Executive produced by James Gandolfini, Wartorn: 1861-2010 (Thursday, Nov. 11, 8 p.m., HBO; also Sunday, 2:30 p.m.) examines the scourge of post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. soldiers, from the Civil War to today. It begins by charting a Civil War soldier's decline through his letters home. He insists that he would never shame his family by committing suicide, as some of his fellow soldiers have done. After two years immersed in the horrors of war, however, he...shames his family.
In our own time, post-traumatic stress disorder is no less devastating, even though it's better understood. A woman laments her son's suicide after two tours of Iraq: "The U.S. Army trained him to be a killer. They forgot to untrain him." We meet many traumatized soldiers and keep watching through many tears theirs and our own.
Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible
Friday, 8 pm (Encore)
Tom Cruise narrates a heartfelt tribute to George Lucas' special-effects outfit, Industrial Light & Magic. Directors like Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg express awe over the advances made possible by ILM's revolutionary techniques. As Cruise puts it, "Industrial Light & Magic has given filmmakers the tools to achieve anything." The screen fills with iconic images to prove the point: the rolling boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, E.T. sailing past the moon on his bicycle.
Industrial Light & Magic ushered in the digital age in filmmaking, but its story begins in 1975, in what Cruise calls "the photo-chemical era" (which sounds about as ancient as the Precambrian Era). Lucas created the company to deal with the challenges posed by his Star Wars script, which caused snickering among FX experts of the day. "This will never be done," said an early reader.
But Lucas wouldn't be denied, so he pushed the boundaries of traditional techniques like stop-motion animation and miniatures. We hear quaint pre-digital stories about 12-hour shoots that yielded four seconds of film. "If anything got bumped," says one technician, "we'd have to start again."
How charming is it to think of the epochal Star Wars being derailed by a bump?
Sunday, 7 pm (PBS)
This week's episode focuses on wolverines, a North American mammal whose reputation has hit rock-bottom. Wolverines are known as bloodthirsty killers, called "demons from the north." Their scientific name, Gulu gulu, tags them as "gluttonous gluttons." As if that weren't bad enough, they're related to weasels and even weasels are embarrassed by them.
That's why I'm suspicious of Nature's sympathetic take on the wolverine. "Those who have set out on their trail have met a creature completely at odds with its diabolical image," the narrator claims. Enter witnesses who call the wolverine "sociable and bright," even going so far as to paint them as family-oriented.
Does anybody else smell a whitewash here? I'm not claiming that wolverines themselves are bankrolling this production, because I have no proof. I'm just putting the thought out there.
Sarah Palin's Alaska
Sunday, 8 pm (TLC)
Sarah Palin had problems as a governor and a vice-presidential candidate, but she seems just fine as the host of an expanded-basic-cable travelogue. It's always nice to see people find their niche.
One Angry Juror
Monday, 8 pm (Lifetime)
My description of One Angry Juror will make you think it's a hokey TV movie. After trying to get out of jury duty, a soulless white corporate lawyer (Jessica Capshaw) serves at the trial of an African American kid (Shomari Downer) accused of murder on flimsy evidence. Not only does she end up casting a lonely not-guilty vote, resulting in a hung jury, but she agrees to defend the kid herself at his retrial. The soulless lawyer has a soul after all.
You can't tell from my description how skillfully One Angry Juror handles this update of 12 Angry Men. I'm not saying it's a masterpiece, but it delves into complicated subjects race, class, justice, religion without embarrassing itself. The solid cast makes the characters feel real, from the conscience-plagued lawyer to the not-exactly-angelic defendant.
Is One Angry Juror hokey?
Tuesday, 9 pm (TBS)
This hour-long comedy draws its aesthetic (and I use the word lightly) from gross-out teen sex comedies of the late '70s and early '80s. Set in the '80s itself, Glory Daze follows a group of guys as they discover beer bongs and T&A at college. The cast is decent, as is the script. Those who haven't seen Animal House may enjoy the jokes about condoms, weed, preppies and ethnic stereotypes. Those who have seen Animal House might need a few beer-bong hits of their own to get through this umpteenth copy.