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Warner Bros. Home Video presents

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

"The dead know only one thing: it's better to be alive."- Private Joker (Matthew Modine)

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

Manufacturer: wamo
MPAA Rating: R for (stong language, violence)
Run Time: 01h:56m:24s
Release Date: 2001-06-12
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-AA D-


DVD Review

In a career filled with masterpieces, Full Metal Jacket stands out as Stanley Kubrick's worst film. It's not entirely his fault, though. He released the film a year after Platoon, which immediately drew comparisons. Also, Kubrick intended to make a "war" film, not an "anti-war" film (saying he'd already done that in Paths of Glory). However, the quintessential American war film in my opinion will always be a World War II film (or perhaps a Revolutionary War film), because of the lack of social controversy. Vietnam films are almost all anti-war, and while we can appreciate that Kubrick is trying to break the mold, it just doesn't work.

The film is divided into two parts, the first follows a group of recruits through training by the vicious Drill Instructor Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). At first Hartman is equally tough on all the recruits, but soon his aggression is directed towards Private Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), dubbed "Gomer Pyle." who is slower, fatter, and dumber than the rest of the troops. Hartman assigns Private J.T. Davis (Matthew Modine), dubbed "Private Joker," to show Lawrence the ropes. However, not even Davis can stop Lawrence from snapping. The second half concerns Davis (now a Sergeant) as an army journalist in Vietnam. After giving lip to his superior, Davis gets stuck with field work, and while on patrol with a group, a Vietnamese sniper starts taking men down one by one, and it's up to Davis and a small core of men to find the mysterious shooter.

Full Metal Jacket isn't really bad, it's just doesn't compare well with Kubrick's other films, and not as good as Platoon. Let's face it, when you make a film on the same topic as the past year's Best Picture® winner, you had better make it amazing or not make it at all. Probably the biggest problem with the film is that you don't connect with the characters, as they're not very interesting. Not a fault of the performances (although Modine seems a little too relaxed in the Vietnam portion), the characters are simply underwritten.

The best thing here is undoubtedly R. Lee Ermey as Drill Instructor Hartman. Ermey crafts the definitive drill instructor character (due to the fact he WAS a drill instructor), and every other similar character will always be judged against his performance. In fact, I recently watched part of Tom Hanks' Band of Brothers on HBO. As I saw the scenes with Ross - er - David Schwimmer playing a Drill Sergeant, images of Ermey immediately rocketed themselves to the forefront of my brain, and all I have to say is that Band of Brothers was weaker because of it. I have heard that marine vets say that the boot camp sequences in Full Metal Jacket are the most realistic ever put on film, no doubt in large part to R. Lee Ermey.

The other truly brilliant portion of the movie is the climax with the hidden assassin. Up to that point, Kubrick took a fairly detached stance from his subject (also part of the problem of the overall film), but in this sequence, he's down and dirty with the troops. Camera zooms, whips, and pans are used to incredible effect as the tension becomes palpable in the air, and the men try to find who is taking them down one by one. The ending to the sequence is almost surreal, in the best possible way. I think this sequence alone stands up as well as most other full-length war films, but it's almost not worth going through the rest of the movie to get to it.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Another flawless transfer from the new Kubrick set. Colors are bright and vibrant, but with no bleeding of any kind. The color palette comes across beautifully, with a wide range of colors discernible, even the dark gray of foam bats that the troops use in training show themselves as gray and not black. The first scene of the Vietnam sequence, which has a huge range of different colors, shapes, and texts, comes across cleanly and in high detail. This is the best Full Metal Jacket has ever looked.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Full Metal Jacket gets more of a workout than the other Kubrick set mixes. While the score uses the surrounds (it's really a minimalist-type score anyway), it's the action sequences that use them best. To hear shots whiz by, explosions every which way, helicopters coming in from above, tank treads in the dirt below, makes for a very exciting experience, even if the style means you can't fully engross yourself in it. Of all the Kubrick discs, I'd say that Full Metal Jacket, along with perhaps 2001: A Space Odyssey, benefit the most from these surround mixes.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 39 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: As always, just the theatrical trailer.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

While Full Metal Jacket is Stanley Kubrick's weakest film, it still has its high moments. R. Lee Ermey's unbelievably intense performance, and the masterful climax rank among the best of Kubrick's canon. However, the film's underwritten characters and detached feeling means the audience doesn't connect emotionally. Much of Full Metal Jacket leaves something to be desired, making for a disappointing penultimate film from one of the great masters of cinema.

Daniel Hirshleifer 2001-10-26