Say what you will about his films or about his politics, but there's no denying that Oliver Stone is an interesting man, and an interesting director. A former Vietnam vet who has been jailed for drug possession and who fought off a notorious taste for cocaine, Stone has made a name for himself as the premiere political filmmaker working in Hollywood today – whether he likes it or not.
This latest boxed set collection of Stone's work finds most (though not all) of his material compiled into one handy set that makes for a great way to get the bulk of his work in one purchase. Those who already own previous releases of his work may not be so stoked to plunk down their hard earned cash for this set though, as it doesn't offer very much new material. Read on…
A recently divorced photojournalist named Richard Boyle (James Woods) has seen better days. He decides to spice things up a bit in his life so he drives on down to El Salvador where Archbishop Oscar Romera has recently been assassinated and the military dictatorship that rules the country is in disarray. Instead of merely covering the story as any normal journalist would do, Boyle ends up striking up an alliance with some guerilla fighters living in the more remote areas of the country. They want to use him as a propaganda machine so that his pictures will reach the American military and possibly influence them to their side of the fight. He also ends up working for the fascist military that controls the country, as they want him to hand over his photographs of the rebels which they intend to use to identify them with. To complicate matters further for Boyle he's got a taste for booze and pills and he decides that he wants to escape and bring back the native girl he has fallen in love with to the United States with him on his return.
Based loosely on the true story of a photojournalist named Richard Boyle (who co-wrote the dialogue along with Stone), Salvador is a thought provoking film that asks the question 'where do you draw the line between your political beliefs and your professional code of ethics?' Woods does a great job of playing a man at his wits' end. He's believable in his desperation and suits the part and the storyline very nicely. As we follow his story we see him hit the complete range of human emotion from anger to sorrow to love to everything in between, and based on what he goes through, we can sympathize with him. Stone portrays Boyle's chosen profession as little more than a propaganda artist and his well known leftist politics are obvious in this film (and justified in the context of it). In a sense he seems to be calling us to not take everything we see, hear, or read in the news at face value, a theme that would come to dominate some of his later films, most notably JFK.
Aside from the political side of the story, Salvador is full of human drama as well as some great action scenes that detail the battles between the rebels and the commanding military force. The film is less about the events surrounding the story and more about how those events change one man's ideologies are affected by them. Salvador is an interesting early effort from Stone, and one that in a sense lays a lot of the ground work for some of his later material.
Probably the director's best known film, Platoon is a very dark, very human look at a group of American soldiers on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam. The story is told to us from the point of view of Private Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), a young man who comes from a well to do family who has enlisted of his own free will to try and give something back to his country. Once he lands in the combat zone, he witnesses all manner of situations and stressful events that culminate in the execution of some innocent Vietcong in a small village after his two commanding officers (Tom Berenger and Willam DeFoe) get into an argument.
Rambo this is not. Platoon is a challenging film that does about as much to glorify war as Requiem For A Dream does to glorify heroin use. The jungle is not a place for adventure here a dangerous environment in which an unseen and difficult to understand enemy is hiding. Taylor not only has to deal with the inherent dangers of live jungle combat but also with the homesickness and pressures any new recruit would feel in his situation. Add to that the unusual circumstances that his commanding officers end up putting him into and things are definitely not easy for this young man, despite the fact that he signed up with the noblest of intentions.
With a supporting cast that includes Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, and many more, Platoon, much of which is based on real documented events that occurred during the war, is a moving and disturbing war film that hasn't lost any of its impact or importance in the nearly twenty years since it was made. It remains a brutal and uncompromising picture, and stands out as arguably Oliver Stone's best film.
Wall Street (1987)
Charlie Sheen plays Bud Fox, an up and coming Wall Street stockbroker who looks like he's got the drive, ambition and greed to make his way to the top of the heap. He's made it from his lower middle class upbringing to where he is today all on his own. Fox gets a day job working at a typical NYC stock exchange firm but busily spends his nights and weekends trying to figure out the best way to approach Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) – the most notorious of the 'go getter' types who lives by the motto of "Greed is Good".
