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MGM Studios DVD presents
Coming Home (1978)

"When you get over there, it's a totally different situation. You grow up real quick. Because all you're seeing is a lot of death."
- Luke Martin (Jon Voight)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: April 16, 2002

Stars: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern
Other Stars: Penelope Milford, Robert Carradine, Robert Ginty
Director: Hal Ashby

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual situations
Run Time: 02h:07m:47s
Release Date: April 16, 2002
UPC: 027616874825
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C+D+C- B

DVD Review

War films are my favorite, simply because no other genre is capable of stirring my soul through so many different emotions. Coming Home takes a slightly different approach by eliminating scenes of gruesome combat and replacing them with gentle and tender dialogue. It is no small task to create an anti-war film without also depicting the ravages of combat, and for the attempt at such, Coming Home should be commended. Yet, the admirable and unique approach to its subject matter results in a film that feels like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. I had not seen Coming Home prior to seeing it on DVD, and after watching it twice, I am still waiting to see the film that everyone has raved about.

The film opens with a room of paraplegic Vietnam veterans discussing their experiences in the war, struggling to find a reason for their participation in such a horrible event. This opening sequence is one of the film's most powerful. As the story progresses, we meet Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern), a Marine who is over-zealous to go to Vietnam and fight for his country. His wife, Sally (Jane Fonda), has different feelings towards the war, yet she does not discourage her husband from serving his country. The night he ships off, she gently tells him, "Just come back."

Feeling a need to rationalize her husband's patriotism, Sally volunteers as a nurse at a veteran's hospital. Her first week on the job is about as rough as they come, as she quickly realizes how the war has physically and mentally abused these poor patients. One of these men is Luke Martin (Jon Voight), a soldier with a large piece of metal in his back that has rendered him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. His introduction shows him as an angry man whose debilitation has not only stolen his mobility but his spirit and optimism as well. The relationship between Sally and Luke starts out rocky, yet through time, they come to depend on one another. The two of them have a tender love affair, and through each other they are able to find a sense of peace in the midst of a war that seems so senseless. The peace turns to chaos, however, when Sally's husband comes home with a different outlook on life than the one he had going into the war.

Coming Home succeeds on several levels and even touches on important issues that other war films mistakenly ignore. Many Vietnam War movies show an endless amount of death but often forget about the numerous soldiers that are only wounded and have to live on with the physical and mental anguish of these injuries. Without violence, Coming Home succeeds admirably in creating a strong statement that the war might be over, but the internal struggle is still being fought.

Both Jon Voight and Jane Fonda received Oscars® for their roles in Coming Home, and both awards are justified. Voight in particular gives a riveting performance as the troubled veteran. It would have been easy for him to over extend his emotions, yet he suitably takes a more subtle approach. His gestures and dialogue are delivered with a purity that proves the depth to which he immersed himself in the role. Jane Fonda also gives a wonderfully restrained performance; never does she allow her strong, real-life opinions of the war interfere with the fact that she is playing a simple and naïve individual. The two have good chemistry together, particularly during their love scene, which appropriately does not resort to "cinema perfect" sex.

I can continue to make many positive comments about the film, yet for all of my praise, I have equal disappointment. The overstuffed screenplay is essentially a slew of scattered pieces that never connect with one another. In trying to bring closure to innumerable issues, the screenplay ends up bringing closure to none of them. Many scenes have a maddening way of cutting themselves short at the very moment they seem to be getting to the heart of the matter. Much of the promotion of Coming Home focused on the aspect of Captain Hyde returning home from the war, yet this does not happen until 20 minutes before the end of the film. The resulting confrontation between Dern, Voight, and Fonda is riveting, but it is too little too late.

The most apparent flaw is that the characters have not been given enough backstory to generate an emotional response from the audience when traumatic events befall them. Robert Carradine plays a mentally disturbed soldier who delves into self-destruction, but his tragedy feels contrived since the audience has not seen what led him to his unstable mental state. Jon Voight delivers a fantastic speech to a group of high school kids, many of whom are looking to join the war effort. Voight drives the words home, and his performance is fantastic, however, the scene lacks emotion. I simply had not seen enough of his torturous experiences to break into tears.

