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I'm no history teacher, but I can tell you there was once a troublesome war in the country of Vietnam, and Charlie Sheen fought in it with or without the help of tiger blood. Of course, I'm only referring to the movie Platoon, Oliver Stone's award-winning film about a big, happy, camouflage-wearing family. It's Platoon's 25th anniversary this year. I probably hadn't seen it in 15-18 years, and found that I only remembered certain sections. This may have been due to the version I watched being edited. Have I really never seen the whole movie before? It doesn't matter. It holds up tremendously well, even if Lyndon Johnson didn't.
Oliver Stone has had a lot of time to push his politics into the minds of viewers, oblivious to whether people agree or disagree with him. That this film, about one of America's ugliest situations, focuses more on personal politics than governmental ones definitely dates it in his filmography. Not that the U.S. is portrayed as a land of saints, but the story here is with the soldiers. In fact, the entire Blu-ray is about soldiers and the military, which I enjoyed more than expected. It's barely different from the last anniversary set that Platoon earned simply by not ceasing to exist. Well, there's that high-def transfer, which looks perfect despite the graininess that remains gleefully intact. It also sounds amazing. All right, so Blu-ray won me over.
Do we even need to discuss Platoon's plot? By replacing the excessively over-the-top violence that plagued 1980s action films with brutal realism, it became the seminal war flick of the past couple generations. (Due to the mostly male cast, it's seminal two ways.) On the outset, it's about Chris Taylor (Sheen), an infantry volunteer just arriving overseas for duty. We experience being in the shit through Taylor's fearful, and soon manic, eyes. Using narration that's only slightly high schoolish and dramatic escalation rarely handled so precisely, Stone gives viewers an experience that movies with far-reaching plots cannot.
Though the Viet Cong are the official enemy, the antithesis lies in the clandestine feud between cool badass Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) and the ruthlessly mental badass, Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), who each have their own set of soldiers who side with them. Many of this brilliant cast are still working hard, including Keith David, John C. McGinley, and Forest Whitaker. Kevin Dillon, as Bunny, has the perfect mix of innocent psychosis. Tom Berenger's face-scar deserves a credit. These men are put through situations where hate should be the only emotional outcome, objectifying other human beings until there's blood on everyone's hands. Excellent cinematography and score are consistent, creating a scene with Willem Dafoe that could be described as epic, and that just seems wrong.
Tense and shocking, Platoon deserves to survive, because the legs it stands on kick a lot of ass. Anniversary discs should be more spread-out though. We're not even done with the current "eventual non-war." Regardless, whatever the impossibility of reason is, this does not feel like Hell. This is good cinema.
As said, there isn't much beyond the Blu-ray transfer for fans who've already shelled out money for these same features in the past. But fans don't mind spending money, and if you've never owned Platoon before, your time is now. It's a well-stocked unit which also comes with a bare-bones DVD version.
The movie has two commentaries, one by Stone, and one by the film's Military Advisor, Dale Dye, who also shows up in other extras. Both are extremely informative, with each man using his personal military history to inform what's happening on screen. As far as I could tell, there is very little overlap on subject matter anywhere on the disc, despite everybody speaking about the same subjects. Admittedly, the military gains my respect, but not my curiosity. So to my mild surprise, I was held rapt throughout everything. Stone and Dye do talk some about the cast and the filming process, but the majority is well-told stories and pieces of the past.
Stone also provides optional commentary for a dozen or so deleted and alternate scenes. The first one is an alternate of Taylor's first marijuana high with the hoppers. I'm sure Sheen got high again for the first time often in his career. (Cheap.) Most of the scenes are dialogue-driven, though a few are abstract dream sequences that I wish had made the final cut.
Feast on these featurettes. "Snapshot in Time: 1967-1968" is a 20-minute history lesson explaining the factional state the country was in during this period, and how the military fell from the public's graces. "Creating the 'Nam" is a 10-minute making-of in the traditional sense, focusing on the hyper-realism the filmmakers wanted in the shooting locations, and how they achieved that. "Raw Wounds: The Legacy of Platoon" is 17 minutes of people talking about how great Platoon was and still is.
The documentary "One War, Many Stories" is a half-hour moderated discussion at a Veterans' Screening of the movie, where around 20 Vietnam vets answer questions and tell stories about their military time. The conversation is centered around how credible many scenes in the movie were, but these men tell tales that go far beyond. This was my favorite of the extras. The seven-minute "Preparing for 'Nam" has a few more stories from the guys, all about basic training and their first impressions of it.
Three vignettes finish off the disc. What? New stuff? Six minutes of new stuff! Philip Caputo talks about being helicoptered out of Vietnam in "Caputo and the 7th Fleet." "Dye's Training Method" is a few minutes of Dale Dye destroying my soul, explaining how the actors were trained for the movie. Finally, "Gordon Gekko" is a bit that explains the origin of the Wall Street character's name.
Sick of reading yet? Make love, not war. And buy the Blu-ray.
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