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Warner Home Video presents
Full Metal Jacket (1987)

"God has a hard-on for Marines, because we kill everything we see."
- Gny. Sgt. Hartman (Lee Ermey)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: November 15, 2007

Stars: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O'Ross
Director: Stanley Kubrick

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 01h:56m:22s
Release Date: October 23, 2007
UPC: 085391186144
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Late-career Kubrick pictures became such a rarity—three movies in his final twenty years—that they became cultural events of huge proportions, and the tendency to exaggerate in the competition for pull quotes was fierce. Jay Scott of the Toronto Globe and Mail probably took the gold medal, though, declaring Full Metal Jacket to be "the best war movie ever made." Nothing could live up to that, and certainly not a movie from the director of Paths of Glory, my cautious nominee for that title; and it's easier to look at this film on its own merits now, rather than considering it in the wake of a raft of Vietnam pictures that included Platoon, and even The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. So does it hold up to that extraordinarily high level of scrutiny?

Well, the first 45 minutes of it sort of does, but then you can't help but think that it falls off pretty badly. The opening stanza of the film takes place on Parris Island, with a new class of Marine recruits getting turned into killers before being unleashed on the Viet Cong. The word "hero" doesn't seem quite right, but the central figure of the film is Joker, played by Matthew Modine—he gets his nickname by speaking out of turn, but he's really one generally to hold his tongue and assess the situation before wading into the muck. The whole sequence is basically boot camp as an S and M exercise, presided over by the insanely iconic Lee Ermey as the drill sergeant—his relentless cascade of creative profanity and continuing cruelties, both significant and petty, make Louis Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman seem like a befuddled substitute teacher. The principal recipient of his abuse is tagged with the name Private Gomer Pyle—everybody gets a vaguely offensive moniker—and as played by a bulked-up Vincent D'Onofrio looking like a sloe-eyed Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, Pyle becomes the poster child for the military's dehumanization of its subjects.

The insanity of war is one of Kubrick's great themes, not just here and in Paths of Glory, but most grimly in Dr. Strangelove—we get that pretty quickly here, and the rest of the picture cannot match the ferocious, lunatic energy of training camp. The middle portion of the movie has Joker, now a reporter for Stars and Stripes, marauding rather aimlessly through hot spots of the war—you sort of wonder if the rudderlessness of this portion of the movie is intended to mirror the seeming aimlessness and endlessness of the American involvement in Southeast Asia, but that's sort of straining for meaning, and you can't help but wonder if Kubrick was more of a victim than he realized of his self-imposed exile—what may have felt fresh to him seems like warmed-over combat stories if you've seen more than a couple of Vietnam movies. The highlights turn out to be things like editorial meetings, where Joker and his colleagues gin up euphemisms and put positive spin on things more agilely than even the David Petraeus P.R. machine—"search and destroy" becomes "sweep and clear," for instance.

A sniper sequence ties up the running time, but you feel that Kubrick has in fact emptied his chamber by then—he's made his points about the horrors and the absurdities of wartime, and you sense only that he doesn't much care for his characters, certainly not enough to get us to empathize with them. With the benefit of hindsight, knowing that this was his penultimate picture, it's almost like you can feel Kubrick falling victim to his persona—he'd been told so often and for so long that he's a genius that he may have started to take his own idiosyncratic interests for everyone else's. It doesn't quite work here, and you feel almost like an ungrateful film fan as your attention starts to wander, but that's probably what's going to happen.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: An excellent transfer—shimmering colors, and a broad and saturated palette. It may almost be too good, as you'll pick up on the fact that the movie was made in England, and nowhere near Southeast Asia.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: War is hell, and your ears will agree after the battering they'll take from this loud 5.1 track. It can be effective, but seems to go to the well too often—once you're pummeled into submission aurally, there's little nuance to attend to, and the quiet moments are little gifts from the heavens.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 39 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Jay Cocks
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Three principal cast members, along with film critic Jay Cocks, are interviewed separately for the commentary—Cocks seems to have spent a good amount of time with Kubrick, but he cops right away to having done no preparation for this track. (Yeah, thanks for the effort, Jay.) Ermey, a former Marine drill sergeant, discusses starting as the film's technical advisor, and relentlessly pursuing his role in the picture; D'Onofrio is especially good, talking about all the weight he put on for the role, and the particular challenges of playing such an inward, depressive character on a famously extended Kubrick shoot.

Full Metal Jacket: Beyond Good and Evil (30m:47s) is full of lots of clips—too many clips, probably—along with interviews with cast members, film scholars, and a couple of producers on the project—as you might anticipate, the principal topic of conversation is the great man himself, and if it's not a full portrait of Kubrick, it's certainly a fond set of memories.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A fantastically sustained training camp sequence sets the bar high for this war film, and the rest of it doesn't quite measure up. Still, it's a Kubrick movie, so you can rely on it being made with passion, intelligence, craft and skill.


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