by Jef Burnham
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MGM Home Entertainment celebrates the 25th Anniversary of writer/director Oliver Stone’s Platoon with the release of this 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, now available. Winner of 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Editing, and Sound, Platoon is hailed by many as being among the very best films to focus on the conflict in Vietnam. And it is perhaps an obvious declaration to make, given the amazing talent Stone brought together for the film. Featured among the all-star cast are Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Keith David, and Johnny Depp.
I, on the other hand, despite my appreciation for the performances and the expertly directed action sequences, find the film to be patronizing in Stone’s presentation of its thematic through-line. Unnecessarily expositional and sentimental narration is scattered throughout the film, under the guise that they are passages from the protagonist, Chris’s (Sheen) letters to his grandmother. In these passages, Stone explicitly details for the viewer everything he is attempting to get across with the film. What I find so patronizing about this is that Stone, through the narration, is forcing material on us that is otherwise already present in the film. It’s already there in in the characters’ faces and in their varied interactions with one another at base camp and in the field. It’s there in the depiction of massive amounts of casualties resulting from poor leadership. It’s even there in the film’s tagline, for God’s sake (“The first casualty of war is innocence.”)! And yet, Stone insists on spoon-feeding it to us that he might tell us what he has already shown. The result is that the film feels (and is) incredibly overwritten and unnecessarily melodramatic; but it would not be so had Stone simply omitted the narration.
However, I must say, as one who’s never cared for Platoon’s brand of melodrama, that MGM’s Blu-ray transfer of the film has at least given me a greater appreciation for the film’s aesthetic virtues. Particularly, one cannot help but marvel at the way in which Stone, with cinematographer Robert Richardson (Inglourious Basterds), captured the jungle, especially at night, in addition to the visual bravado of the aforementioned action sequences. With regards to the HD video transfer of this release, the greens of the jungle, the flashes of light during nighttime firefights, and the reds of the blood shine brilliantly throughout the film, while shadows are contrastingly characterized by deep, rich blacks. The HD transfer of the Blu-ray is indeed a noticeable improvement over previous SD releases both in terms of clarity and cleanliness, by which I mean that it is comparatively lacking in scratches and debris. However, it also seems to me that they have downplayed the original film stock’s inherent graininess in the transfer, which is a shame. The audio too is a significant improvement over previous releases and is appropriately dynamic, screaming through your sound system during the firefights.
The majority of the special features in this release are returning from MGM’s 2006 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of Platoon. Here you will find some of the best stuff on the disc as the documentaries contain many interviews with veterans who share their own heart-breaking stories about their experiences in Vietnam. The special features include:
-Audio Commentary with Director Oliver Stone
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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