Gekko takes Fox under his wing and trains him in the way of big business hi-jinks. Fox soon makes a lasting impression on Gekko and the two work closely until Fox finds out that Gekko intends to buy and dismantle Blue Star Airlines, where his father is employed. This throws Fox's entire value system into disarray and all of a sudden the yuppies and loose women he's been cavorting with lately don't look so appealing as they once did.
Few films epitomize the greed culture of the eighties as well as Wall Street does. The fast times and glamorous lifestyles that were all over the TV during the later part of that decade are shown here in a slightly less polished life – corruption reigns supreme and money is the only thing that matters. Stone's typical anti establishment tone rings through loud and clear in the last half of the movie, and while aspects of it are slightly dated now, the movie still holds up well thanks for decent performances from Charlie Sheen and his father, Martin Sheen (who, oddly enough, plays Fox Sr.). Michael Douglas is way over the top in his role as the power hungry Gekko but he somehow makes it work, even if at times he borders on camp.
Talk Radio (1988)
Eric Bogosian plays a late night Dallas radio talk show host named Barry Champlain. When his show starts to gain some notoriety and is rumored to have been picked up for national syndication, things should presumably be looking up for the outspoken disc jockey but life isn't as peachy as it at first appears to be.
Things start to go sour with his home life and he also has to face up to the fact that once he goes national, he'll very likely be muzzled in regards to how much he can get away with on the air. Upper management (represented here by Alec Baldwin) isn't going to like it if he angers sponsors, and there's a very good likelihood that they won't allow him the freedom he had on the air when he was only working the Dallas market. To top things off, his opinions have seriously angered a group of local neo-Nazis who aim to shut him up once and for all.
Talk Radio is an excellent drama loosely based on the real life events surrounding the death of Denver talk show host Alan Berg, who was killed when he upset a group of neo-Nazi's with the content of his show. Bogosian co-wrote the screenplay with Stone and does an admirable job of playing the stressed out lead. Stone's direction creates a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere by using lots of close ups and confined spaces that really help build up the tension in the film. While some of the dialogue sounds a little bit forced in contrast to a lot of today's outspoken commentators, Talk Radio remains an excellent film, and probably the most under appreciated in Stone's body of work.
Born On The Fourth Of July (1989)
Stone's second film about the Vietnam war is based on the biography of veteran Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise). Kovic was paralyzed while serving active duty in the Vietnam war and returned home, confined to a wheelchair, not to the hero's welcome that had greeted those who served in wars before him (such as when the soldiers returned from Europe after the Second World War), but to general sense of indifference.
Kovic's combat experiences shape him into a man very different from the one he was when he was deployed. His experiences in Vietnam have disillusioned him and he learned through experiences that there is nothing glorious about what he went through at all. In a sense, Kovic feels betrayed by his homeland, and seeing as he was brought up with such patriotic values this is quite a tumultuous adjustment for him to make. This changes him into an anti-war activist and ends up speaking at the 1972 Republican National Convention, speaking out against the war and against what it has done to people on both sides of the conflict.
Born On The Fourth Of July approaches a different side of the Vietnam war than the one that Stone tackled in Platoon a few years earlier (Stone further ties the two films together by using cameo appearances from many of the actors seen in Platoon in this movie). While the film is related, it doesn't so much focus on the combat or horrors of combat as it does the effects that these things have on those who serve and on how the deal with it upon their return. Cruise is excellent in the lead, and it's easy to forgive him for some of the blunders he's made in his other films after watching his Oscar nominated performance in this film. While the film is based on Ron Kovic's life, Stone also works some autobiographical elements into the story as well, which makes it a more personal film for him.
While the Vietnam War may be long behind us, the films message remains an eternal one and a particularly topical one given the situation that the world is in right now. Stone and Cruise do an amazing job together and it's virtually impossible not to be moved during some of the scenes played out in this film.
The Doors (1991)
In 1991 Oliver Stone reinterpreted the story of notorious classic rock bad boys The Doors for a big screen adaptation. Concentrating mostly on the story of front-man Jim Morrison, the film starts with a young Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) studying to be a filmmaker through to his joining up with Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan), John Densmore (Kevin Dillon) and Robby Kreiger (Frank Whaley) to form The Doors. We see the band during their early years in Los Angeles, through to some experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, and on into their proper career with Morrison receiving most of the publicity due to his good looks and undeniable stage persona.
