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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents

Platoon: 20th Anniversary Edition (1986)

"Death? What do you all know about death?"- Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger)

Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Bergenger, Willem Dafoe
Other Stars: Keith David, Reggie Jackson, John C. McGinley, Francesco Quinn, Mark Moses, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp
Director: Oliver Stone

MPAA Rating: R for (intense wartime violence, strong language)
Run Time: 01h:59m:28s
Release Date: 2006-05-30
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A BB+B- A-


DVD Review

Recalling his own experiences as a combat soldier, Oliver Stone unleashed Platoon in 1986 with little to prepare audiences for the harrowing experience that lay ahead. Acting as writer and director, Stone abandons the profound humanity of The Deer Hunter and the poetic lyricism of Apocalypse Now, opting instead to focus on the chaotic carnage of guerilla warfare. I can only imagine the visceral impact the film had on moviegoers during its original run. Even 20 years later, Platoon's graphic, unflinching look at war holds its own with Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers. However, it seems that the technical craft of the movie has overwhelmed audiences for all these years. In truth, Stone's script lacks depth, failing to adequately develop its characters and look beyond its author's own emotions.

Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) is a naïve enlisted man who joined the army to move beyond what he perceives as the façade of civilian life. Stationed along the Cambodian border on the eve of the Tet Offensive, he joins a platoon that is split into two camps. One is led by the battle worn Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), a brutal man who is completely committed to the mission. In the other camp, Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) assumes leadership, dutifully performs his role as a soldier while also harboring doubts about the war. As they trek through the jungle, the sergeants soon find themselves warring with one another after Barnes leads his men into a village, resulting in a small My Lai-type massacre. Each man has a pull on Taylor, who will not only need to survive the attacks by North Vietnamese forces, but also the war's moral confusion.

There is much to praise about Stone's war drama. His trademark sledgehammer direction is perfect for the subject, driving the reality of ambush attacks straight into the viewer's gut. When Taylor first encounters the enemy during a night ambush, it is a powerful display not only of filmmaking, but also of the horror that engulfs men during battle. Paying attention to detail like no other director before him, Stone revolutionized the genre of the war movie. The gritty reality of infected feet, insect bites, and lugging 70 pounds of equipment are fully realized on screen. So perfectly does Stone, with the help of cinematographer Robert Richardson and the sound design team, present the life of a soldier that I practically felt as if I were marching in the rain alongside these characters. There's an authenticity in the production design that makes all the sets look as if these people had inhabited them for several tours of duty. The drug use, drinking, and boredom of wartime soldiers all rings true.

Where Platoon falls apart is largely in its characters. The demonic Barnes and angelic Elias are too clichéd as they wrestle with one another over Taylor's loyalty. It seems clear that Stone is using the triad of characters as a parable for America, with the sergeants representing the left and right, while Taylor stands in for the stars and stripes. To reduce the complexities of Vietnam to this seems childish; more in keeping with the straight-laced 1940s war propaganda than Stone would have you believe. Additionally, I've never cared much for the gratuitous use of voiceover in this movie. Having Taylor's letters to his grandmother read to the audience takes away from the quasi-documentary feel the visuals evoke. Ultimately, Taylor's reflections seems terribly obvious and don't add to the film's themes.

While Stone's writing may not be up to snuff, the actors rise well above it. Berenger is horrifying as Barnes, being strangely seductive and undeniably powerful. Some of the greatest acting in any war movie can be found in his performance, such as when he sits smoking a cigarette after two soldiers are blown away by a booby-trap. Sheen is also impressive as Taylor, playing the character's transition from fresh-faced recruit to skilled killer quite compellingly. The supporting cast is exceptional too, with John C. McGinley's turn as the cowardly Sgt. O'Neill playing as the perfect counterpoint to the leads. However, above all, Willem Dafoe's Elias is what impresses me most. There's a spirituality to his performance that seems transcendent, infecting the viewer with his quiet rage about the war while also inspiring us to be as principled and loyal to higher orders as he is.

