Saturday, December 8, 2007

PLATOON: Blu-ray (Orion 1986) Fox/MGM Home Video

Often critiqued as a valiant successor to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) is a far more engrossing – less self-indulgent tour of duty with its prerequisite roster of casualties. An ensemble film following the excruciating exploits of a troop of thirty soldiers, the narrative is set at the height of conflict in 1967.

In a subtle homage to Coppola’s war epic, Stone cast Charlie Sheen as Platoon’s narrator, Pvt. Chris Taylor; a cockeyed optimist who is about to get an eye opener. Fresh faced, middle-class and college graduated, Taylor is not only ill equipped for the horrors of conflict – he’s an absolute washout.

Assigned to the 25th Infantry, Taylor and fellow soldier, Private Gardner (Bob Orwig) join the rifle platoon with enthusiasm dashed after they are ambushed on their first night of foot patrol. Gardner dies. Taylor is wounded. The platoon regards Taylor as expendable. However, while recovering, Taylor confides that he gave up college to join the military because he felt it unfair that only the underprivileged were required to serve in the draft while the rich were exempt and sent off to Ivy League educations. His confessional earns him new respect among his peers.

Reinstated to combat, Taylor witnesses the frustration of his platoon after they are confronted by villagers harboring weapons for the enemy. The soldiers, led by Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sgt. Wolfe (Mark Moses) destroy the village and murder its civilians. Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) puts both men on suspension, a move that leads to his being marked for extermination in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Barnes leaves Taylor for dead amid a slaughter by the North Vietnamese. He further abandons Elias during the invasion of another village, resulting in his assassination at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Later, Barnes claims he thought Elias was already dead. Knowing this to be a lie, Taylor – wounded but alive - goes gunning for, and eventually murders Barnes in cold blood.

The script by Stone probes each man’s crumbling emotional psyche while examining their war-induced neuroses. This was a project very close to Stone’s heart. In fact, Stone modeled Sheen’s performance on his own Viet Nam experiences. In a bit of macabre verisimilitude, Stone cast himself as a nondescript officer who is blown to bits in his bunker by a suicide runner. Grim and unrelenting, Platoon marks the raw the hellish nightmares of the Viet Nam experience. 

MGM/Fox Home Video’s Blu-ray is a pleasant surprise. Given  the laissez faire handing of catalogue titles in hi-def from Fox, Platoon looks as though it's obviously been given the true 1080p upgrade.  We get fully saturated colors, rich in deep vibrant greens, deep blacks and raw gory reds. Flesh tones are nicely balanced. Contrast levels are spot on. Fine details pop. Film grain is accurately reproduced. The audio is 5.1 DTS and delivers a powerful sonic spread across all five channels. Extras include an immersive audio commentary, ‘making of’ featurette and theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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