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Oliver Stone is renowned for his politically controversial, conspiracy theory-style approach to movies. Whether it be exploring the ‘truth’ behind the assassination of JFK, the effect of the media on society, the struggle of Nixon, the path of Alexander the Great or the corruption of Wall Street, he is certainly not one for holding back on his vehement opinions. He is, however, one of the best script and story writers in the business, having penned not only most of his own directorial work, but also plenty of other material that then went on to be helmed by another director, from the—even more bloody—original draft of Conan the Barbarian, to the desperately extreme Pacino gangster classic, Scarface. By far his biggest focus—or obsession—has been on wars, almost always the Vietnam War. Having served out there himself, he obviously felt that he had a great deal to say about the war, going on to create a trilogy of Vietnam films, the include—arguably—his best movie of all time: Platoon.

Platoon: Ultimate Edition

Movie


It’s the height of the Vietnam War and the new recruits are getting younger and younger. The latest addition to the platoon is Private Chris Taylor, a fresh-faced fighter, eager to learn from his superiors and prove himself in the field. Of course, it is not long before he becomes aware of the fact that—out there in the jungle—you prove yourself just by surviving: there’s no room for heroes.

This is confirmed by Staff Sergeant Barnes, a battle-scarred, embittered veteran who tries to impress upon him the importance of hate, anger, cynicism and having no fear of death—all weapons that he wields in face of the atrocities of the war, all components that go to make up the very venomous blood that runs through his veins. Not that he isn’t a good soldier—far from it—it’s just that he has been tainted by all that he has experienced over his tour of duty. He’s like a corrupt cop who gets the job done better than anybody else, unfortunately also by any means necessary. Barnes is the best soldier in the platoon, apart from perhaps one man.

Staff Sergeant Elias Grodin is not just his equal in rank, but his superior in terms of morality. Elias refuses to go down the same path as Barnes: he does not feel the need to spend his nights violently drunk, reliving some of the horrors he has experienced and sharpening the knife endlessly—instead he happily gets high with his close band of brothers, who all know how to relax as well as they know how to fight. Barnes thinks that this makes Elias weak, taunting him for his ‘hippie’ behaviour, but he knows that his equal always gets the job done, and done well. Barnes is also envious of the fact that Elias has not been twisted by the horror in the same way as him and is able to be an efficient soldier without using any of the hatred and bitterness that Barnes appears to require simply to exist in the combat field.

Platoon: Ultimate Edition
Platoon is a superb war movie that paints a very intimate portrait from the perspective of one particular new recruit. It has all the action and agony, the tension and horror that you would expect from a Vietnam story, but is made yet more outstanding by the fact that it is founded upon Oliver Stone’s own experiences out in the jungle. Less glamorised and stylised than some of his other work, you get a true sense of realism in the brutality of this semi-autobiographical project.

Charlie Sheen plays the lead character of Chris Taylor—the ‘cherry’ recruit who is torn between following the menacingly powerful Barnes and his counterpart, the almost messianic super-soldier Elias. One of the last people that you would expect for the role, Stone does for Sheen what he did for Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, giving him here the first of two roles that probably mark the pinnacle of Sheen’s career (the other being in Stone’s superb Wall Street).

Providing noteworthy support (and both getting Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor) we have Tom Berenger on top form as the twisted Sergeant Barnes and Willem Dafoe, once again really getting to the heart of his character, as Elias. One of them is a soldier that simply will not die and the other is a soldier who you simply don’t want to die. They are ideal casting choices for these two disparate veterans. Amidst the other supporting cast, there are plenty of familiar faces including Scrubs’ John C. McGinley, Forest Whitaker ( Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai), Kevin Dillon ( The Doors), Keith David ( Pitch Black), Candyman’s Tony Todd and even a young Johnny Depp in a brief cameo.

