“Goooood morning, Vietnam! Hey, this is not a test! This is rock and roll! Time to rock it from the Delta to the D.M.Z.!”
Since his early days on Mork and Mindy, Robin Williams has been in a lot of movies. Some of them are pretty good films. Others are even downright awful. He does have a habit of going over the top. Ask anyone you might meet for their favorite Robin Williams movie and the answers will most certainly differ. Still, two things are pretty certain.
First. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone out there who doesn’t have a favorite. Williams has had an almost universal appeal at times. He’s voiced some of the best children’s films and even had a successful run or two at serious drama. Everyone likes something that’s he’s been involved with.
Second. There is one film that will find its way on more of those lists than any other. It’s a film that hits the perfect blend of Williams at his zany and uncontrollable best with a solid supporting cast and a clever, albeit quite simple script. I can’t deny that it’s long been my favorite Robin Williams movie. It’s none other than 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam.
Like many other actors/comics in his class, Williams was always at his best when he was still hungry. In 1987 he was still climbing toward his popularity peak, and he was a very hungry performer. Watch him in the last decade and you’ll still find that zany uncontrollable guy is still there. But it’s quite evident he’s just not hungry any more. It’s in the eyes most of all. Lately, he’s appeared to be entertaining himself. I’m not sure the audience matters anymore. He’s gotten what he wanted, and the rest is just playtime. But, thanks to Touchstone’s new 25th anniversary release of Good Morning Vietnam on Blu-ray, you can relive the days when Robin Williams was at his best…when he was very hungry.
Adrian Cronauer (Williams) is an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey in Crete at the beginning stages of the Vietnam conflict. He’s popular with the troops, so it’s decided to bring him to Saigon to boost the morale of the young troops there. For some, they didn’t exactly know what they were getting themselves into. The brass always thought of the network as being informative first, entertaining second. The music was still stuck in the big band sound of the 1940’s, and the on-air voices were calm and soothing. That’s all about to change. It’s 1965 and Adrian Cronauer is about to shake up Southeast Asia. He’s befriended by his assistant, Edward Garlick (Whitaker) who is inspired by the fresh voice and sounds of rock ‘n’ roll. His immediate supervisors are not amused. They are Lt. Hauk (Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickerson (Walsh). They do their best to get him off the air. Cronauer does have an ally in General Taylor (Willingham), but he can only keep him out of hot water for so long. Cronauer’s friendliness gets him into trouble when he picks the wrong kid to buddy with, trying to get close to a young Vietnamese girl Trinh (Sukapatana) by taking over her English language class and getting close to her brother Tuan (Tran).
While it’s easy to give the majority of the credit for the film’s success to Robin Williams, that wouldn’t be quite fair or accurate. This was still a young Barry Levinson. Yes, he’d already directed The Natural, but he really found his humor footing here. He was smart enough to allow Williams enough freedom to adlib most of the radio bits but was able to pull him in for the meat of the picture. He also surrounded the young comic with an amazing supporting cast. Forest Whitaker shows early why he’s become such a versatile actor over the years. Here he plays the innocent kid soldier who is somewhat changed, some might say corrupted, by Cronauer. The two share pretty solid chemistry. The film sports Bruno Kirby, perhaps best known as the young Clemenza in Godfather Part II. He plays Hauk, Cronauer’s immediate nemesis, who thinks he’s got a pretty good handle on what comedy is. He gets his chance and, of course bombs hard. J.T. Walsh has played so many military guys since this movie that he’s probably getting a pension from the Army by now. He’s the serious threat to Cronauer and stoops low enough to try and get him killed in action. Robert Wuhl hasn’t done much since his days on Arliss, but he shines here as one of the station’s jocks. There are quite a few local actors from the Thailand location that add plenty of authenticity to the film, including Cu Ba Nguyen as the flamboyant Jimmy Wah, who owns the local watering hole for GI’s.
The film is certainly a comedy and had a tough time getting off the ground. Vietnam wasn’t like other wars, and even by 1987 studios were not standing in line to be the first to put one out. Three major studios passed on the project before Disney stepped forward and took the chance. It paid off pretty well. It’s not the first time Disney took a chance and came up nothing but 7’s. The film doesn’t skirt the real story of Vietnam either. Cronauer gets an up-close look at the real violence and hostility that existed there even before the American escalation. One of the film’s best moments is a musical montage to Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World. The song has been overused of late and is almost a cliché, but it is quite effective here as it plays to a montage of escalating violence in the country. There’s another touching scene where Cronauer ends up entertaining a convoy of new soldiers on their way to battle as their vehicles are stuck in traffic. Williams does a wonderful job as the trucks move on and he and we know they are headed to a different kind of Vietnam movie. For them it’ll be Full Metal Jacket or Platoon. It all comes together in the convincing environs of Thailand, where many Vietnam films have been made over the years. The movie is an experience that is certainly worth reliving on Blu-ray these 25 years later.
Good Morning Vietnam 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 mbps. Unfortunately, the film shows its age, and I can’t tell you that this high-definition image presentation is stellar. It looks better than the old DVD, but only marginally. The print has a few rough edges. Colors do appear natural enough, and there are moments, particularly on close-ups, where you can see the most marked improvement. Black levels are only fair. A full restoration would be nice, but until then, this is about as good as it gets.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 rarely comes to life during the few explosive scenes. Subs are most definitely muted. Fortunately, the 60’s tunes do appear to have a little more dynamic range, and we can clearly hear the dialog. There is nothing of the hiss I recall at times on the original DVD.
All in standard definition.
Production Diary: (34:32) This vintage making-of feature covers everything from the original treatment to stories from the set. There’s a little behind-the-scenes footage. For royalties purposes it’s split into six parts, but you do get a play-all option. The best stuff comes from the real Adrian Cronauer, who separates fact from fiction for us.
Raw Monologues: (13:07) Here you get some raw clips of Williams as he adlibbed some news events.
It was a touchy subject from a volatile era in our nation’s history. But Good Morning Vietnam isn’t really about the politics of the Vietnam War. While Cronauer gladly takes shots at authority and fights against news censorship, he actually buys into the American presence in the war, at least to a certain point. He’s not rebelling against that particular cause. He wants to entertain the men who are out there putting their lives on the line and recognizes that he wasn’t capable of doing the same without getting himself killed. Eventually, we laugh at our most tragic moments. It’s a necessary part of healing and an intrigal part of the human condition. 1987 was time enough for humor. And Good Morning Vietnam? “Now that’s funny.”