As the band rises to fame, Morrison's dependence on drugs and alcohol to fuel his energy and creativity causes the band and his personal life to spiral out of control. His relationship with Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan) deteriorates and he ultimately winds up dead in Paris at the all too young age of twenty seven – assuring his place as a rock and roll martyr and spokesperson for a generation even now, decades after his passing..
The Doors is a fantastic looking movie and Stone takes every chance possible to bombard the viewer with psychedelic imagery through his film. Kilmer plays Morrison amazingly well, acting and sounding just like he appears in the archival footage so many of us have seen and is so eerily dead on in his portrayal that even if the movie were terrible it'd still be worth sitting through just to watch him perform. Luckily though, despite the fact that there are some inaccuracies in the way some of the characters are portrayed in the film, the movie is quite entertaining and manages to relay an intensity in the concert scenes that few other films featuring reenactments can come close to matching.
JFK - Director's Cut (1991)
The ultimate party movie for conspiracy theorists, JFK is based partially on established facts, partially on Oliver Stone's opinions, and primarily on the writing of Jim Garrison. Though the film takes far too many liberties in regards to what really conclusively happened, it remains a fascinating, if paranoid, study of the still mysterious events surrounding President John F. Kennedy's tragic assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) was a DA in New Orleans when he decided to open an investigation to look into the how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the evidence and circumstances under which the President was killed, in an attempt to prove that Lee Harvey Oswald (played here by the brilliant Gary Oldman) did not act alone and that there was more than one gunman. Garrison puts forth the hypothesis that the reason that Kennedy was shot was to bring the United States into the escalating Vietnam conflict, which Kennedy was opposed to getting messed up in. The conspiracy thickens when he states that Lyndon Johnson, VP at the time, declared he would get the nation involved, further propagating the motive for the assassination.
Even if Garrison and Stone made the entire thing up, JFK would still be a great movie. It's very well acted with a great supporting cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matheau, Joe Pesci, and even Eurocrime regular Tomas Milian. All of the director's trademark paranoia come bubbling to a big, crazy boil in this film as the longer the film goes on, the thicker and deeper the conspiracy gets.
The version of the film presented in this set is Stone's approved director's cut, which runs roughly seventeen minutes longer than the version that played theatrically. Some of the new footage includes considerably more Oswald footage which gives some much needed details about his past and some of his Cuban ties, two extra scenes between Garrison and Broussard, and some extended scenes in the court room where the trial is held.
Heaven & Earth (1993)
Oliver Stone winds up his 'Vietnam Trilogy' with his third and final film about the conflict that ensued there with a film that is very different from both Platoon and Born On The Fourth Of July. This time out we see things from the Vietnamese side, when Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le) flees the destruction of her small farming village with her family, heading for the relative safety of Saigon.
When Le Ly gets older, she becomes pregnant despite the fact that she is not married and is seen as a disgrace to many members of her family. She moves in with her sister and makes a life out of renting herself out to American G.Is. It's through one of these encounters that she meets Major Steve Butler (Tommy Lee Jones). She soon falls in love with him and he declares his feelings are mutual, encouraging her to return to America with him once his tour of duty is complete.
The pair of young lovebirds soon return to the U.S.A. and Le Ly soon becomes disenfranchised with the American way of life. Despite the fact that she has a better standard of living in her new country, these material possessions are unable to make her happy and she begins to long for her homeland, war torn or not.
Heaven & Earth is, as the title infers, basically two different films about two different places. In the end it's up to the viewer to decide which of the two countries is heaven, the other Earth. We see how the ravages of war affect the Vietnamese people for the first half of the film and we also see how their way of life is affected by all this. Stone contrasts this by then moving the film to American soil, where a different kind of sadness and waste is shown, again through Le Ly's eyes. These two stories combine to make moving and fascinating contrast that, although it at times it is difficult to watch, makes Heaven & Earth a moving drama that is ultimately about the human spirit and the beatings it can withstand, and how war never truly ends, even after the last shot is fired.
