Watching PLATOON again, over 25 years since its initial release, I’m reminded at how different war movies are in 2011 than they were in 1986. Today’s war movies are filled with hope and overcoming extreme circumstances. Even when things are bad, most of today’s war films focus on something positive and show the power of the human spirit. But that was not the case in the 80’s. In the 80’s, it was all about showing the evil of war and the hopelessness and fear that comes with it. Perhaps it’s the changing societal view of soldiers and war or maybe it’s the shift from movies about Vietnam to movies about World War II. But no war movie has managed to capture the hopelessness and despair of war better than PLATOON.
Before Charlie Sheen went crazy, he was actually an actor, and a good one at that. Both he and Oliver Stone had their crowning achievement in PLATOON. In it, Sheen plays Chris, a young soldier thrust into the middle of the Vietnam war. Aside from being in a strange place and fighting in a war, his life is made difficult by the two drastically different leadership styles of Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe). The relationship between Barnes and Elias is the highlight of the film and the driving force behind everything we witness. It’s actually what makes this film much more than just another statement film about the horrors of the Vietnam War. Maybe it’s because I just saw it, but I’m reminded of THE TREE OF LIFE and how it focused on the nature/nurture way of living life and how those two ways fight each other. Stone dealt with similar themes (although not as existential as Terrence Malick), in a war setting.
The refreshing aspect of the film, if you want to call it that, is that Oliver Stone makes war look miserable. Today’s films do a pretty good job of depicting a realistic view on war, but in 1986, war was trivialized or made to look fun. PLATOON reminds a generation that had started to forget about Vietnam that it’s a miserable place that can do horrible things to both the body and the mind. But Stone doesn’t blame this so much on the enemy, he puts most of the burden on a soldier’s pain on his leadership and his situation. Not that any situation is good when people want to kill you, but we’re left thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the people leading you were more concerned about your best interests.
No review of PLATOON can be complete without mentioning the famous scene of Willem Dafoe crouched down in the grassy field. That scene is one of the most powerful in film history and it was such a beautiful, moving sequence that I’m shocked the man who orchestrated that scene went on to direct so many poor films. Even after multiple viewings, that scene brings tears to my eyes in a way that only war movies can. As far as war movies go, PLATOON is only bested by a few films and it remains a very powerful, impactful film.
Video: Platoon has never looked better. I always thought it was a rough looking DVD, but the Blu-ray cleans things up and definitely delivers a nice presentation.
Audio: The audio is also impressive and does a fine job of capturing the use of surround channels.
Audio Commentary with Director Oliver Stone: Although there are some pauses, for the most part this commentary is very informative and a great commentary to listen to if you are a student of film or a fan of the film.
Audio Commentary with Military Advisor Dale Dye: Also a great commentary as Dye talks about the training with the actors, his own time in Vietnam and his interactions with the cast. A very nice addition to this Blu-ray.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (11:31): These can be viewed with or without commentary from Oliver Stone. Definitely worth viewing for fans.
Flashback to Platoon (48:38): Broken into three separate parts, this is a feature that covers everything including the time period in which the film takes place, the reason the Vietnam War happened, the filmmaking process and cast and crew interviews. What a treat.
One War, Many Stories (25:32): A short documentary about Vietnam veterans and their thoughts and reactions to the film.
Preparing for ‘Nam (6:36): Another short but interesting feature with Stone and other veterans telling why they joined the military during this war.
Caputo & the 7th Fleet (1:36): A short bit about author Philip Caputo who talks about the evacuation of Saigon in 1975.
Dye Training Method (3:23): The military advisor talks about how he prepared the actors for this film.
Gordon Gekko (1:06): The tale of how Oliver Stone came up with the name of one of his most famous characters while making this film.