There are many things 'The Green Berets' will be remembered for, and the fact that it stars John Wayne is arguably the least of them. The 1968 war film is not only one of the few directed by the Duke himself, but it is also the last time he held such a position. (His input on 'Big Jake' was minimal and goes uncredited.) But above even the presence of one of Hollywood's most revered actors is a persist rumor identifying this film as the first Vietnam movie ever made. This simply isn't true. That honor goes to a small, forgotten war drama 'A Yank in Viet-Nam (1964)', and it can very easily be seen as supportive of U.S. military presence. In spite of this, 'The Green Berets' can at least be said to be the first major Hollywood production about America's involvement.
Unfortunately, this is not enough to save the movie from some inherently major drawbacks and deficiencies. With full support and cooperation from the military and President Johnson, the film was made as an intentional rallying-cry to support the troops already stationed in the war-torn country. Although John Wayne proclaimed his war epic as a tribute to the U.S. Army Special Forces, the political ideology and anti-Communist sentiments are astonishingly domineering and unforgiving. As if that weren't enough, the script, which is based on the book of the same name, but hardly resembling the original story, is seriously crippled by its militant stance, a cliché plotline that overstays its welcome, and inane dialogue. Ultimately and fundamentally, 'The Green Berets' is nothing more than a chest-pounding, gun-ho propaganda film that borders on offensive.
There is no mistaking the story's aspirations and methods, which the opening act makes abundantly clear within minutes. During a Special Forces demonstration at Fort Bragg, two soldiers offer a convincing argument (or at least, the filmmakers think it convincing) that explains U.S. intervention in Vietnam. They are able to do this with very little effort despite weak counter points from reporters present at the briefing. The most skeptical journalist of the bunch, George Beckworth (David Janssen), is then practically dared to see the atrocities committed by the Viet Cong with his own two eyes. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where this is going. It's not only obvious Beckworth will soon change his tune about the war, but he's also a superficial and insincere characterization of the liberal media and their perceived lack of patriotic support.
With an agenda behind every motive, John Wayne, co-director Ray Kellogg and screenwriter James Lee Barrett engineer a political war film that is sadly short on the human element. Granted, we are incessantly shown images of the Army's humanitarian efforts and a self-less pursuit to protect the South Vietnamese people from a menacing threat, but we are never given ample time with any one character to learn more about who they are and their concerns or anxieties about the war. The script is also wrongheaded and oversimplified, reducing everything to its simplest parts, almost to the level of a kids game of "Cowboys and Indians" - territory that is ever so familiar to Mr. Wayne. Communists are evil and must be stopped; Americans are good and the heroes of the world. This isn't as much a film as it is the promotion of a doctrine only a few are willing to defend blindly.
Of course, it can be argued that no war movie can be made without a certain point of view behind it. And while that may be true to an extent, the perspective from which a film is created should never replace a worthwhile and well-told story. When politics takes more importance over a competently structured narrative and plot, there is little else to enjoy. Some of the best films about war, such as 'The Longest Day', 'All Quite on the Western Front', 'Letters from Iwo Jima', and 'We Were Soldiers', are also about the effects of the threat of imminent death which all soldiers suffer, endure, and ultimately overcome in order to survive. This is the human element. Even large ensemble pieces like 'Band of Brothers' and 'Generation Kill' don't fail to deliver on this one important aspect of storytelling. Nowhere in its 142-minute runtime does the movie allow for viewers to connect with a character or sympathize with his struggle. 'The Green Berets' is simply far too concerned with delivering its message.
The film's only redeeming qualities are the production value and some impressive action sequences. Viewed only as an action epic, 'The Green Berets' can work on some levels of entertainment, but with such a strong effort made to gain support for a cause, the entertainment part suddenly goes downhill when Colonel Kirby (Wayne) and his men are sent on a top secret mission to capture a Viet Cong commander. In the end, the film is just poorly constructed and badly written, crippled further by an obvious agenda. There is good reason why 'The Green Berets' is never ranked as one of the best war films ever made. In fact, it's not even considered one of the Duke's best films either.
'The Green Berets' marches its way unto Blu-ray with a very good 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.40:1), giving this John Wayne favorite a new lease on life. The film looks to have gone through a rejuvenation process, with some scenes even resembling modern day productions.
The color palette is lush and vibrant, with particular attention given to reds and greens. Flesh tones are warm and appropriate for the climate, while facial features are revealing. Picture quality boasts terrific clarity and detail in various objects, displaying wonderful definition in the foliage and strong textures in the uniforms. As would be expected from a source of this vintage, there are several moments of softness, but nothing horrifically drastic. Contrast is well balanced and crisp while black levels are cleanly rendered and dynamic, providing the image with some decent depth. Compared to previous releases, this high-definition transfer is a stunning step up.
As a purist, it is always good to see studios give these older soundtracks a nice hi-res facelift without forcing it to compete with modern sound designs. And this one-channel Dolby TrueHD track is fairly active, delivering not only Miklós Rózsa's original score, but also all the discrete effects with pretty good clarity detail. Dialogue reproduction and character interaction don't seem to ever falter and maintain intelligibility amidst explosions and gun battles. The track is very well-centered, and there isn't any low bass to speak of.
Where the real problem lies is the dynamic range. Imaging not only feels limited, but the lossless mix never really penetrates the room or sounds engaging, coming across flat for most of the film's runtime. Also, during many actions sequences the center channel exhibits difficulties with the higher frequencies, often sounding too bright and somewhat distorted. There are many times when the mix actually pops and cracks during sudden bursts of action and gunshots. Overall, the audio presentation isn't a complete disaster, but it's not great either.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'The Green Berets', Warner sees fit to only include two easily forgettable supplements.
'The Green Berets' will be remembered as an early Vietnam movie and for its strong political implications, but not as one of the best war films available or for being any good. This Blu-ray edition of a John Wayne favorite comes with a strong picture quality, a decent audio presentation, and a weak supplemental package. Fans will enjoy seeing another flick from the Duke hit high definition, but others will wonder why true classics were overlooked in favor of this.