Platoon Blu-ray Review
Folks, I think that Platoon looks mighty fine on Blu-ray. I will concede that this is a film that has not been designed to look pretty or sharp, or to boast a colourful visual snap. Stone’s film remains gritty, grainy and as dense and moist as the sweaty jungle, but there is no getting away from how much detail is on offer, and how much greater the levels of depth and three-dimensionality are with this superb AVC 1.85:1 transfer. I must mention those fantastic gliding shots that take us through the jungle, literally travelling down the sight-lines of M16s as out-of-focus characters move into view – well these shots, in particular, carry a greater sense of fluidity and realism now. We’re not talking Avatar, here, but this is the real thing, the foliage looming all around and then past us as though we are moving stealthily through the jungle, ourselves. The overhead shots that look down upon the valleys and the jungle canopy, and most crucially the scenes as the men in the choppers see Elias running for his life, and then return to the “scene of the crime” the next day, also benefit from this enhanced quality of depth. But here we can also appreciate the improvements made with the detail, as we see the fronds, the dust kicked-up by machine-gunfire, the figures on the ground – we can even make out the weapons, the uniforms and faces - much more clearly than ever before on home video.
The print is in good enough shape even after several tours of 'Nam. The grain is intact, although, as ever, it can be heavier in some scenes and much lighter in others. This lack of consistency is pretty faithful as far as I can tell, the grain-field always did spike in certain moments. There are times when the image looks a lot crisper and cleaner than at others, with skin textures taking on a smoother sheen – but there has not been any overt DNR applied here. I will say that the image looks more colourful than I remember it, with deeper greens, brighter reds for insignia, blood and the painted symbols on the side of hardware, say. Flames seem brighter and more vivid too. And all of this looks good, I should add, whether it has been gently boosted or not. There has always been a warm and ruddy cast to the film’s palette, which effectively pushes skin-tones push towards red and orange. This, of course, makes characters look appropriate for setting, although I don’t think that this is an entirely natural aesthetic, but rather one that was required. That red fire of rage that is ignited in Barnes’ eyes as he is about to extinguish Taylor once and for all now looks even more apparent and blazing.
I noticed some comments being made about the film suddenly “darkening” during one scene, but I have to say that I have not experienced this effect at any time other than when the image was supposed to grow darker. Which naturally brings me on to the quality of the blacks, and the contrast and the shadow-play we see at work with this encode. Well, all of this is variable, I would say. But only because of the original photography and the source print, and not because of anything untoward occurring with the transfer. The black levels are stronger than we’ve seen them previously, and there could be some slight cause for concern over crushing taking place. Personally I wasn’t bothered by this – I think the contrast is more than fair and that the shadows are much more evocative-looking now – but some people have complained that there is detail lost within them. If there is, it is minimal. The scenes that depend on thick shadow – and there are plenty of them – have more weight to them now, a more tangible sense of depth.
Detail certainly comes through. Once again, the weaponry, the kit and the glints in characters' eyes and the foliage have more integrity – the ash-covered NVA soldier propped up against a tree with one of his arms blown off now exhibits more ghostly, powdery detail, for instance. The close-ups of faces are tremendous, from red-ringed, fear-glazed eyes (like those of the haunted John C. McGinley) to the insect bites that bulge horribly on Taylor’s flesh, the transfer does extremely well.
There is no undue edge enhancement – something that could have wrought havoc on images such as the silent NVA patrol that materialises out of the shadows as the totally “green” Chris looks on in terror from beneath his hood. Aliasing doesn’t rear its ugly head either and there is no evidence of banding taking place.
I didn’t expect miracles from a hi-def transfer of Platoon. I suppose there was the potential for a Predator-style scrub ‘n’ clean and, thankfully, this image is anything but. However, some people I’m sure will have wanted this to appear pin-sharp and ultra-gleaming – something that no accurate transfer of Stone’s film could ever legitimately be. Oh, and before I forget ... check out the radio-man who is virtually attached to Dale Dye's commander as they take frantic calls from front-line being overrun - he's the spitting image of Sacha Baron Cohen!
Once again, I was impressed with the faithfulness of Platoon’s audio track. It is a long, long way from being stellar reference material, but this DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix does all that you could possibly expect of it. For the record, we also have the original mix in 4.1 Dolby Surround.
The score has its moments, of course. The moody moments that Georges Delerue conjures have a touch more depth to them, providing an ominous umbrella that settles over the environmental sounds, such as when Chris returns to the camp after being injured during the first encounter, or when the platoon finds Manny's body down the river ... "the end of the mystery". Barber’s Adagio For Strings is a nice tester for the high ends and for the clarity of instrumental separation, and the track, by and large, comes up with the goods without any errors. Let’s put it this way, that searing high note cuts through the room like a razor.
