Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray Review
Born on the Fourth of July comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray with what appears to be the exact same video transfer that was present on the 2007 HD-DVD release. Thankfully, Universal did a pretty good job first time around, and it had been remastered for SD-DVD just a year earlier, so the results here – whilst nothing new – are still surprisingly good. Sure there are some moments where the picture falls flat, where a hazy grain and softer image threatens to ruin your enjoyment of the movie, but they are thankfully few and far between. Unfortunately the opening ‘childhood experiences’ sequence is privy to most of these poorer moments, not getting things off to a great start, but if you stick with it, by the end of the movie you will have noticed some truly great moments which show just what a back catalogue title can look like if handled right on the High Definition format. Detail is – for the most part – very good indeed, with some of the later protests standing out – and with no signs of any edge enhancement or DNR, even if there are some softer sections as detailed above. The colour scheme is reasonably broad, always affected by the tonal influence that the Director wanted to use in order to reflect the mood of the scene (red, white and blue are the three choices), with some shots that are truly visually magnificent – not least the sunset-bound shooting incident – and the palette is generally presented very well, with strong black levels at the lower end. There is an expected level of filmic grain prevalent throughout, occasionally a little bit too heavy for its own good, but generally bringing a suitably cinematic feel to the proceedings, and, with no signs of any print damage whatsoever, this is basically a very good video presentation, which could have been better – and is certainly not demo quality – but is likely more than enough to please fans.
On the aural front the movie comes complete with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which does reasonably well with the material – and manages to, for the most part, create quite an immersive, at times engulfing atmosphere for the piece. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, largely emanating from across the fronts and centre channels, although breaking out to the surrounds wherever the shouts and screams require it. Being a dialogue-driven drama, even the most atmospheric scenes generally come from rowdy crowds, demonstrations, or overpacked Army hospitals, with only a few full-on sequences depicting the horrors of ‘Nam – yet still the surrounds get a reasonable workout from all of these moments, and even the LFE channel gets some input, adding some depth and resonance to the proceedings. The haunting, evocative score also gets some great coverage and enhances the movie no end. Overall, again far from demo quality, the accompanying track here is pretty good, and does fairly well with this 22-year old production.
Despite passing its 20th Anniversary, this title has yet to be revisited for a truly deluxe edition. But thankfully we still get the two primary extras from the 2006 Special Edition DVD – a Commentary from the Director himself, and a 20 minute archive Featurette on the Making of the production.
Oliver Stone commentaries always make for great listening, and this is no exception. The director’s passion and personal history with the subject matter makes this an even more enthralling accompaniment, as he offers up a hefty slice of background, not only into the production – the filming, locations, cast (noting in particular Cruise’s contribution) and editing – but also into the War itself. Controversial views aside, it’s still a great listen, both informative and educational, as well as downright entertaining; and well worth your time.
Backstory: Born on the Fourth of July is an original NBC News Archive Featurette which runs at 21 minutes in length and offering up all the usual elements: cast and crew interview snippets, and behind the scenes footage of scenes being shot and the filmmakers on set; all interspersed with clips from the end product. Presented in full-screen, with just SD video quality, since it’s an archive featurette, it could have been a whole lot worse, but the interview clips (and brief demonstration footage) from the real-life Ron Kovic included really ground the whole offering, and make it a must-watch.
A tough and harrowing watch, this intimate look at the horrors of the Vietnam War back home, and the frustrations of both the individual and the nation itself at the time of – what felt like – an utterly pointless (and costly!) campaign seems just as relevant as it was two decades ago, particularly with the ongoing ‘War on Terror’ replacing the then ‘War on Communism’. Arguably not only Oliver Stone’s most powerful and poignant film – in part because he eschews glamorisation in favour of a more honest, documentary-like approach to this biography – but also Tom Cruise’s greatest performance; Born on the Fourth of July is easily up there amidst the best war movies ever made.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray we get very good video and solid audio, and, although we only get a couple of extras, at least they are quality ones which are well worth checking out. Fans will find this a purchase worth adding to their collection; and, if you haven’t seen this movie, then you should go and pick it up now. Highly recommended.
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