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MGM Studios DVD presents

Platoon: SE (1986)

"Somebody once wrote: 'Hell is the impossibility of reason.' That's what this place feels like. Hell."- Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen)

Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe
Other Stars: Kevin Dillon, Keith David, John C. McGinley, Forrest Whitaker
Director: Oliver Stone

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for profanity, gore, and violence
Run Time: 01h:59m:27s
Release Date: 2001-06-05
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

In the soul-shredding environment of the Vietnam War, each soldier maintains only a temporary grasp on sanity. One shocking incident can viciously snap even the most compassionate person's moral code. While searching an apparently harmless enemy bunker, two members of the squad die within seconds from a deadly trap. Soon afterwards, the others begin a search for a wayward solider, Manny. Upon the startling discovery of his murdered body, the pain is too much for each young man to handle. They enter a village and commit atrocities, bringing them to a level equivalent to uncaring animal predators. However, the preceding circumstances complicate the simple distinction between right and wrong. Such is the nature of Vietnam in Oliver Stone's Platoon‹a disturbingly accurate depiction of the harsh realities of warfare.

Innocent Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) has dropped out of college and voluntarily decided to enlist in the infantry. During his first day, he immediately discovers this terrible mistake that may cost him his life and sanity. Although Chris wants to do his duty for his country, he soon realizes that the true enemy is not actually clear here. Within the regiment, drastic personal conflicts could lead to an irreconcilable mistake and disastrous consequences. The two opposing forces are lead by strict and brutal Barnes (Tom Berenger) and compassionate and fun-loving Elias (Willem Defoe). Although both are skilled soldiers, their ethical differences threaten to rip the squad in half and lead to battles within the group. Barnes delivers his orders without question and deals swiftly with anyone who fails to bend to his authority. Elias hangs out and smokes pot with the guys and manages to retain his humanity against this barrage of violence and terror. In one poignant moment, he tells Chris that the Americans are going to lose this war. His reasoning is that it's our turn to lose, but his eyes reveal the true understanding in his heart. This atmosphere doesn't allow for the usual victories, and it only leads the soldiers towards their mental and physical end.

Writer/director Oliver Stone (JFK, Born on the Fourth of July) also voluntarily served in the Vietnam War as a young man, and this story stems from his personal experiences. It's clear from the brutal realism conveyed that Stone still possesses a vivid memory of the landscape and its callous disregard for humans. Interesting characters appear and quickly die before we even get to know them. This mirrors the experience of new platoon members who constantly lose their comrades and friends to the machine. Stone does an excellent job in drawing the audience intimately into this environment. The camera follows much of the action from directly over the shoulders of the soldiers inside the jungle. Numerous close-ups reveal the individual facial expressions of characters and almost make us feel like members of the squad. Medium and long shots set the scene for the events, and then we're thrust into the heart of the lush jungle to face our worst fears. The faceless enemies skulk behind trees and in bunkers and deal violently with any random soldier who crosses their path. It's intriguing that we rarely view the faces of the Vietnamese people (with the exception of the village scenes). It again strands us with the platoon and places us in their shoes, together facing the incoming deluge.

Willem Defoe continues to demonstrate his exceptional acting talents with each successive role. In the past few years, he's delivered remarkable performances in both The English Patient and Shadow of the Vampire. One of the most underrated actors in the business, Defoe still has managed to avoid the spotlight of other character actors like Kevin Spacey who have moved into major starring roles. In this film, he delivers arguably its best performance and creates a moving, tragic figure. Chris Taylor may be the protagonist of the story, but Elias is its heart and soul. Tom Berenger also does an excellent job in making Barnes one of the more disturbing war characters put to film. With scars littering his battered face, this stubborn creature has fought battles for years, and he's unwilling to pander to any ethical code. Charlie Sheen does a nice job (especially considering his limited acting experience at the time), but his role lacks the weight of Elias and Barnes. The cast also features a score of prominent actors when they still were unknown. Johnny Depp, Forrest Whitaker, John C. McGilney, and Richard Edson all entered this film with few major movies in their past. Also, Keith David (Dead Presidents, Clockers) brings his usual powerful screen presence to a fairly basic role. His character provides one of the few positive notes in the story, making it more rewarding because we care about this person.

