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Category:    Home > Reviews > War > Drama > Comedy > Vietnam > Full Metal Jacket (HD-DVD)

Full Metal Jacket (HD-DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: C-     Film: A-



When Hollywood finally was able to deal with the U.S. actually battling in Vietnam, a few films like Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (reviewed elsewhere on this site), Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Oliver Stone’s Platoon were all critical and commercial successes.  Many of the lesser films tried for a revised Vietnam where there was something to win and also led to a series of more dated than ever action films with the super-invulnerable solider no one after 9/11 believes anymore.  Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) may have arrived at the end of the cycle, but it is one of the few masterworks the cycle ever offered.


Based on a fine, relatively short novel by Gustav Hasford called The Short-Timers, Kubrick sought additional partners as he does to flush out the story.  Michael Herr joined Kubrick and Hasford in writing the screenplay, but former real-life drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey became an additional collaborator.  Just staring out as a character actor, Ermey told Kubrick that the book’s drill scenes were inadequate (a paraphrase, if you know Mr. Ermey’s work) and he brought the final layer of amazing realism to the film that rendered other films on the subject inferior.


Split into two sections, the film focuses on a journalist hopeful nicknamed Joker (Matthew Modine) who is the most observant and least affected of all the recruits in basic training.  From the unforgettable opening credits of the recruits losing their hair to the introductory drill and D.I. speech, the film immediately captures one’s attention with amazing skill and intelligence.  Joker is somewhat mousy and relatively intellectual, can this system turn him into a mad killing machine?  As a counterpoint, there is the overgrown, overweight and infantilized recruit who is so inept, he gets dubbed Gomer Pyle by the D.I. and one of the most brilliantly dark stretches of humor in cinema history begins.  The conclusion is classic.


Then comes the second half, when the soldiers are ready for battle.  Many have said that this is when the film downturns, but that is just denial of where the film goes next.  Most films in the cycle always portrayed Vietnam as a war totally in the jungle and the Vietcong or Vietnamese in general as the “animal other” who needed to be beaten into submission or killed off.  Contrary to this racist myth, Kubrick’s battles take place in the city, where hookers and blue market American product are changing hands constantly.  Joker finds a new opponent in Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin) who has obscenities, insults and outrageous racist slurs pouring out of his mouth faster than a machine gun.  He also is in superior physical shape and build at a time when that was very uncommon for the time period of the film and still new in 1987.  Like the first half of the film, sexuality, masculinity and man’s inhumanity to man play key roles, though this more complex second half is when too many audience members loose track of the film.


Of course, there is the great title with so many meanings and the film becomes a brilliant companion piece to Paths Of Glory and Dr. Strangelove, but more than stands on its own as one of the great classics of the genre and the 1980s.  When it was originally released, it seemed like a distant world, but with 9/11 and a second return to The Middle East, the film has a whole new relevance like all Kubrick works eventually do.  As fine as the recent Jarhead was (reviewed in standard and HD-DVD formats elsewhere on this site), Full Metal Jacket is a film that never lets up and was grossly underrated in its time.  That it came out in the middle of the Reagan era is all the more incredible.  It is one of those rare films that deserve to be considered a full-fledged classic.


The 1.78 X 1 1080p digital High Definition image is a disappointment, with more grain than expected and color issues.  The film had been in trouble before it was recently restored by Leon Vitali for the remastered standard DVD.  The print used here looks a bit like the older, faded print for the older DVD, with a comparison to the new standard, remastered DVD having better color.  Of course, both of the standard DVDs were of the originally shot 1.33 x 1 full frame image with widescreen consideration, so all versions are actually correct.  This disc has some solid image advantages, but not as much as it should have.  I have seen this in 35mm, including in its original 1987 release and cinematographer Douglas Milsome’s camerawork is classic.  Some detail is slightly fuzzier than it should be too, so why is this?  We have no idea, but will wait to see more feedback on the title as it makes the rounds.  It should also be noted that the amazing production design was by the late Anton Furst, whose influence is still with us today in the look of this film and the Batman franchise.


The sound was originally theatrical mono, but Kubrick had the film remixed for 5.1 later as he did not feel that even in 1987, movie houses could play back the sound properly.  The new mix, as introduced on the remastered standard DVD, still has its dialogue most often in the center channel.  However, the new mix does offer some good soundfield moments, the hit records and impressive music score by “Abigail Mead” aka Vivian Kubrick work more effectively in this mix.  It is better in Dolby Digital Plus than the standard Dolby just enough to rate higher.  Like that regular DVD, the only extra is the original theatrical trailer.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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