Platoon 2-Disc Ultimate Edition DVD Review
PictureThere's been some slight improvement of the image over the last two versions of Platoon that have been released, resulting a picture that is a little bit sharper and clearer, although there is still a softness to it when compared to newer movies. The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is full of vivid colour - predominantly green, I know - but the flames of the burning hooch, the explosions during the climax and the florid gunfire throughout are all quite splendidly evoked. Night-time scenes have a terrific spectral quality - Taylor's frightening observation of the approaching NVA patrol near the start has a wonderful bluish sheen, and the gleaming of the rainwater on the foliage and the ponchos is well-picked-out. Skin-tones and blood are equally well presented, and just look at the clarity afforded the eyes of Barnes and Elias during their final face-off. And, speaking of Barnes' eyes, check out the red-fire of rage igniting in them in at that explosive moment during the climactic battle. Maniacally beautiful.
Black levels seem to possess slightly more strength, although I can't be too certain if that's right across the board. Some dark shots look wonderfully deep-etched like Taylor sitting cowering as the NVA approach his position, but others seem a little grubbier to me, with the murky shadows that previous editions used to have. There is a little bit of damage specking the print occasionally and a smattering of grain is still prevalent in some sequences, but none of this is at distracting. During Taylor's dust-blown arrival at the airfield, there are a couple of miniscule black dots of grit that could have been removed, though. Another shot that is slightly disappointing is that depicting the night patrol setting off from base camp around fourteen minutes in - Gardner's fateful trip out - which looks a little faded and blurred. Although this effect is turned around 100 per cent during the subsequent rainstorm, which seems to wash away all the cinematic murk to reveal a marvellous-looking blue-filtered night vista.
Without much in the way of edge enhancement to speak of and no artefacts that I could see, this is still a pretty impressive image for a film that is now twenty years old.
SoundThe English tracks on offer here are both fairly robust surround efforts. The DD 5.1 track that adorned the previous editions is back again, but this has certainly been superseded by the newly remixed DTS 5.1 track that I believe is the mix of choice. Although predominantly more powerful from the frontal array, just like the DD, it still widens up the soundfield far more, supplying a lot of depth to the action. Dialogue, in spite of the often explosive activity it comes up against, is always clear and strongly delivered.
FX-wise, the bombastics, whilst good and certainly effective, are nowhere near as dynamic as most modern releases - though this is only to be expected, of course. The sub does jump a little bit, but the big stuff still lacks a bit of real oomph. Directionality is pretty good across the front, and the back too, although the latter is actually quite subdued. However, ambience is always well integrated into the mix. We get lots of stuff going on during the jungle sequences - from the rainstorms, the chatter of monkeys and insects, the machine-gun fire and the rustling of foliage, and the voices of the NVA as they probe the perimeter for weaknesses - but you get the feeling that the levels could have been turned up a little bit more to fully justify the entire surround set-up. That said, though, the new DTS is louder, more aggressive and clearer than any mix I've heard before on Platoon. And the score ... well, that Adagio would hit you where it hurts even in mono. Therefore, when it kicks in - as it does several times throughout the movie - it sure does throw some haunting aural clouds around the set-up.
A good effort, all things considered ... and certainly a slight improvement.
ExtrasOf the two commentaries supplied, I actually prefer the one from military advisor and regular Stone collaborator, Dale Dye, because he manages to blend personal anecdote about the filmmaking process with real-life combat knowledge, whilst keeping the whole thing thoroughly entertaining, witty, incisive and full of astonishing detail. Both he and Stone offer wonderful insight into the making of the film and are splendidly scene-specific. Neither stutter or become forgetful and both supply truly unique background on every element of the production - from the training of the actors, to the use of real equipment in the backpacks, from the type of lenses used on the cameras to the machinations of the characters, their dialogue and their motivations. Both are keen to point up the many instances of ad-libbing, and even the gaffs or funny moments caught on camera. Check out when Ace, Barnes' radio-man is pushed out of shot during the village-violence. Apparently, James Terry Macilvain, who plays Ace, was always trying to get in the shot to add to his screen-time. Stone even points out a visual beat that I'd never, ever noticed before - Charlie Sheen's Taylor toying with a hand-grenade just before the rescue troops (with that terrific German Shepherd Dog) turn up. Apparently an improvised moment of suicide-contemplation that puts an even deeper shade on the climax of the film. Can't believe I'd never noticed it.
