During the late 1980s, a generation of American boys went to war in Vietnam. Doing so, however, didn’t require any basic training or an actual tour of duty. Nope, all that was required was a working VCR and a VHS copy of any one of the squad of Vietnam War-era movies available at the local mom and pop video store. Seriously, I can’t remember a single birthday party from that time that didn’t involve a screening of Good Morning, Vietnam or Hamburger Hill or Platoon. But the Vietnam War movie that has always lingered strongest in my memory – the one that looked different and felt different from the others – was Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Hit the jump for my review of the 25th anniversary Blu-ray.
A few nights ago, my ancient memories of the film were reawakened and challenged when I watched the stunning new 25th Anniversary Edition of the film on Blu-ray disc. Warner Bros. has done a medal-worthy job of packaging it in a fantastic 44-page Digi-book that includes hours of insight and reflection on the making of this war movie classic. I can’t imagine Full Metal Jacket looking or sounding more stunningly clear, while its characters and ideas remain fascinatingly complex.
One of most noted qualities of this film is its bifurcated structure. The first part takes place in 1967 and depicts a group of Marine Corps recruits undergoing basic training at Parris Island in South Carolina. Among the recruits are Matthew Modine as Private “Joker,” Arliss Howard as “Cowboy” and Vincent D’Onofrio as the disturbingly awkward “Gomer Pyle.” The dominating force in their lives, and in this section of the film, is Senior Drill Instructor Sergeant Hartman, played in an iconic performance by R. Lee Ermey.
I’ll admit, this is the part of the film I remembered more clearly from the late ‘80s birthday party circuit. This may be due to its comparative strength or its disturbing denouement (Between this and Dead Poet’s Society, my generation had to endure two traumatizing acts of on-screen suicide). Watching it again, it certainly holds up as a masterful study in the dehumanizing nature of military training, which seeks to turn unique individuals into a unified body of killing machines.
It was in its second, less well-remembered half, however, that the film really surprised and rewarded my (hopefully) expanded adult mind. First of all, the basic lust for battle is satisfied here and, let’s face it, half the reason we watch a war film is for the explosions and gun-fighting and violent death. Second, this is where our main characters finally come to life. Freed from the personality-snuffing basic training setting, Modine’s Joker finally lives up to his character’s name once he’s out in the field. He’s a comic and yet sensitive representation of a cynical young man questioning the war he’s caught up in and taking stock of the personalities that seem to thrive on it, like Adam Baldwin’s trigger-happy “Animal Mother” and Papillon Soo’s entrepreneurial and famously “horny” Da Nang hooker.
Another amusing payoff in the Vietnam section are the references to period American culture, something missing from the film’s actual American setting. From the energizing and ironic appearance of such ‘60s chestnuts as Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking” and the Dixie-Cups “Going to the Chapel” on the soundtrack, to a discussion of Ann Margaret’s imminent arrival to perform for the troops, it’s clear it’s not just our troops invading Vietnam, but our culture–at-large.
This notion of Hollywood stars having a balming effect on our bombing troops is further illustrated during the “taped interview” segment, where one soldier imitates John Wayne and another announces, “This is Vietnam, the Movie!” Kubrick seems to suggest that these young guys were able to endure war by thinking of it as a movie and themselves as movie stars. So, I guess my draft-free, movie-watching generation should be more than prepared to do the same, should the need arise. And for that, I guess we can thank war filmmakers like Kubrick. At the very least, we should thank him for making such a riveting piece of entertainment.
The 2-Disc set comes packaged in a 44-page Digibook that includes production notes, cast biographies, a personal letter of reflection on the film and Kubrick by actor Matthew Modine, and an essay entitled “The Identity Crisis of Full Metal Jacket.”
Special features on the Blu-ray disc include Commentary with Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey and screenwriter/author Jay Cocks, “Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil,“ a thirty-minute behind-the-scenes featurette featuring cast and crew interviews, and the original Theatrical trailer.
The set also includes a bonus DVD featuring the intriguing documentary “Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes,” written and directed by Jon Ronson. A few years after Kubrick’s death, Ronson was asked by Kubrick’s widow to sort through the contents of 1,000 boxes of materials Kubrick left behind after his death. Among the materials discovered for this particular film are a series of cast audition tapes. Overall, the doc offers further proof of how remarkably detailed and clearly obsessive a filmmaker Kubrick was; to our benefit, of course.
Although the film’s palette is somewhat subdued compared to Kubrick’s other work – with the exception of an occasional burst of blood red or war fire orange – the colors on the disc are solid and the level of image detail is impressive. Audio options include a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix and an even more solid PCM 5.1 surround track.
Don’t miss this fiercely entertaining, thought-provoking war film in its slick and comprehensive new 25th Anniversary edition.
Full Metal Jacket is rated R and has a run time of approximately 117 minutes.