There are a good number of people who have labeled Oliver Stone as a fan of conspiracy theories, out to destroy foundations of conservative ideology, while at the same time re-visiting 60’s nostalgic icons. Despite the jokes and the stereotyping, one has to admit that, as a filmmaker, he has helped bring to screen some of the most talked-about cinematic experiences of our time, including Midnight Express, Scarface, not to mention Conan the Barbarian. As a director, his works, such as The Doors, Nixon, JFK and Natural Born Killers, have generated discussion both within and aside from the technical merits. Platoon was his most personal work, and is widely regarded as one of the defining films of the Vietnam War.
Platoon relates the experiences of Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen, Major League), who, like Stone, dropped out of college, and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. His battles are everywhere, be it the enemy, with his surroundings, some of his fellow soldiers, or with his identity. He is thrown into a platoon with several characters, each with their own distinguishing characteristics. Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger, The Big Chill) is riddled with facial scars, a veteran of many skirmishes in country, perhaps to the point where emotions have dwindled, as he is left a hard-nosed leader. Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe, To Live and Die in L.A.) tries to forget the memories and experiences through drugs, but acts as a spiritual center, if one could find that within a war movie. Other actors in this cast include John C. McGinley (Scrubs), Forest Whitaker (Bird), and a very young Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), among others. They encounter many things during the time there, including ambushes and firefights. They experience the loss of fellow platoon members, either via combat or by other reasons, either wounded or serving their full tour of duty in country. The story and characters are done so well, when watching the movie, their losses are our own. When Taylor leaves his platoon following an injury during combat, the closing shot of the movie is his sobbing on the floor of the chopper taking him out. You could say the sobbing is due to finally being out, or to the friends that he lost, but it is without question that his (and our) experiences leave him a totally different person that when he arrived.
Platoon is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. Colors really stand out in this high-definition image presentation. The various shades of green show wonderful color delineation. Black levels are only a little above average. Don’t expect a ton of shadow definition here. Textures come off quite nicely in the battle wound makeup effects.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 has a strong presence with some caveat. The audio is 5.1, but most of the action comes through on the front speakers, and very little use of the rear ones, except during battles, or when helicopters fly over. The quality can be felt during the ambush and combat scenes, and even the background noises were very familiar. Again, because of the budget, you’re not going to have the same kind of reference audio that has come out lately for newer releases such as Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, but it certainly does its job when it has to.
There are 2 commentary tracks; the first is from Oliver Stone. Stone covers any and every aspect involved with the film, technical and otherwise. Be prepared for him to jump topics very quickly; within the first four minutes of the disc, Stone touches on the score, securing the locations, and his memories stepping off the plane in Vietnam. Stone briefly talked about the problems in getting the movie made, and at one point had Emilio Estevez cast in Sheen’s role. While he does say that some portions of the movie are dramatizations, including some portions of a My Lai interpretation he had filmed, most of what is seen on screen were incidents that actually happened, including experiences Stone had witnessed. He covers most of what you would expect in a director’s commentary: casting decisions, working with the actors, the lighting of some scenes, bragging on the great sound mix (in the pre-Terminator days), and, like all directors do, pointing out great camerawork. He also talks about the success, from both critical and box office points of view, and how he views that success. The track has some dead air, not much though. The second commentary track is from Dale Dye. Dye served as military advisor in the movie, and is well-reputed for getting actors in shape for upcoming war movies. He has had hands in war films like Saving Private Ryan, Born on the Fourth of July, and Band of Brothers, to name a few. In the track, he relates stories of trying to make the movie as accurate as possible, as well as the joys of whipping the soft Hollywood actor types into hard-charging GI’s. He also points out a lot of the attention to detail and military discipline they continued practicing through the film, which is an understandable source of pride. He notes things that are easily recognizable to any soldier who has spent time in the field (such as the value of Tabasco sauce to any GI eating rations in the field), and also explains it well for those unfamiliar with the military routine. In a bit of irony, he talks about how Charlie Sheen’s character was wounded in the film, and Sheen was pressing Dye for details as to the effects of morphine on a wounded soldier. Considering Charlie’s past, I got a chuckle from hearing this. Dye takes up most of the track, though he seems to tail off after the first hour, once the battle scenes really commence, but there aren’t any sizeable gaps in silence. Overall, both Stone and Dye have a great deal of pride in the final film, and both tracks are very informative and worth listening to.
There are some deleted/extended scenes with commentary from Stone, but the scenes are pretty bland; there’s an alternate ending of sorts where Barnes gets to live, so that’s kind of cool, but otherwise it’s not a huge deal. The proverbial meat-and-potatoes extra on this disc is a documentary called “Flashbacks to Platoon”. The documentary is probably one of the more all-encompassing ones I’ve seen. This extra clocks in around 50 minutes. The areas covered are Snapshot in Time 67-68, Creating The Nam and Raw Wounds.
War films, or films portraying recent events, should be getting it right in their thoughts as well as actions during filming. This was something that Stone and Dye more than succeeded in accomplishing, and the result is a powerful movie, one which not only brought to light how painful a course the Vietnam veteran had during his combat time, but this film arguably helped to flush out previously ignored aspects of Army life, which the casual observer would not have realized. The story is set around members of the 25th Infantry Division, a unit that I had served in for a time. I have viewed this film both before and after my military duty, and it naturally resonates with me much more now, due to the way that military life in the field was portrayed. The disc contains a great retrospective, and two separate, but equally interesting, commentary tracks. Easily recommended for purchase, a must-own for war movie and film fans.
Portions of this review were written by Aric Mitchell and Gino Sassani