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    Apr 2002

    A Dvd Review: Platoon - Special Edition (mgm)

    ".....looking back, we did not fight the enemy.....we fought ourselves.....and the enemy was within us.......the war is over for me now.....but it will always be there.....for the rest of my days......."
    -Charlie Sheen, Platoon

    [NOTE: The title of this review was supposed to be ALL CAPPED like the rest, but for some reason, again, the system wont let me. My apologies in advance for this problem.]

    After all the talk we had in the Stanley Kubrick thread about this Oliver Stone look at the Vietnam War (as compared to Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket), I simply needed to take this off the shelf tonight to re-analyze and watch; I believe MGM has released no less than three versions of Platoon on DVD once they bought the rights to the now-defunct Orion Studios who originally released the film to the public, and this Special Edition has to be the best effort of them all......but visually and aurally it still leaves a bit to be desired. Extra features wise, its pretty much a gem......complete with a booklet inside the keepcase regarding the making of the film and a slew of in-depth military extras on the disc itself, with the assistance of actor and Military Advisor Dale Dye (who appears in the film as well).

    Most of you, based on the talks we were having in the other thread, probably know the mystique behind Stone's Platoon, that being that this was supposedly based on his real experiences in Vietnam --- the booklet inside goes as far to explain that the final battle depicted in the film was based on a real firefight Stone endured on New Years Day outside Cambodia. There are split camps on this film, and to take sides with one or the other, well, I just dont have a thick enough flame suit to endure it......many feel it was a pathetically weak attempt to show what happened to our men in Vietnam, what with Charlie Sheen's droning narration to his grandmother throughout the film (which I think worked) and scowl upon Stone for his "vision" of the war; others feel is was one of the finer Vietnam films out there, amongst Apocolypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War and Born on the Fourth of July. Stone even does a cameo appearance towards the end when one of the bunkers get hit by a Viet Kong suicide bomber.

    While the Washington Post called Stone's film "A triumph!" and "A staggering study of war," the film has always had a soft spot for me personally in the way it is executed: there arent that many actual battle sequences here, but rather we see the war through the eyes of Chris Taylor (Sheen's character), a naive "cherry" just in from the real world and on his first tour of Vietnam. The film follows Sheen's transition from buttoned-up newbie to losing-his-mind war-ravaged battle soldier; there is a major sub plot here of two sergeants who are in control of one platoon but have the men divided on who wants to side with which man in charge --- played by Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. Berenger plays Sergeant Barnes, the veteran hard ass who wants things done his way and doesnt care if his tactics are dirty in order to get things done. Dafoe, on the flip side of the coin, plays Sergeant Alias, the more forgiving, humane commanding officer who has the attention of Sheen's character from the very beginning.

    The beginning of the film has Sheen narrating, through "verbal letters" to his grandmother, exactly what he is feeling during his first week in Vietnam, and as he calls it, the place feels like "hell." As a volunteer, he seems to be out of place with these men around him who are mostly there by draft; in fact, Keith David's character even says something to the fact that Sheen's character is simply crazy for dropping out of college to join this war. But Sheen's character is struggling with an identity crisis; he feels as if he needs to be down in the mud with these "grunts" of the platoon he's in, so he can rise back up and become a no longer "fake" human being. This is cleverly narrated by Sheen throughout the film.

    As the film proceeds, we follow Sheen's character as he is slowly let into the fold of the new platoon --- something, I assume Stone was trying to portray --- not so simple to do as "the new guy"; before he knows it, he's smoking all kinds of drugs with the men and falling into alcoholic bliss, as Stone claims was the way of life during this war for the American soldiers in order to escape from the realities surrounding them. He soon makes fast friends with Keith David as well as some other characters surrounding him, while making enemies at the same time as his mental state during the war begins to break down and he loses sight of who is the enemy and who isnt; there is a scene where Sheen simply goes nuts and begins firing his rifle at a one-legged Vietnam kid who was hiding in a hole with his mother when the platoon raided a village --- the scene is pretty intense, as Sheen seems to lose his mind completely, screaming at the kid while shooting at his good leg......but moments later, after breaking down and crying over what he did, he finds himself rescuing a little girl from a bunch of soldiers in the platoon that were going to either rape her or something, so his loyalties begin to get clouded --- and its a perfect method by Stone to portray this one soldier's eventual mental breakdown caused by whats going on around him.