While I think Platoon is not quite the masterpiece many people do, I cannot deny its power. Oliver Stone's film still stands as the most engaging and realistic look at the Vietnam War's jungle warfare. If only he had written a better script, maybe it would stand as the greatest war film of all time.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Comparing this new anniversary edition DVD to my old special edition disc, the image transfer is identical. While there are several instances of print defects and mosquito noise, the overall picture is still good. The night scenes come across especially well, with very fine detail bringing the jungle to life. Blacks are adequate, as are skin tones, and the colors come across nicely. Still, it seems there's plenty of room for improvement.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This new DVD not only carries over the previous Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but also brings a new DTS track with it. The DTS track is marginally better than the Dolby Digital one, merely because dialogue is crisper and more audible. Otherwise, the two tracks are virtually identical in terms of sound separation and directionality. Both are also quite front heavy, to a fault in my opinion, and again it seems like this is a missed opportunity for some much-needed improvement. French and Spanish Dolby Stereo mixes are also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring The James Bond Ultimate Collection, The Great Escape, Windtalkers: Director's Cut, The Best of World War II Movies, The Patriot: Extended Cut, Raging Bull, Black Hawk Down: Extended Cut
3 TV Spots/Teasers
11 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
3 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Dale Dye, Oliver Stone
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:02m:53s

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert—collectible insert with facts about the movie's development and production.
  2. Photo Galleries—a slideshow of production stills and poster artwork.
Extras Review: Wow, it seems like every couple of years there's a new version of Platoon on DVD. This new two-disc set is the film's fourth digital incarnation and contains all of the special features on MGM's previous special edition plus several more. The insert features facts about the production and Stone's role in Vietnam. On Disc 1 there are two feature-length commentaries; the first by Oliver Stone is a slight disappointment. He spends most of his time narrating the events on screen, only sprinkling his reflections and information about the production in minimal doses. However, Capt. Dale Dye (who served three tours in Vietnam as a Marine and acted as the film's technical advisor) provides an excellent and insightful commentary. Dishing out good production information, explaining how he trained the actors, and reflecting on his own wartime experiences, Dye offers a thoroughly entertaining and valuable track.

The second disc begins with 11 deleted and extended scenes (playing together for a runtime of 11m:30s). Each is shown in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and they aren't fully produced. For the most part, the scenes were wisely cut from the movie. However, Love and Hate would actually have been beneficial, since it helps develop the characters of Elias and Barnes with information about their backstories. The alternate ending is absolutely laughable and not using it saves the film from ending on a sour note. Stone provides optional commentary on each scene, discussing the people who inspired the characters and his intentions with each scene.

Following is a three-part documentary, Flashback to Platoon (48m:35s). The first part, Snapshot in Time: 1967-1968, sets the historical context of the film and gives a good sense of the population's mood at that time. The second chapter, Creating the 'Nam, focuses more on the shooting of the picture. Populated with interviews with the production crew, Stone, and Charlie Sheen, this is a good analysis of the director's style and the movie's humble beginnings. The final part, Raw Wounds: The Legacy of Platoon, is a balanced look at its reception by veterans, critics, and audiences. While not a fantastic documentary, it is a welcomed addition to this set. An even better one is One War, Many Stories (25m:30s), which features various veterans of the war after a screening of the movie, and offers a unique look at how the war changed the lives of the young men who fought in it. Each vet offers some truly fascinating information and perspective, and they're not at all afraid to offer conflicting views. This is an extremely valuable supplement.

Next is Tour of the Inferno (50m:03s). This comprehensive documentary is a carry over from the previous DVD and I'm glad Sony kept it. Featuring a great amount of behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews with the cast and crew, this documentary gives a vivid sense of the movie's development, production, and theatrical release. Hearing the actors recall their grueling training under Dale Dye is captivating, as are the various anecdotes about making the movie. Preparing for 'Nam (06m:36s) is a featurette that contains interviews with Stone and other vets as they recall boot camp, discussing their impressions and the benefits of military training. It's just a shame there isn't a lot of boot camp footage to accompany their interviews.

A brief gallery of production stills and poster art, as well as three TV spots and the movie's original theatrical trailer—along with the preview trailers for The James Bond Ultimate Collection, The Great Escape, Windtalkers: Director's Cut, The Best of World War II Movies, The Patriot: Extended Cut, Raging Bull, and Black Hawk Down: Extended Cut—are all shown in nonanamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo.

While the supplemental material is not awe-inspiring, it still makes this set worthy of purchase.

Extras Grade: A-

Final Comments

The Platoon: 20th Anniversary Edition DVD is not much of an improvement over the previous special edition release in terms of audio and image transfers. However, the new supplemental material included here makes this worth a quadruple-dip for the film's fans.

Nate Meyers 2006-05-30