Review by Gary W. Tooze
Audio: DD Plus 5.1 English, DUB: French 2.0
Subtitles: Optional English SDH or French
Extras: Commentary with director Oliver Stone, Featurette: NBC News Archives: Backstory
Released: June 12th, 2007
Broadening the sweep of Platoon, this is a more ambitious, accomplished film about Vietnam, but not because it treads the now familiar path from innocence to enlightenment. Rather, its strength stems from the intense depiction of a man stripped of dignity and sexuality as a result of appalling injuries. Based on the experiences of veteran Ron Kovic (who co-scripted, with Stone, this adaptation of his book), the film encompasses two decades. From an upright, Catholic background, Kovic (Cruise) emerges ready to kill Commies. After being wounded, he ends up in the veterans' hospital back home - a hellish place short on funds and sentiment. Starting the slow process of re-education, from the confines of a wheelchair he begins active participation in the anti-war movement. Cruise's performance is a powerful, credible interpretation; but Stone can't resist sermonising, particularly when he overplays Kovic's tortured attempts at catharsis after he accidentally shoots a fellow soldier. Idyllic childhood scenes signpost all too clearly the ensuing nightmare. But things progressively improve, the sheer scope of the action accommodating the more vigorous approach applied to later sequences. A compelling, elegiac film, particularly encouraging after the simplified morality of Platoon.
Oliver Stone is a fearless director unafraid to undertake ambitious projects. I like much of his work but count Born on the Fourth of July and possibly Wall Street and JFK as my favorites. The story of one individual's life, his youthful naiveté, trial by fire maturity and striving political accomplishments make for an intensely memorable film experience. Arguable Cruise at his best, Robert Richardson's effective cinematography, John Williams subtle score all held together with Stone's complete grasp of the medium - it translates to a true high point of late 80's cinema.out of
Video: Since our usual screen capture comparisons are not as relevant with HD releases - I prefer comparative analysis and unfortunately I only owned the non-anamorphic initial release (April 98') of this film on DVD. Since then there have been other releases - a DTS edition and also a Special Edition that came out in 2004. Ohhh yes...I also owned the LaserDisc - so obviously the improvement with this Universal HD, for me, borders on the ridiculous. The new HD is as close to perfect as I can translate in words. Some of the biggest areas of superiority with this new format over SD DVDs are the elimination of artifacts found in vast monochromic scenes such as skies and panoramic vista shots - often more prevalent in the wider screen ratio (such as this - 2.35). The picture quality is immensely smoother and sharper while color depth is akin to watching a completely new film. But it is never overblown or saturated. Re-visiting Born on the Fourth... in such a stirring visual appearance was a joyful experience. It looked very impressive indeed and it brought back memories of seeing it theatrically.
* HD image derived from a digital camera - do not weigh comparative examples too heavily. Framing, detail and contrast and not to our usual exacting specifications. It best exhibits improved color depth.
The only English audio track is a pure Dolby Digital 5.1 job (there is
also a 2.0 French DUB). It separates well - very noticeable in certain
scenes (gunfire, helicopters etc.) and the audio faithfully represents the powerful John Williams score
(which I also own on CD). As you might expect - dialogue is audible -
very clear and consistent. No dropouts of flaws of any kind.
Optional English SDH or French subtitles support the audio.
Extras: Nothing additional has been added from the 2004 Special Edition - an excellent 20 minute featurette - 'Backstory' - with input from Ron Kovac, Stone and Cruise and the old Stone commentary which I'll add is one of the better I have heard (this is the first time I was able to listen to it). He is frank and informative and I am keen to listen to other commentaries by him in the future.
An insert advertises other Universal HD-DVDs.