Gunfire can be good enough to excite, though it is never great, and it can also fall quite flat sometimes. We have lots of rounds flying about, but they rarely whizz past us with any genuine immersive effect. M60’s plough up the jungle, claymores boom and thump, and air-strikes open-up sonic whupp-ass – yet none of this drops the floor from under you, or hits you in the ribs like the sort of mass-destructive audio that we get from modern mixes of extreme militaristic bombast. Don’t get me wrong, though, there is some clout to the fire-fights, but the offensive tends to be frontally mounted and directionality, if there is any, is haphazard at best. When the big stuff goes off – the booby-trap in the enemy outpost, the explosion that goes off behind the fat shouty Yank when the perimeter is well and truly breached, Oliver Stone and co getting blown sky-high by the suicide bomber, the final air-strike etc – you’ll certainly know about it, but you’re hardly going to boasting of such examples afterwards. The big walloping crash-bangs lose that essential crunch! that we have grown so used in things like Transformers and The Expendables, the resulting chaos much softer and recessive, and losing that grand metallic heft. What I do like, however, is the eerie bupp-bupp-bupp!! of the mortars that Chris and Francis hear from their foxhole as the NVA approach through the night. This is a great effect and one that really adds to the surreal terror of the situation, almost like weird jungle-drums mocking them from the shadows.
But there is not much activity taking place in the rear speakers, other than sporadic ambience, musical bleed and the odd impact or effect. Thus the surround capability of the track is sparse and sometimes unconvincing.
Another crucial area where it falls down a little is with the reproduction of the dialogue, though I should stress that this, too, is down to the original source and not a fault with the transfer. Speech can be dislocated, sunken and submerged, or just plain muffled. Of course, we have to take into account the environment, the distances of the speakers from one another and us, the natural sounds emanating from the jungle and the often raucous explosions and gunfire drowning it out.
I’ve heard some disparaging comments about the audio-mix, but if you actually know the film I doubt that you’ll be disappointed with this lossless track. It does have more width and a touch more impact than the alternative at least.
Of 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.
Annoyingly, we lose the great documentary, Tour Of The Inferno, which was a pretty exhaustive making of that pulled no punches and offered us lots of talking heads, production footage and photos intermingled with real film from Vietnam. But we gain ten Deleted and Extended Scenes with optional commentary from Oliver Stone, one of which offers us his favoured alternate ending. All good stuff.
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.
Some new stuff appears in the three-part Flashback to Platoon, which examines the time period and the escalation of the war in Snapshot in Time: 1967-1968, then delves into the filmmaking process and how important it was to be authentic in Creating the 'Nam , with lots of cast and crew interviews to illustrate the challenges that faced the production and, finally, in Raw Wounds, the reaction to the film when it was released, most acutely by the veterans, themselves, is discussed.
Then we get three little vignettes - Caputo and the 7th Fleet, which looks at the cataclysmic Fall of Saigon; Dye Training Method, which reminds us of the great Dale Dye's unique input into the film; and then Gordon Gekko, in which we learn of how the name of Micheal Douglas' Wall Street demon came about on the set of Platoon.
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.
Stone’s incendiary Platoon hits region-free Blu-ray like a napalm burst, its impact bolstered by a mostly excellent transfer that brings out the lushness of the environment and explosive beauty of the war ... and all of its horrors with a savage and clinical eye. Intensely moving and powerfully exciting, this is the sort of film that demands to be seen – an accusation and an epitaph at the same time. With all of its sweat, blood and tears intact, the film remains an inflamatory masterpiece and its transition to hi-definition marks a worthy upgrade from previous editions. The video transfer is faithful and helps to make Robert Richardson’s wonderful photography all the more evocative and shudderingly immersive. Audio-wise, the film’s original sound design was never going to win any plaudits when compared to more modern fare - even so, this lossless incarnation has a few niggles that I would say are inherent to the source. But the point is that it still sounds better than you've probably heard it before. We may lose the Tour Of The Inferno documentary, but this remains an exemplary overall package that celebrates an extremely powerful motion picture.
The cast all shine in what are difficult and testing roles, and the film made icons out of Dafoe and Berenger. But this is not to lessen the impact of Charlie Sheen’s epic portrayal of confusion, anxiety, rage and shell-shocked reconciliation that forms the heart of our own disturbing journey as we look on, utterly helpless. Oliver Stone is one of the most committed filmmakers to have studied the American Myth-conception but, for me, he peaked very early on with Platoon. He trawled through the aftermath of the events we see here with Born On The Fourth Of July, and segued into the cultural left-field with The Doors – both excellent films. Yet nothing quite grips, upsets and galvanises like Platoon.
Riveting, emotional and superbly iconographic, Platoon is essential.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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