To really get at the heart of Oliver Stone's 'Platoon,' one needs watch the film (from my point of view at least) from the mindset of a Greek mythology, as if reading a disturbingly dark allegory on the tricky discussion of ethics. Vietnam, which at the time of the movie's release seemed just as distant and exotic as it did during the war itself, is the setting for this abstract morality tale, and it plays out almost like the alien, damned world of Hades. The young men entering this underbelly of human existence treat it like a punishment — as if serving a prison sentence for an unknown crime and without a just hearing. Although they count the days for a safe return home with hopeful abandonment, a looming fear of impending death always plagues the conversations of these perplexed soldiers.
Based on his experiences as an infantryman during the war, Stone sets up a larger than life depiction of the Vietnam conflict with strong, thoughtful symbolism. Much of this is rather blatant and easy to grasp immediately as Stone carefully portrays the dichotomy between proper, ethical military procedure and a reactionary stance fueled by blinding anger and fear. But what the script lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in a perceptive narrative that actually demythologizes the perception of the U.S.'s involvement. During these hostile, tumultuous years on foreign soil and at home, the real battle waged, as the film's main protagonist Taylor (Charlie Sheen) puts it, was with each other. And the story unravels before our eyes into a hellish, self-destructive journey of innocence corrupted.
From the viewpoint of an ancient myth, 'Platoon' opens with a kind of unnatural birth of our would-be hero (Sheen) as he steps off the rear of a military plane. With a doe-eyed, unsuspecting credulity about him, he watches, mystified at the pitch-black body bags carried onto the same plane that brought him there — the same portal from which he emerged also receives the dead. Later, we discover he's an idealistic college dropout wanting to do his part in beating the Viet Cong. At once, he's a stand-in for Oliver Stone and the youthful optimism of many soldiers. But more importantly, Taylor represents the naïve sensibilities of many Americans during the early years of the war, when the majority still saw it as a good, winnable cause.
It was only with more time, and as the gruesome violence became more apparent, as even Taylor soon learns, that the air shifted from idealization and general approval to confusion and distrust of the reasons for being there. The young, inexperienced Taylor is caught in between two ideologies, portrayed by the benevolent Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) and the often callous Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger). Or as Taylor explains it during his voiceover narration, he was born of these two fathers, each battling in their own way for his soul. The conflict of these two men harks back to a clear divergence brewing in the United States, a sudden change in the political and social climate right around the same time in which this story takes place.
Often ranked as one of the best war films of all time, usually right at the heels of 'Apocalypse Now' which stars another member of the Sheen family, 'Platoon' is a unique film by being the first written and directed by a Vietnam Vet. Oliver Stone infuses his morality play with gritty, realistic depictions of war which detail the horrifying chaos and panic while in the midst of heated battle. The director does not shy away from making his intentions and themes clear to viewers, but his candidness and visuals work to his benefit, delivering a film that feels authentic in its portrayal. A quarter of a century later, 'Platoon' remains a harrowing and moving portrait of the profound price soldiers pay to fight a war.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment bring Oliver Stone's 'Platoon' to Blu-ray as a 25th anniversary combo pack. Housed in a blue eco-case and a glossy cardboard slipcover, the Region Free, BD50 disc and a DVD-9 with only the movie on it sit comfortably on opposing panels. After being placed inside the player, viewers are taken straight to the standard menu option with music and dog tags dangling in the center of the screen showing full-motion clips.
According to the press release, MGM remastered Oliver Stone's 'Platoon' for this Blu-ray edition. I'm a little hesitant to believe this, especially seeing as how the company already did it for the anniversary collector's DVD in 2006. It's more likely they used that same print for this new 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1). Thankfully, there's no cause for concern because the results are actually excellent, a terrific improvement to its standard def counterpart.
The high-def video displays great resolution and fine object details despite many sequences showing some age-related softness. A couple scenes also show a bit of DNR work, but it's very, very minor — only noticeable when looking for it — and it doesn't divert from the transfer's enjoyment. Otherwise, the picture is well-defined for a 25-year-old film with plenty of visible grain, which is more apparent in some scenes than others. The picture comes with good, crisp contrast levels and healthy, rich blacks, exposing every distinct feature of the humid jungle, the arid military encampment and the smoky barracks. Visibility and delineation during poorly-lit interiors and at night remain strong and revealing. Colors are cleanly rendered and bold, especially primaries.
This is the best home video presentation available of Oliver Stone's unforgettable war classic.
For a drama, 'Platoon' sounds pretty good on Blu-ray. But for a war movie, this DTS-HD Master Audio is somewhat of a disappointment, making this high-rez option an evident but small upgrade from its DVD counterpart. Granted, the film has never really been known for having an exciting soundtrack, but given it won an Academy Award for sound design, I half expected something a tad better.
Most apparent is the general lack of presence. Although we can hear the low bass during several of the action scenes, there's not much weight or depth to the explosions, sounding more like a hollow thump. Dynamic range, too, is often flat and drearily plain with a rather narrow imaging, making M16 rifle fire sound oddly muffled and even artificial in some parts. Basically, combat sequences are unexpectedly lackluster and wanting despite the lossless mix displaying a great deal of clarity and cleanness. Dialogue and whispered conversations are for the most part intelligible, but the track does something weird where Charlie Sheen's voiceover work suddenly dips a decibel or two, making the listener strain just a bit to catch every word. Surround speakers are employed for generating some ambience, and it fairs decently well at enhancing the soundfield. But it doesn't deliver a satisfyingly immersive experience or pull viewers into the midst of warfare.
All in all, it's not an entirely awful soundtrack or even close to some of the worst heard on Blu-ray. But expectations for this audiophile, which were already modest to begin with, were definitely not met due to some salient drawbacks.
Most all the special features from the two-disc 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD are preserved for this Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, the terrific documentary Tour of the Inferno is MIA and is sadly missed. Still, the rest of the package makes for a worthwhile upgrade from previous editions.
'Platoon' is a semi-autobiographical film about the Vietnam War from the point of view of its writer and director, Oliver Stone. What the film lacks in subtle messaging, it makes up for with a touching morality tale on the experience of war and provides an allegory for the sudden change in the political/social climate of the time. With strong direction and terrific performances all around, the film lives on as a poignant, realistic portrayal of war and its horrors. The Blu-ray comes with an excellent video presentation but somewhat disappointing audio. The bonus material offers a strong, worthwhile collection on the production and historical events, making the overall package a must-own for fans and highly recommended for others.