Full Metal Jacket (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the Blu-ray release of Stanley Kubrick's classic Vietnam film
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Full Metal Jacket explores the horror of war, specifically the Vietnam War, through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Private 'Joker' (Matthew Modine), so named by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermy), the brutal drill instructor of his Paris Island boot camp. Along with his fellow recruits, Joker is dehumanised and broken down, only to be rebuilt over time as a killing machine. After promotion to squad leader, he is assigned to look after Private Pyle, so named because of his dimwitted, bumbling nature. The overweight Pyle has a torrid time at the hands of the Sergeant, who singles him out for special attention and routinely humiliates him in front of the rest of the platoon. As the recruits move closer to graduating from boot camp Pyle begins to shape up, suddenly excelling at the very tasks which used to prove impossible. However, he also becomes withdrawn, often talking to his rifle (which he names 'Charlene'). This troubles Joker, who believes him to be a definite section-eight, a prediction that proves to be correct when things come to an explosive head on the eve of their first tour in Vietnam.
Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is one of the films that I credit with broadening my cinematic horizons beyond the usual sci-fi and fantasy movies that young adolescents revel in. It played on constant rotation on Sky's movie channels in the early nineties, which is where I was first exposed to the likes of Joker, Pyle and Animal Mother, all of whom left a lasting impression on me. It's true that Full Metal Jacket is a film of two halves (or acts to be more precise), with the boot camp portion of the film often earning most of the plaudits thanks to astonishing turns from Ermy and D'Onofrio. You can certainly tell that Ermy was a real drill instructor from the way he berates the troops with a constant stream of colourful obscenities. Vincent D'Onofrio's performance is one of the most memorable I've ever seen, as he slowly transforms from mild-mannered halfwit to deranged killer. For me, his final scene ranks as one of the most chilling ever committed to celluloid. The second act doesn't quite live up to the brilliant opening, but there are still many enjoyable moments and Matthew Modine's performance as central character Joker is always engaging. If nothing else, Full Metal Jacket popularised the phrase 'me so horny', although I don't know that Kubrick himself would be entirely happy with that.
This is sure to be the most contentious area for most fans of the film. Full Metal Jacket was theatrically exhibited at 1.85:1, although Kubrick himself stated that he preferred the 1.37:1 aspect ratio for home presentation. However, while many argue that Kubrick's wishes should be respected, you'll find just as many who think the widescreen framing is superior. I fall into the latter of those groups, largely because widescreen TVs are far more prevalent today than they were in Kubrick's lifetime and the widescreen framing is tighter.
For this new Blu-ray release, Warner delivers a 1.78:1 (not 1.85:1 as most sites are reporting) 1080p VC-1 widescreen transfer. I never had the opportunity to view the previous release, simply because it got such bad press in the AV departments, but I think I can confidently say that this is a far superior effort. Judging by screen shots on various sites, colour rendition is more natural (particularly the skin tones) and the image is reasonably detailed throughout, although generally softer than we're used to with modern films. DNR haters will also be pleased to hear that there is plenty of natural film grain. I didn't spot any appreciable defects other than the odd white speck, so the print must have been relatively clean to begin with, or at least undergone some form of restoration. While this isn't quite up there with some of the other catalogue titles I've recently seen, the source material is older and almost certainly in worse shape. When you take this into consideration, Full Metal Jacket is pretty good.
Another bone of contention is the film's audio mix. Personally I'm of the opinion that the original audio mix should always be presented on a disc, even if it's a non-remastered effort. There's so much space on Blu-ray that not including a lowly Dolby Digital Mono track is unforgivable. Full Metal Jacket isn't affected in the same way as some films, such as the horrible remixing and effects replacement of the Blu-ray release of The Terminator, but it's still not fully representative of the theatrical experience.
However, like the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the DVD release before it, the PCM 5.1 soundtrack on offer here is actually pretty good considering the film's age. We're not talking constant surround utilisation and scores of discrete effects, but Full Metal Jacket never really had particularly extravagant sound design to begin with. The track is a predominantly front-heavy affair, with centred and well-rendered dialogue, but the rear channels are used to good effect during the more energetic scenes. Bass is also reasonably powerful when needed, particularly during musical cues featuring drumming. The main problem with track is that it lacks the frequency range of newer releases. This leads to a very 'flat' sounding track that doesn't really offer much improvement over the standard Dolby Digital 5.1. However, this surely has more to do with the limitations of the source material than any flaws with the Blu-ray transfer, which is reflected in the scoring.
First up is a commentary track by Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermy and critic/screenwriter Jay Cocks. The track is actually quite interesting in places, although it's one of those 'stitched together' affairs and they are inherently more disjointed than the average track. All of the participants have kind things to say about Stanley Kubrick, especially Cocks and Ermy, although they all acknowledge the difficultly of the sometimes gruelling shooting schedule. There are frequent gaps in the commentary, which is extremely disappointing given the number of participants, and Ermy disappears after the film's first stanza. Even so, it's definitely worth your perseverance, especially if you're a die-hard Kubrick fan.
A thirty-one minute featurette entitled 'Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil' comes next. The featurette includes interview footage with many of the principal cast punctuated by relevant footage from the film, and starts off by focussing on the boot camp portion of the shoot. There are fairly in-depth discussions with Vincent D'Onofrio and R. Lee Ermey, along with Adam Baldwin and various members of the crew. The featurette also discusses the filming locations (East London makes a very convincing Vietnam) and the incredibly long shooting schedule (seventeen months), along with Kubrick's single-minded approach to filmmaking.
Finally, we get the film's original theatrical trailer, presented in standard definition (4:3). It's not the greatest trailer in the world and the quality is lacking, but it's nice to find it on the disc all the same. While it's true that some additional bonus material wouldn't have gone amiss, what we have is more interesting than the promotional fluff that litters most releases. I'll take a solid thirty minute featurette over three ten minute puff-pieces any day of the week, and this is again reflected in the scoring.
This isn't the most impressive Blu-ray release I've come across in technical terms, but it is still far and away the best version of Full Metal Jacket I've ever seen. The film itself is not without its flaws, but the first act is so incredibly compelling that it more than makes up for any perceived shortcomings in the second. There have been other, arguably superior movies about the war in Vietnam, but for me Full Metal Jacket ranks as the most memorable. Fans should pick this up without hesitation, and I urge everyone else to strongly consider the purchase for the performances alone.
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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 3rd March 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Castilian Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, Brazilian Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Complex Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: Audio Commentary, 'Between Good and Evil' Featurette, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Adam Baldwin, Arliss Howard, Dorian Harewood, Kevyn Major Howard,
Length: 116 minutes
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