Platoon: Ultimate Edition
Stone’s forte is probably war movies. His civil war drama Salvador is hauntingly powerful, but his Vietnam trilogy ( Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon, and Heaven and Earth, the first two of which both won Best Film Oscars) offer interesting and often shocking views of the terrible conflict. My favourite of these, and probably my favourite of all of his movies, is this masterpiece— Platoon. Arguably the definitive Vietnam movie (sure, Apocalypse Now is probably the ‘ultimate’ Vietnam movie, but perhaps for different reasons), it warrants a place in everybody’s DVD collection.

Video


Platoon comes presented in a polished-up 1.85:1 original aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. For a movie shot twenty years ago on a budget of a mere six million, it has been made to look surprisingly nice. Detail is generally good throughout, with only a little softness and negligible edge enhancement. There is some grain in some of the scenes but it is fairly acceptable. Colours are quite strong and deep, obviously restricted to the greens of the jungle with occasional explosive yellows and oranges of napalm. Blacks are fairly solid and overall this is an excellent transfer, marred marginally by a few minor print defects.

Audio


There are two main audio tracks: a Dolby Digital 5.1 effort and a DTS alternative. Both of them are largely frontally orientated efforts, with dialogue presented strongly and clearly, coherent throughout. Effects are fairly commonplace, but they don’t actually see much rear action even when the explosions kick off. The score really hits home, however, not least in that immensely memorable death sequence cut to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It is a rousing track, but it appears to seldom find time to really show the full breadth and dynamism that is possible with any admirable six-speaker mix. We get a little bass thrown into the mix and at least they went to the effort of remixing it for this Ultimate Edition release.

Platoon: Ultimate Edition

Extras


First up we get not one but two full-length audio commentaries: one with the writer/director Oliver Stone and the second with the technical military advisor, Captain Dale Dye. Stone’s narration is quite a gem really, an honest and truthful account of what he actually went through that went into the story for this production. It is difficult to believe just how much he experienced himself (obviously he would have been in Private Chris Tucker’s position) and it makes the whole movie yet more poignant and captivating. The second commentary, funnily enough, also brings up some of the true experiences that the narrator—this time Captain Dye—went through during his tour of duty (including the final confrontation).

The second disc is where all of the documentaries are housed. First up, the ‘A Tour of the Inferno’ making-of documentary is fifty minutes’ long and revisits the production, with excerpts from Stone’s own student videos. He discusses how he volunteered for service to experience war, but came back with much more than he expected. There are a few too many clips from the final movie, but there is also lots of revealing footage from the actual filming, along with cast interviews (including Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger). They discuss the casting (with screen test clips), how the movie took a long time to come into production, boot camp, shooting in the Philippines and post-production.

Platoon: Ultimate Edition
The ‘One War, Many Stories’ featurette runs at nearly twenty-five minutes in length and has interview comments from Oliver Stone, along with several other Vietnam War Veterans, most of whom are present for a special screening of the movie—during which they give their opinions about the movie and offer up some recollections of their own war experiences. Some of the revealing tales are quite harrowing by their very nature

The ‘Preparing for the ‘Nam’ featurette is six minutes long and has Stone explaining how all of the main cast members had to go through eight weeks of basic training in order to prepare for the role. Most of them lost a great deal of weight and went through a fair amount of hell during this period and Stone talks about how he sent them straight on to do the filming after the training just so they could keep their edge. We get military advisers and trainers narrating footage of boot-camp and discussing—in detail—the hard routine that the novices had to undergo (it was actually the training that real raw recruits received before being thrown into the fray).

The stills gallery has a collection of shots from both the production and of the promotional art, totalling about two minutes of slide-show shots (four posters and about thirty behind the scenes shots, most of whom showcase a very young Oliver Stone). Finally we get three of the original TV spots, along with the theatrical trailer.

Platoon: Ultimate Edition

Overall


Platoon is an adrenaline-packed, harrowing tale of some of the most shocking and explosive battles fought within Stone’s experience of Vietnam. With resoundingly good performances from an excellent cast and some of the most memorable sequences in movie history (the Adagio for Strings scene in particular), it is about due for the ‘ultimate edition’ treatment and here it gets it. Decent video and excellent audio, along with some truly revealing extras (the Stone commentary is required listening), this release is highly recommended.


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