    In the middle is a war of its own between Berenger and Dafoe, who come to physical blows at one point and continue to scream vulgarities at each other as each is determined to prove he is in command, not the other. And, as Sheen narrates at one point in the film, the platoon is torn --- half the men siding with Alias and half with Barnes. Once Dafoe is purposely shot and killed by Berenger with Berenger trying to make it look as if it happened during a firefight, Sheen wants revenge and gets into a physical altercation with Berenger in the "drug den" they all hung out in. While Sheen doesnt get the upper hand here, getting his face nicked by Berenger's knife, he sure does at the end of the film, where after the last final firefight with the Viet Kong, a wounded Berenger is found by Sheen crawling through the jungle, totally vulnerable......and Sheen gets his revenge for Barnes killing Alias as he puts three shots into Berenger.

    I know there are many people (as evidenced in the Stanley Kubrick thread below this) who feel this was simply not a realistic look at this absolute military disaster known as the Vietnam War and who also feel that Sheen's narration was simply useless and irrelevant after awhile, but I feel Platoon, which won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1986, was more than a good film overall and it was always Sheen's narration that crept up my spine and "made" this film for me; something about the hopelessness in his voice --- much like the effect Morgan Freeman's narration had in Shawshank Redemption --- just made following this tale even more intriguing and emotion grabbing. The argument of whether or not these actions we see onscreen were in accordance with Stone's real experiences in the Nam I leave up to the debaters of the world, as many argue against this, claiming Stone was simply trying to make a Hollywood blockbuster with money and awards in mind. If you watch the interviews with him on the extra features, he seems to convince almost everyone that what he went through in Cambodia were accurately rendered in his motion picture.

    Onboard was a pretty big cast too, with alongside Sheen, Berenger, Dafoe and Keith were small parts from Johnny Depp, Forrest Whittaker, and the aforementioned Dale Dye, who provided actual military intelligence information for the making of this film (Dye appeared in other films as well, such as Under Siege and Outbreak.)

    But there was simply something just "haunting" about Sheen's narration delivery during this that always caught my attention and made Platoon stand out for me, especially the last couple of lines muttered by him as he flies away in a chopper, the war over for him, before the credits roll, which I quoted in the beginning of this review.

    Features-wise, MGM really couldnt have given us more here regarding what many call "this landmark war film"; this studio is infamous for providing great extras and pretty good packaging for most of their back catalog titles, but for some reason, the audio treatment (primarily) and video treatment on these discs simply dont wow critical reviewers such as yours truly......this has happened with countless MGM titles for me already, including The Amityville Horror, Raging Bull Special Edition and Stigmata. Even their long-awaited, so-called "remastered" Rocky Anthology box set, released last winter, which brought together all five Rocky films in so-called remastered versions, seemed to fall flat in terms of quality. Platoon - Special Edition was no different in this regard, and maybe should have been given slightly better treatment given the cult following it has......rumors from folks I know over at The Digital tell me that this transfer of Platoon, although dubbed a Special Edition, was simply a carryover from the last DVD version MGM spit out, with the added features.