Coming Home was released at a time when the world was in a great state of panic and fear over the decision to fight in Vietnam. The film strongly states this, but 25 years later it fails to wholly deliver the message of how awful the war was for everyone involved. It shows people who believed it was a tragic mistake, but never does it prove to a younger audience what it must have been like to live through these horrifying events. This major shortcoming leaves the picture in the dustbin of the 1970s, rather than aging into a timeless classic. As a study of relationships and human emotions, Coming Home is a great success. As a deep political statement on the Vietnam War, it falls flat.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For such an "important" film, I expected a far superior image transfer than what was given. The awful picture quality has me wondering if the restoration process was not aborted prior to completion. The print is excessively grainy, so much so that it looks like there is a swarm of tiny bugs on the screen. Details are muddy and the essence of the picture is dirty and soft. Color and hues are either too subdued or grossly exaggerated in all but a few scenes. Granted, this film was made in 1978, but it looks as if it were made at least a decade earlier. Rather than depicting the horrors of the Vietnam War, the image transfer depicts the horrors of poor video quality.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: With surround decoding on, the mono soundtrack properly remains locked in the center channel. Dialogue is often unintelligible due to its quiescent nature, yet increasing the volume only further exaggerates how shrill and unnatural it sounds. The countless 1960s and 70s pop songs all sound distorted and lacking in low end. Monaural sound effectively drives the narration of the film, but fidelity is severely wanting throughout. Purists may appreciate the inclusion of the original theatrical mix, but nothing can pacify the fact that it is a sonic nightmare.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jon Voight, Bruce Dern and director of photography Haskell Wexler
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:12m:25s

Extras Review: Coming Home is not exactly heavy on the extras, but there are plenty to justly pay tribute to the film. The special features begin with a 25-minute documentary titled Coming Back Home. This informative piece predominately features Jon Voight and director of photography, Haskell Wexler, discussing the importance of creating the political statement of the film. Jon Voight also reflects on his preparation for the role of Luke Martin, including the amount of time he spent around real-life paraplegics, and his insistence in practicing how to maneuver a wheelchair. Bruce Dern also makes comments on the emotional impact of the film, which he admits had him in tears during the first screening. This is a good documentary made better by the passionate contributions of those involved.

The featurette Hal Ashby: A Man Out of Time is essentially just an extension of the documentary featuring all the same interviewees. One exception is renowned director Norman Jewison, who offers brief insight as to how Ashby got his start in making motion pictures. This 15-minute featurette does not have much to do with Coming Home, but it is an honorable tribute to the late Hal Ashby who died of liver cancer in 1988.

A full-frame theatrical trailer is also included. This trailer not only shows too much of the film's final scenes, but relies almost entirely on the tense climax to sell the film.

Rounding out the extras is a feature-length commentary by Jon Voight, Bruce Dern, and Haskell Wexler. All of the participants have recorded their comments separately, so do not expect a rousing reunion. Voight starts off very drab, as if he has not had his morning cup of coffee, but when he gets going, he speaks with incredible enthusiasm. Bruce Dern's comments are sparse, though when he has something to say it is usually profound and cultivated. The most interesting comments come from Haskell Wexler, who candidly discusses the fascinating art of cinematography. His decisions towards framing and lighting are quite interesting, and his explanation of how he successfully shot close-ups from 100 yards away has heightened my appreciation for the aesthetic of the film.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The Coming Home DVD serves as a nice tribute to Hal Ashby, and fans of the film should be quite pleased despite the horrific audio and video presentation. Others unfamiliar with the film are urged to stay away. Anyone looking to see a great motion picture that accurately depicts the psychological terror of the Vietnam War should see Apocalypse Now or Platoon.


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