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PLATOON: 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen
Director: Oliver Stone
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: May 30, 2006

“I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. The enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days.”

Film ****

The war in Vietnam, for whatever reason it was being fought for, was such a harsh experience for those involved that for any participant to create a movie out of their own personal experience would be a most courageous triumph on their part. In 1986, director Oliver Stone did exactly that, when he brought Platoon to the screen.

Aside from another Stone film, Born on the Fourth of July, there’s has never been a more personal and deeply tragic look at this war, and what the soldiers in this war experienced when being forced to burn villages of innocent families who were suspected of harboring enemy forces. The one true similarity between these two films is that they are both anti-war films at heart, created by a filmmaker who is brilliantly uncompromising about the stories he tells.

Oliver Stone in the movie is the characterization of Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen). Taylor is a middle-class kid who dropped out of college to volunteer for the war simply because he considers it a “patriotic duty”. It isn’t too long after arriving in the war when he is told by a fellow soldier, “You don’t belong here”, which he then does not doubt for a second.

What this characterization illustrates is that no matter how determined you are to defend your country, you still haven’t been born yet until you are able to put up with long marches, snakes, ants, hardly any sleep, and the continuous fear that some point, perhaps any minute, an enemy soldier could pop right up and end your life in a heartbeat, which is also illustrated in a heart-pounding scene where Taylor, on guard duty, sees enemy troops approaching the squad’s position, and he is such a state of intense fear that he cannot find it in himself to move an inch to warn the rest of the platoon.

There are two other major characterizations in the movie: Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe). Barnes has a quick temper, acquires a visible scar on face, and is rumored to have been struck by so many bullets, that he may be incapable of being destroyed. Elias is more of a saint by comparison, but has a minor flaw in the amount of drugs he takes in order to escape the pain of his duties. The opposing views of these two soldiers soon fuel a massacre of anger that soon turns into acts of violence not just against Vietnamese, but against fellow American soldiers, too.

Another remarkable act on Stone’s part was the director’s choice in music for this movie, and the era depicted. Numerous 60s rock classics appear, but the standout is the use of the piece “Adagio For Strings”, which brilliantly enhances the emotional aspect of the extremely tragic time in American history depicted in this film.

The performances are brilliant all across the board, but I mainly want to focus on Charlie Sheen’s performance. Sheen, who was 21 at the time of this film’s release, has long been an underrated actor and still is to this day. His performance as Chris Taylor is pure illustration of the acting talent that he harbored. Sheen’s voice is heard mostly in narration through the movie, which is an effective touch, because it helps in describing the character’s true fears, as it is obviously too hard to display them while you’re in the war itself.

The Vietnam War has been tackled many a time in film, and it’s hard to single out the best one. From The Deer Hunter to Apocalypse Now, from Full Metal Jacket to Casualties of War, and from Born on the Fourth of July to Platoon, the list is endless in terms of brilliant filmmaking and story telling. However, I strongly feel that Platoon can be singled out as the most personally effective Vietnam War movie to date, and I’m very sure that Mr. Stone himself would agree. 

Video ***1/2

This third offering of the film on DVD, courtesy of MGM, ushers in its absolute best looking presentation to date. The anamorphic picture has been touched up a bit from the previous Special Edition release. Robert Richardson’s authentic cinematography is captured in a most outstanding form. Despite a slight touch of grain in a scene or two, the overall quality for this new 20 year old film is nothing short of fantastic.

Audio ****

The same remarks can be said for the superb audio treatment. In addition Dolby 5.1, a brand new DTS 5.1 is offered, resulting in what is easily the best format I’ve ever heard the film in. Everything gets top notch playback, from music numbers to dialogue delivery, to the horrific scenes of violence (which is in almost every scene). It’s the ultimate audio presentation that fans of the film have been longing for.

Features ****

I remember being impressed enough with MGM’s first Special Edition DVD release five years ago, but this new 2-Disc Collector’s Edition, which helps to mark the film’s 20th Anniversary, is packed with even more striking extras.

Disc One includes the feature film and the two commentary tracks from the previous SE release. The first is with Oliver Stone, and the second is with military advisor Dale Dye.

Disc Two features brand new deleted scenes with optional commentary by Oliver Stone. There is also extensive documentary material. In addition to the doc “Tour of the Inferno”, which was featured on the previous DVD release, there are five brand new docs including “Creating the 'Nam”, “One War, Many Stories”, “Raw Wounds: The Legacy of Platoon”, “Snapshot in Time: 1967-1968” and “Preparing for ‘Nam”. Also included are TV Spots, a Photo Gallery and a Theatrical Trailer.

Summary:

For its 20th Anniversary, MGM has done incredible justice to one of our most important war movies. Platoon will always be an intense but deeply treasured film experience, and this new Collector’s Edition has given longtime admirers of the film a very good reason to go back!

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