scenes of the contractors filing paperwork, buying equipment, running training drills, driving, and talking to people. There's also no real drama, however, because none of these activities are really all that interesting or dangerous. Sure, buying equipment in Africa could conceivably be interesting, and possibly, in rougher neighborhoods, even precarious, but the fact that the show tries to squeeze tension from a shopping trip shows just how needlessly padded it is. Since it's clear that nothing truly dangerous would actually happen (you would have seen it on the news if something had), Shadow Force is forced to stoop to such cheap shenanigans.
It doesn't help any that the show is grindingly repetitive, even by reality show standards. Of course, all of the episodes by necessity must follow a precise formula: The Shadow Force team, including former U.S. Army Ranger Slim, former U.S. State Department diplomat Laura, former British Special Forces officer Bob, and former South African Special Forces member Cobus, who supposedly inspired Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Blood Diamond, collect information, assess the problem, and plan a solution. All of the missions take place in central and western Africa, and the eight episodes compiled on two discs all contain flashy graphics to explain the geography and history of each trouble spot.
The problem, however, isn't that the episodes all follow the same format; it's that they repeat the same problem and solution. Of the eight episodes, three involve pirates off the coast of Liberia, and the solution the team arrives at is to patrol the waters and then politely bring the pirates in. Four episodes involve national parks or reserves in which the problem involves poaching or environmental abuse and the solution is to provide better communications and surveillance equipment for the park rangers/guards/soldiers. Only the very last episode breaks a little from this formula, involving terrorist attacks on refugee camps, although the solution -- better communications equipment for the soldiers who protect the refugees -- is the same one given in other episodes. The fault isn't so much with the team themselves, since after all most security problems, especially in third-world countries, usually have the same causes and solutions. It's with the show's producers, who insist on stretching out fairly mundane (though necessary) tasks into interminable dramatic episodes, complete with hyperbolic narration and portentous music. The repetition only demonstrates that Shadow Force would have made a reasonably interesting two- or three-hour documentary, but there are just not enough interesting aspects of security work to justify eight episodes. There's certainly none of the two-fisted action promised by the liner notes, opening credits, or cover art. In fact, for most of the episodes, the team members are forbidden to carry weapons because of U.N. resolutions governing private contractors in Africa.
Ultimately, there's little reason to recommend Shadow Force: The Complete Season One. At least the 1.78:1 non-anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital stereo mix both look and sound decent, but the complete lack of extras makes this a rather weak package. The show does give some interesting facts about some of the problems facing African governments, but you could probably get those elsewhere in a more comprehensive form. The soldiers-for-hire content itself is not compelling. The team members rarely confront any authentic bad guys, and the only real danger comes from accidental injuries when they train or set up equipment for the military and government forces who will do the actual work much later off-camera. Unless you're really interested in watching people buy and set up high-tech equipment for others, feel free to skip this DVD.
Guilty of not living up to its advertising.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 376 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated