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Featured Blu-ray Review: Platoon

May 23rd, 2011

Platoon - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

There has been a flood of Blu-ray catalog titles reaching my desk in the past few weeks. Platoon is the latest to do so, although it won't be the last such film for the week. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, it is coming out on Blu-ray, but how well has it aged in these two and a half decades? And does the Blu-ray do the film justice?

The Movie

The film starts with Private Chris Taylor, a new recruit, as he lands with the rest of his fellow newcomers, the latest arrivals in Vietnam. They are sent into the jungle near the Cambodian border. The platoon has two leaders, Sergeant Elias and Sergeant Barnes. The former is more of mentor to the new recruits, or Cherries as the veteran call them. While the latter is less kind.

While out on ambush duty, Private Taylor is given watch duty for a shift, but when his shift is over and he passes the guard duty to Junior, a veteran member of the platoon, Junior falls asleep and they fall victim to an ambush. Even though it was Junior that fell asleep, and Sergeant O'Neill's grenade that killed one of their own men, the blame gets passed onto Taylor. When Sergeant Elias tries to protect the new recruits from Sergeant Barnes, a division in the ranks begins to grow. The divide grows when they find a village that they suspect of harboring the Viet Cong and...

Well, at this point we start to run into major spoilers, so I will end the plot description there.

Some consider Platoon to be the greatest war movie ever. I disagree. I would rank Apocalypse Now as the best war movie of all time, but Platoon would almost certainly be in the top five, or at the very least, the top ten. It does an amazing job of showing not just the horrors of war, but how it can turn idealistic men into war criminals if they are not vigilant. It is based on an incredible script by Oliver Stone, who fought in Vietnam, so he had a lot of first-hand experience to draw from. Oliver Stone also does an amazing job of directing action scenes that emphasize the chaotic nature of combat. He conveys the tension of patrol, which is a terrifying mix of boredom and impending doom, minor annoyances like ants and mosquitoes to deadly traps.

Platoon is also blessed with a top-notch cast. Watching this movie makes you wish Charlie Sheen would get his act together and start making quality stuff again. Both Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger earned Oscar nominations for their supporting work in this movie. In the end, the film took home four Oscars from eight nominations, including wins for Best Picture and Best director. I don't think you can argue with that success. (In fact, one could argue that vote-splitting cost it a win for Best Supporting Actor.)

The Extras

The 25th Anniversary Blu-ray is essentially the 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD, minus the hour-long making of documentary. This does mean it has the audio commentary track with Oliver Stone, who mixed real life experiences that inspired the film with the making of the film itself. There is a second audio commentary track with the military advisor to the film, which also balances real life combat and film making. Next up are eleven and a half minutes of deleted scenes with an optional commentary track with Oliver Stone. The print quality is pretty bad at times, but still worth checking out. Flashbacks to Platoon is a nearly 50-minute featurette broken into three parts. The first is about the real war, the second is about the making of the movie, and the third is about the legacy of the movie. Absolutely worth checking out. Under Documentaries you will find One War, Many Stories, which has a lot real life soldiers talking about the war and how the movie affected them. There are also three short Vignettes: Caputo and the 7th Fleet, about the evacuation from Vietnam; Dye Training Method, about the boot camp the actors went through; and Gordon Gekko, about how the character from Wall Street got his name.

The technical presentation is great, all things considered. The movie cost $6.5 million to make back in 1986, and taking into account inflation, that's about $20 million to $25 million. It's a little heavy on the grain, which many will say gives it a gritty, realistic look. Also, some of the dark scenes have problems with details being swallowed up by shadows, and there are a lot of dark scenes. On the other hand, it still looks great and it is a major improvement over the DVD. The sound it a little disappointing, only because it won the Oscar that year for Best Sound, so I had really high hopes. Explosions don't quite have the oomph they should have, while the directional effects are not quite as frequent as I was expecting. Don't get me wrong, the audio track is still a selling point, but it shows its age.

The Verdict

Platoon is widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made, and ranks among the elite war movies. Its 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release is easily worth picking up, even if you own the previous special edition. Although with the missing documentary, you will want to keep that edition as well.

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Filed under: Video Review, Platoon