Platoon Blu-ray Review: A Balanced, Realistic Portrayal of War

"Somebody once wrote: 'Hell is the impossibility of reason.' That's what this place feels like. Hell." - Pvt. Chris Taylor
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MGM commemorates the 25th anniversary of Oliver Stone's Academy Award-winning Platoon with its debut on Blu-ray.  The film tells the story of Private Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) and the men he served with during his tour of duty in Vietnam.  Taylor stands in for writer/director Oliver Stone, whose own experiences in Vietnam were the basis of the story, and he provides a glimpse of what went on for those who weren't there.

Taylor volunteered to join the Infantry, wanting to serve his country the same way his father and grandfather had, and in September of 1967 he became a member of Bravo Company, 25th Infantry, fighting near the Cambodian border.  His first night out he learns how dangerous the war is when the man he passes off guard duty to falls asleep on watch and a night attack by North Vietnamese soldiers has deadly results.

Because of the feckless leadership of Lieutenant Wolfe (Mark Moses), the platoon is fractured into two groups.  One is led by Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), a man willing to break any rule to accomplish the mission, and the other by Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), a smart tactician and the only person in the unit willing to stand up to Barnes.  King (Keith David) brings Taylor into Elias' group know as the Heads because of their drug use.  The dissension between the two groups is toxic, and no one can ever be sure whom they can trust out in the field. 

Over the course of the film, Taylor grows as a soldier and is a much different man by the end.  His skills and awareness in the field sharpen, but he is still prone to being overwhelmed by the madness of that war overwhelming as seen when the platoon investigates a village that may be helping the North Vietnamese.

Stone's script is outstanding.  The plot is compelling, and the characters are believable people, brought to life by the talented cast.  Producer Arnold Kopelson along with Stone get an amazing amount out of their limited budget.  The film went on to win four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound and Best Film Editing. 

Platoon has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of aspect ratio: 1.85:1.  The colors are strong hues with a lot of greens and browns as expected in the jungle.  The reds, such as those seen in the packaging for Budweiser can and Marlboro packages, stand out.  Facial tones are consistent.  Occasionally, Barnes face looks waxy, for example when they are sitting around playing poker, which may mean some DNR was done.  Grain is evident, with increases at night.  There's a good amount of detail, but edges aren't always sharp.

Although given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, the audio shows its age with the limited experience offered.  Dialogue is clear when intended.  Helicopters pass through channels.  The most impressive element is the ambiance.  Insects can be heard in the surrounds as can the rain.  Unfortunately, the battles are the weakest moments.  Firefights are not very loud and don't deliver much bass.  The weapon effects don't sound authentic.

The extras were recorded for 2006 20th Anniversary DVD.  There are two commentary tracks.  Director Oliver Stone recounts the making of film as well as his Vietnam experiences and how they impacted the film.  He's very informative though doesn't talk throughout.  Military Advisor Dale Dye discusses his work on the film and his own time in Vietnam, including the similarities to and differences from Stone's.  Both are enjoyable.

"Deleted & Extended Scenes" (SD, 12 min): Available with Stone commentary, these 10 scenes offer more background to characters and reveal more face time for the smaller roles.

"Flashback to Platoon" (SD, 49 min) is a three-part feature.  "Snapshot in Time: 1967-1968" looks at the year in history Platoon was set through interviews with Stone, Dye, author Phillip Caputo, former Senator Max Cleland and others.  "Creating the 'Nam" focuses on the shoot with Kopelson, Sheen, production designer Bruno Rubeo, special effects supervisor Yves De Bono, and editor Claire Simpson, who won an Oscar for her work on the film.  "Raw Wounds: The Legacy of Platoon" shows the response to the film, both positive and negative.

Under "Documentaries," "One War, Many Stories" (SD, 26 min) is a powerfully emotional piece as former serviceman talk after 2005 screening and share their experiences which they are still dealing with.  "Preparing for 'Nam" (SD, 7 min) interviews men, some who were at the screening, about basic training.

"Vignettes" contains very short pieces.  "Caputo & The 7th Fleet" (SD, 2 min) finds the author talking about being evacuated from Saigon shortly before the fall.  In "Dye Training Method" (SD, 3 min) he talks about preparing the actors.  "Gordon Gekko" (SD, 1 min) reveals how the origin of the name for the Wall Street character occurred during the making of Platoon.  There are also three "Television Spots" (SD) and the theatrical trailer (HD, 2 min).

Platoon is an outstanding war movie, particularly about Vietnam, because it gives a balanced, realistic portrayal of what those men went through.  The Blu-ray makes the best of its source and offers good video, serviceable audio, and a very good collection of extras that inform about both the movie and the war.

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