An excellent pair of chat-tracks. Ordinarily I'd have preferred to have them both on the one track, to bounce ideas and recollections off each other, but here, I think it actually works better, as it gives both men ample time to deliver their own thoughts and memories. And neither is at a loss for words.
Disc Two is the strategic location for most of the extras. First up is Tour Of The Inferno (50.55 mins) which is a pretty exhaustive making of that pulls no punches and offers us lots of talking heads, production footage and photos intermingled with real film from Vietnam. Adagio For Strings and other similar pieces of soul-searching classical music, such as Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis from Vaughn Williams - that played to equally haunting effect in Peter Weir's Master And Commander) feature quite heavily on the soundtrack, adding weight to our understanding of the project, and its heartfelt nature. We meet Stone and a few of the key actors - namely Sheen, Berenger and Dafoe, although Depp, McGinley and Forest Whittaker show up, too - who attest to the harshness of boot-camp, but all admire its necessity in maintaining realism. It is also quite remarkable, and not at all contrived, just how the shooting of the film (in roughly running order as we see it) became like a tour of duty for the young cast. As one character is killed off in the story, so he returns home from the Philippines where Platoon was shot, thus making the surviving cast bond that bit closer and even mourn the passing of a comrade. That it was a difficult film to produce is made abundantly clear and Tour Of The Inferno does a mighty fine job of chronicling the feelings of all those involved and the impact that Platoon had on them and the world.
One War, Many Stories (24.29 mins) is an excellent little featurette that contains more comments from Stone about his time in Vietnam, but goes quite some way further in that it also brings in the often harrowing memories from a group of other veterans, who are filmed delivering their verdict of the film after a private screening. This sort of thing always moves me quite profoundly, and I found myself becoming no less emotional hearing some of their tales (some of which they hadn't the power to articulate until after seeing the film) than I did watching Elias biting the dust, or the final bulldozing of the bodies into a vast pit. I still wish that there had been more of this, though.
Preparation For The Nam (6.20 Mins) is little more than a token nod to the horrifically brutalising methods used to train the new recruits for their real-life tours of duty in Vietnam. We get a lot of vintage footage from boot-camps of physical and weapons training, and we hear from Stone and three of the veterans we encountered in the earlier featurette as they recount their experiences. All seem to agree that basic training actually helped them later life, as well.
Then we get 3 TV Spots plus the classic 80's Original Theatrical Trailer that plays up the two halves of the tale - the 60's fun-loving base-camp antics cut to Smokey Robinson, and the horrors re-enacted beneath Adagio For Strings.
We also get a Stills Gallery of some production photos that are mainly of Stone posing with his actor/grunts, and a few poster art designs.
And to round the package off, we get five fantastic glossy prints, including the poster, from the film and a terrific little 8-page booklet with lost of stills and background information. Great stuff.
There's not much new material here that sets this edition apart from Platoon's last incarnation, but it is certainly a nice package all round.
VerdictPlatoon is a film that begs to seen. It's not pleasant viewing by any stretch of the imagination, but it is immensely rewarding. The performers are all at the top of their game - well, not Depp, obviously - and Stone is firing on all cylinders. This is a personal tale that has far-reaching resonance. Its impact cannot be overstated. I remember seeing it at the flicks like it was yesterday, especially the numb, shell-shocked feeling of trying to get up and walk away from it at the end. Its power is undiminished and its message is just as relevant today as it has always been. Exemplary filmmaking from a director that owed to himself and his comrades to get the job done right. It's long been a favourite film of mine, and reviewing it now with a clinical eye just confirms everything I thought about it. Awesome. Just awesome.
Well, for some this release may be a case of not just double, but triple-dipping. It certainly is for me. With the addition of an extra featurette, or two, some art cards and a booklet, some may not want to bother for a third tour of duty ... but the presence of a slightly improved picture and the new DTS mix may be enough to sway others. I can safely say that this edition is the one to which I will be returning.
A true classic. Very highly recommended.
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