    There's something wrong with the look of Platoon on this DVD --- let me explain this a little better. Something seems uneven in terms of quality on MGM's widescreen transfer.....from the opening shots with Sheen and his new platoonmates getting off the plane, the screen is riddled with dirt and grain as if you're watching this in the theaters back in '86, but perhaps Stone wanted it this way for effect.....but something wasnt cleaned up here, it looks like. The entire run of the DVD is not that clean looking, but I must say, this is probably the best this film stock for Platoon is going to look until (IF) this title is released in high definition, and its better than sitting through the VHS copies I had to endure over the years. But let me make something clear: there are times when the lush greens of the jungle and other colors come to life on this transfer and suddenly "make up" for the darker, more "jagged", grainy looking pieces of the seems the largest problem areas are in the dark scenes, where digital pixelation takes over some of what should be rich blackness; but in general, this is simply not a reference grade video transfer.....some will argue that "well, sure, what do you EXPECT from a film this old?" but when a studio is calling something a SPECIAL EDITION, I expect some cleaning up to be done.....I am beginning to believe that my source at The Digital Bits was correct in that this version was a simply ported-over version from the last release of the DVD with the added extra features.


    This 5.1 mix is sorely lacking, and before some engineers in here give me slack about "master tapes" not being in good condition to use for this soundtrack, it is my job to be critical of these studios and point out whats good and whats bad.....from the moment you begin Platoon's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, you'll notice the lack of volume power on the track --- you're gonna need to CRANK this one up again, folks, unfortunately, to get anything out of it. Dialogue seems distorted and hushed during many scenes, requiring even more processor power to compensate. A major problem I had was with speech consistency with regards to the times, an actor would deliver a line and it would sound kind of natural and clear, and then seconds later, another actor -- or the same one -- would render a line of dialogue and it would come out sounding much different, as if it were dubbed from a different source. This happened throughout the run of the soundtrack. The whole thing reminded me of the very uneven experience I had with Predator Special Edition's DTS track from 20th Century Fox, which sounded the exact same way --- dialogue quality was all over the place, hushed one moment and then blaring the next, while explosions just sounded dated and muted.

    Lets get to those explosions and surround effects on Platoon --- they simply arent rendered nicely on this Dolby affair. To begin with, most of the soundtrack remains in the front soundstage except for rare helicopter effects which make it barely into the surrounds. There is also the rare explosion which makes it into the back channels during some of the gun fights, but God, do they sound so dated.....and it seemed as if MGM was simply throwing them in for gimmicky surround effect. There were so many missed opportunites for bullets and machine gun fire making it into the surrounds for a more wrap around effect --- especially since this was a re-worked 5.1 track from the original stereo mix --- that it was blatantly obvious as Sheen and his platoonmates fire their machine guns but they only come out of the front channels.

    But, once you have your processor up high enough, this track comes to life when the gun battles begin, even if its just from the center channel and stereo times, the gunfire can get downright obtrusive it gets so loud from the front stage and will make you sit up and take notice at times, as at rare moments during the soundtrack, it does indeed sound like the Vietnam war HAS entered your living room......but thats only after you have applied way more than half your system's amplifier power. There are also rare moments of surround activity where we can hear rainfall during storm sequences, as well as talking of soldiers on radios which come through the rear channels for moments at a time. But mainly, this is a front-focused affair which could have used more "ooooomph" from the engineers; a common complaint I have of MGM DVDs. But, helicopter sounds are rendered nicely in the rears, creating a believable sound environment as the choppers fly over our heads during certain scenes, and thats what stood out most for me. This is not the disc you are going to take off the shelf to demo for folks in your home theater, lets put it that way.

    The best part of MGM's Platoon - Special Edition was definitely the extra material put into it; aside from the rather thick booklet inside the box with all kinds of behind the scenes information, the extras on the disc focused on:

    -"Tour of the Inferno" Documentary Featuring Interviews with the Director, Cast & Crew
    -Audio Commentary by Director Oliver Stone
    -Audio Commentary by Military Supervisor Captain Dale Dye
    -Photo Gallery
    -Collectibe Booklet (mentioned)
    -Original Theatrical Trailer
    -TV Spots

    Stay tuned for a review, while we're talking Vietnam and were talking Stan Kubrick, of Full Metal Jacket next......

    Thanks for reading, friends!
    Last edited by Lexmark3200; 07-25-2005 at 11:17 PM.

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