Platoon contains countless moments of chaos and pure horror that make it difficult to digest the overall picture. With each successive mission, the sense of dread increases and begins to overwhelm the senses. In one swift stroke, the enemy could virtually eliminate the entire platoon in a few minutes. The story climaxes in an unforgettable mix of gunfire, strong explosions, and craziness within a dark nighttime setting. It's every man for himself, and their opponents make no distinctions in their lightning-fast killings. When the dust has finally settled, and the sun has risen, the effect is disheartening and remains with you with a long time. The United States has gained nothing and caused only extreme destruction. Although taking a smaller, personal story, it reveals the ultimate truth about the conditions for American soldiers in Vietnam. They faced terrible conditions and gave it everything, but the final result left only a gaping hole in their emotions and moral sense. It was not our fathers' war.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This disc sports a vivid 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer that presents Oliver Stonešs vision in its full majesty. The picture contains only a few major defects or glitches, and the black levels are solid and on the mark. The lush green jungles of Vietnam are colored nicely to reveal their destructive beauty. Much of this film takes place at night, and this transfer lacks the high grain levels that accompany dark scenes on many discs. Although not perfect, this is a top-notch effort, and MGM deserves a commendation for giving this masterpiece an excellent visual treatment.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Platoon features a powerful 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that transports us into the middle of the horrors of Vietnam. Explosions flare from every corner of the sound field, and the result is pure audio chaos. This track helps to recreate the frenetic atmosphere of Vietnam with a lush complexity that makes effective use of the surround speakers. The dialogue is easily understandable, and the score complements the pivotal moments through this excellent transfer. Although worth noting are the background noises of bugs and wildlife that drive the soldiers crazy. The depth of this track helps to create the context for their emotional destruction.

This disc also includes a 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track, which also works nicely to convey the mental stress caused by this inhumane atmosphere. Although it lacks the complexity of the digital transfer, it still presents the story with tremendous power.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Director Oliver Stone; Military Supervisor Captain Dale Dye
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:16m:36s

Extra Extras:
  1. "Behind the Scenes" Photo Gallery
  2. Poster Art
Extras Review: Platoon includes several excellent bonus features that will enhance your enjoyment of the film. The highlight is Tour of the Inferno, a comprehensive 48-minute documentary that covers every aspect of this difficult production. Prior to shooting, military supervisor Captain Dale Dye directed the actors through a grueling two-week boot camp to educate them on the conditions of the war. They slept in holes in the wilderness of the Philippines and faced extreme physical trials unlike anything they'd experienced before. This feature contains interviews with all the main players in the production, including Stone, Dye, Tom Berenger, Willem Defoe, Charlie Sheen, John C. McGinley, and others. It's amazing to realize the trials imposed upon these young actors by Stone to achieve his vision. There seems to be method to his madness. This is one of the better DVD documentaries out there, and it dwarfs the usual promotional fodder.

This disc also has two feature-length commentaries from Stone and Dye, who both served in Vietnam. Stone began his stint in 1967 on his 21st birthday, and he still has numerous memories of his time there. This track works nicely when the director is relating the events on screen to his own personal experiences. Unfortunately, he spends too much time providing plot summary that is obvious to viewers. Stone speaks in a monotonous voice and gives interesting details, but it drags too often to be considered more than mediocre. Dye's commentary surprisingly works better than Stone's because he presents numerous ideas and tidbits about the production. His voice carries a significant force, and it makes all of his words believable and easy to follow. Plus, his technical expertise reveals plenty of information included on-screen that would otherwise only be noticeable to Vietnam veterans. It's fascinating to realize the amount of attention placed on realism and accuracy within the minutiae.

Other features include the original theatrical trailer and three television spots. The main preview comes in a decent 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, and it works effectively to promote the story. Smokey Robinson plays over shots covering all elements of the film. The TV spots cover Oliver Stone, the action scenes, and the positive critical reaction. Finally, we have a mildly interesting behind-the-scenes gallery of photographs and a few marketing posters.

Extras Grade: A

Final Comments

Platoon took home four well-deserved Academy Awards® in 1986, including nods for Best Picture and Best Director. It is arguably the best film ever made about the Vietnam War due to its harsh realism and raw emotional power. Future generations will ultimately turn to this film to learn about the experience of fighting in this unfortunate war.

Dan Heaton 2001-07-19