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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Gardens of Stone (1987)

"Clell sees this war as bad judgement, a screw-up. I see it as genocide."
- Samantha Davis (Anjelica Huston)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: July 24, 2002

Stars: James Caan, Anjelica Huston, James Earl Jones, D.B. Sweeney
Other Stars: Dean Stockwell, Mary Stuart Masterson
Director: Francis Coppola

MPAA Rating: R for language
Run Time: 01h:51m:44s
Release Date: June 25, 2002
UPC: 043396088511
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I strongly believe that Francis Ford Coppola is responsible for not only the best film about the war in Vietnam, but also one of the finest motion pictures ever created. No, I am not talking about Gardens of Stone, but Apocalypse Now. It is somewhat surprising that Coppola decided to make another movie about Vietnam after putting himself through hell during the shooting of that film. Yet, unlike Apocalypse, Gardens of Stone sheds violent combat for a more quiet focus on the internal struggles of those indirectly affected by the war. It is a noble effort from a talented filmmaker, but since the creation of Apocalypse, I feel as if Coppola has taken a much more relaxed approach to filmmaking, almost as if he knows it is not possible to top his earlier masterpieces. Gardens of Stone is not a terrible film, but it is extremely disjointed, and worst of all, lacks emotion.

The film honors the soldiers who tend to the graves at Arlington National Cemetery. At the time of the Vietnam War, these men were endlessly busy staging funerals and burying the dead, which were chillingly referred to as "drops." James Caan plays Clell Hazard, an army sergeant who, after serving two tours, views the war in Vietnam as futile. He becomes attached to training a young recruit named Jackie Willow (D.B. Sweeney), who has an opposing view of the war. One scene shows Willow telling his girlfriend, Rachael (Mary Stuart Masterson), "A soldier in the right place and right time can change the world." Through their differences, the two men form an uncommon bond.

Much of the problem with Gardens of Stone is that it focuses too intently on the wrong relationships. The romance between Clell and Washington Post reporter, Samantha Davis (Anjelica Huston), is important to the overall picture, but the time spent on these characters greatly detracts from the pivotal relationship between Hazard and Willow. All too often, events happen to characters we hardly know or have not even met; it is difficult to feel sympathy towards characters we do not know. I did not become emotionally attached to any of the characters due to the fact that they were underwritten and misdirected.

If I did not know better, I would swear this was a completely different Coppola from the master who directed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He pieces the film together in a random method that makes me believe he truly did not know where its strengths lie. The entire film spends its lengthy running time in all the wrong places. The irrelevant portions are slow and plodding, while the pertinent scenes are hurried and underdeveloped. Such an interesting and important subject could have been turned into a thought-provoking story, but this film gave me nothing to ponder. The lead actors do the best they can with the meager material, but it is obvious that they are struggling. Many of the less significant performances are so horrendous that I am amazed Coppola actually let them by.

Coppola once again used his father and Apocalypse Now composer, Carmine Coppola, to score this film. I was not terribly impressed with the majority of the music in Apocalypse Now, but it felt suitable. The music for Gardens of Stone is so bad that it severely undermines the impact of the film. It sounds like a mix between the music of a 1940s B movie and an episode of Gomer Pyle. I admire the fact that he wanted to pay respect to his dear old Dad, but Coppola really should have had a heart to heart talk with the man before deciding to plague his film with this irritating score.

I typically find any subject revolving around the Vietnam War fascinating, but I found Gardens of Stone dreadfully tiresome. I did not learn anything, nor did I feel moved by the experience. The best films tend to stay with me, resonating through my mind again and again. One week from now, I would not be surprised if I barely remember watching Gardens of Stone.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: I found the anamorphic 1.85:1 image to look fairly decent for a 15-year-old film. Color is consistently vibrant, boasting predominately warm hues with minimal over saturation. Black level is a mixed bag; one moment it is perfect, the next it appears washed out. Contrast is equally varied, appearing well balanced in the outdoor shots but slightly dark in dimly lit interiors. Minor shimmering can be detected in fine details, and occasionally pixelization occurs. These irritations are easily identifiable, but not terribly distracting. While this is far from a perfect image, it is a pleasant visual experience that is free from glaring deficiencies.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is impressive for Dolby surround. The first half of the film is extremely quiescent, and predominately monaural. During the first half hour, I found dialogue to be whisper quiet and often unintelligible. Any sign of low end is completely non-existent during this period, and my subwoofer lay dormant. While audibly soft, the fidelity of the dialogue is quite commendable; spoken words sound consistently natural with no hint of distortion. Half way through the film, the soundtrack opens up with a wider sense of envelopment. Several sequences boast aggressive surrounds, such as the cannons at a funeral and the helicopters during a training exercise. While a 5.1 track certainly would have been more dynamic and expansive, the 2.0 surround track is fitting for a film of this nature.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Birdy, Glory, Brian's Song
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No special features related to Gardens of Stone are available, only trailers for two films in the same genre, and a trailer for Brian's Song, starring James Caan. I was not expecting a multitude of extras, but given the importance of the subject matter, I consider the lack of special features a missed opportunity.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

I did not enjoy Gardens of Stone, but there are those who may find it moving and compelling. The audio and video portions are satisfactory, but the lack of special features is a grave disappointment. Consider this one a rental.


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