Growing up, one of my favorite episodes of "The Brady Bunch" was the one where Marsha sets out to prove she's just as good as any of the boys, and goes on to kick Greg's ass in a driving school test. It was hardly an example of brilliant television, but the show made its point. 'G.I. Jane' is the cinematic equivalent of that "Brady Bunch" episode -- a movie that takes a serious, highly controversial subject and handles it with all the depth and complexity of a TV sitcom.
In a role that generated reams of press coverage at the time, Demi Moore shaved her head and gained about twenty pounds of muscle to play Lt. Jordan O'Neil, an idealistic and ambitious young soldier determined to take advantage of growing pressure from the upper military ranks to allow women into the NavySEAL program. After O'Neil is chosen to be the first female trainee test case, she's entered into a grueling program with a sixty percent drop-out rate. But while few think she'll be successful, O'Neil is determined to shatter all preconceptions -- even if it means butting heads with her superior, Master Chief John James 'Jack' Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) and a surprisingly vicious female politician, Senator Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft).
For a such a potential powderkeg of a movie, it is amazing how pedestrian 'G.I. Jane' ends up being. The filmmakers apparently thought that the "incendiary" conviction that women should be on equal footing with men in the military would be enough to carry the film through -- throtting out a string of cliched scenes (the training montage, the eventual betrayal of O'Neil within her own ranks, the big courtroom battle, etc.) with little to differentiate them from your run-of-the-mill TV movie. What a yawn-fest.
Worse, O'Neil is not a character, but a set of characteristics. Moore, who looks kick-ass and exudes nothing but aggression in the role, is sadly given little to do beyond grunt, jump out of helicopters and make big speeches in front of Important Military People. Beyond a little bit of one-note pop psychology, we never get to know her, or what really drives her quest. Ditto Mortensen and Bancroft, who (as Moore's adversaries) are about as complex as Colonel Klink on "Hogan's Heroes." Meanwhile, the rest of the male cadets are faceless yet too pretty -- the whole thing looks like a military recruitment infomercial.
But perhaps the most disappointing thing about 'G.I. Jane' is that this trainwreck of a movie came from famed and influential director Ridley Scott ('Alien,' 'Blade Runner,' 'Thelma & Louise). Previously, even Scott's biggest failures had at least been interesting, and always stylistically trend-setting. But the late '90s were a fallow period for the director, as he began to make identi-kit movies that reheated his once-pioneering visual prowess into bland oatmeal. I never thought I'd see it, but with 'G.I. Jane,' he even stooped to ripping off the inferior, fast-cut MTV aesthetics of his brother, director Tony Scott. If you haven't seen 'G.I. Jane,' imagine Demi Moore doing 'Top Gun,' but instead of flying jets with Tom Cruise to the strains of "Take My Breath Away," she's getting yelled at by Viggo Mortensen and doing one-arm push-ups in the mud. If nothing else, I hope Marsha Brady's proud.
'G.I. Jane' was one of Buena Vista's earliest standard-def DVD releases, and it was a pretty weak effort -- a non-anamorphic disaster that looked no better than a middling laserdisc. This new 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 Blu-ray version is certainly an improvement as it appears that sometime over the past few years the film has been remastered. However, it is still far from a slam dunk, with a rather soft picture.
Ridley Scott seemed to be at the height of his Ridley-ness with 'G.I. Jane' -- the movie is all visual tics, and about as unique as a perfume commercial. It's shot almost entirely in soft focus, which doesn't help detail. Hues can be quite vivid at times, but muted at others, with some heavy blue filtering giving everything a slightly hazy, washed-out cast. It also leaves Meanwhile, the itself print is much better than the old DVD, but has some problem spots. The grain is not a problem, as it is indicative of the intended visual look, but there are few specks of dirt and the occasional dropout don't help matters. Blacks and contrast are fine, but the transfer seems flat on the high-end. There is a decent amount of depth, although detail is certainly superior compared to the old standard-def version. At least compression artifacts are not a huge problem, with only some obvious noise mixed in with the grain, which is usually noticeable on large, solid patches of the picture. To be sure, 'G.I. Jane' is certainly good-looking, but I wouldn't say it's absolutely first-rate.
Better than the video is the uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (at 48kHz/16-bit/4.6mbps). The sound design in Ridley Scott movies is often somwhat akin to being beaten with a sledgehammer, and 'G.I. Jane' is no exception. Every effect feels pumped up to such unreal levels that the end result is almost high camp. It's like that old "Batman" television series -- every body hit should be accompanied by a "Pow!" or "Bam!" graphic, complete with exclamation point.
Aesthetics aside, this track holds up well ten years on. Dynamics are impressive, with tight low bass and robust mid-range. Dialogue is surprisingly solid, and is rarely overpowered by the ridiculous bombast. Surround use is aggressive, at least in the training and fight scenes. Again, there' snothing subtle about this mix, and there really isn't any atmosphere to speak of -- just crushing discrete effects that blare in the rears. The score by Trevor Jones also nicely fills up the soundstage, although its dated, synthy feel quickly grates on the nerves. But in sheer technical terms, 'G.I. Jane' still delivers a pretty good wallop.
For years, there were rumors that 'G.I. Jane' was soon to get the special edition treatment, but judging by the complete lack of extras on this Blu-ray release, it would seem those plans have evaporated.
Instead, all we get are the usual Buena Vista Blu-ray promo spot, touting such titles as 'King Arthur' and the upcoming 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.' Plus, there are full trailers for the upcoming 'Deja Vu' and 'Apocalypo,' and current releases 'Invincible,' 'The Prestige' and 'The Guardian.' (As a side note, in what may be a dubious first, 'G.I. Jane' trots out its trailers before the main feature begins, a la standard-def DVD, not just via the main menu, which has until now been the standard on all next-gen releases.)
Clearly produced due to its marketable concept (Demi Moore as a hard-ass military chick) rather than its story, 'G.I. Jane' is about as subtle as a brick. It may also be Ridley Scott's weakest film. At the same time, this Blu-ray edition feels like a tossed-off studio catalog release -- there are no extras, and the transfer and soundtrack (while both fine) are nothing exceptional. This one is for diehard 'G.I. Jane' fans only.