Tommy Lee Jones and Hiep Thi Le do admirable in the lead roles, portraying great emotional depth through their characters, aided by some very well written and believable dialogue. Though Stone's politics, as always, shine through in this film they're never as overpowering as in some of his other films and although it is a quieter entry in his catalogue, it's also one of his best.
Natural Born Killers - R-rated Theatrical Cut (1994)
From one extreme to the other, Stone followed up Heaven & Earth with this bastardized adaptation of a Quentin Tarantino script. Natural Born Killers follows a mass murdering delivery boy named Mickey Knox (played by Woody Harrelson in a role about as far removed from his stint on Cheers as you can get) who falls in love his customer's daughter, Mallory (Juliette Lewis).
After they fall for each other, Mickey kills her sexually abusive father (the late Rodney Dangerfield in the sleaziest performance ever!) and her mother (Edie McClurg) and whisks her off on a whirlwind trip across the country, killing almost everyone they come into contact with though always leaving one person alive report back to the media. This enables them to become media superstars as their images are plastered all over the television, newspapers, magazines, and radio.
When Geraldo-style investigative reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downy Jr.) decides to boost his ratings by interviewing them in prison once they're apprehended by Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), things take a turn for the worse. A prison riot ensues and Mickey and Mallory take Gale hostage and use him as leverage against the warden (Tommy Lee Jones at his most manic) and as a tool for their ultimate media feeding frenzy.
Some say the film is an exercise in style over substance with its rapid cutting, nearly subliminal images and use of mixed media but Natural Born Killers functions better as a black satire on 'serial killer culture' and how the American press embraces such atrocities and disasters as those portrayed in the film all in order to achieve higher ratings. While the movie consistently bashes you over the head with its message, it's never less than sheer entertainment even when it's preaching at you. Stone lets loose with both barrels in an ultra-violent exercise in satirical excess.
Unfortunately this is the R-rated directors cut, and it doesn't feature the excised scenes that made it into the longer, more violent, and superior director's cut that is also available on DVD.
Nixon - Director's Cut (1995)
Stone's next film found him back in the political arena with the release of the biographical film, Nixon in which Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the late president in another Oscar nominated role.
While the movie follows Richard Nixon into the presidency the focus is obviously on the Watergate Scandal during which Nixon resigned from office in order to avoid an inevitable impeachment. The movie also pays close attention to the relationship that Nixon had with his wife, Patricia (played incredibly well by Joan Allen, also nominated for an Oscar for her turn in this film). We witness Nixon meeting with Texas oil money and with J. Edgar Hoover (Bob Hoskins in a fantastic supporting role) as it all leads up to the hearings, with some strange behavior courtesy of Henry Kissinger (Paul Sorvino, also excellent in his role) to keep things interesting.
Even with certain minor liberties taken with the script and even at a mammoth two hundred and twelve minutes in length, Nixon is so wonderfully acted by all involved and structured in such an interesting way (with some obvious nods to Citizen Kane for those who pay attention) that the time passes by far faster than one would expect it to. Stone does a good job of portraying the overall 'strangeness' of the situations that occurred while Nixon was in power and although we have a lot of sympathy for him, he doesn't necessarily paint the President as an innocent man – merely one who is, like the rest of us, human and prone to error.
This director's cut of Nixon runs approximately twenty minutes longer than the theatrical release of the film and features many extended scenes and slightly different takes than those used in the theatrical version of the movie.
Based on the novel by John Ridley, U-Turn is the story of a man named Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn) who is hiding from his past, trying to get to Las Vegas to pay off a rather sizeable gambling debt. When his car breaks down, he finds himself stranded in a small, almost deserted town named Superior. The only inhabitants seem to be insane and Bobby would like nothing better than to get out of there as soon as he possibly can.
Bobby has a problem that he needs to take care of before he can get on his way. He doesn't have the money to get his car working again, and there's no way he can make it out of there on foot. There might be a way out for him though when an old man named Jake (Nick Nolte) offers to pay Bobby to knock off his pretty young wife, Grace (Jennifer Lopez). Bobby gives this notion some serious thought but soon finds himself falling for Grace, who in turn asks Bobby to get rid of Jake for her instead. The more Bobby gets involved with these two, the weirder things get for him.
Oliver Stone takes a rather standard film noir plot and gives it an updating through the use of some of the mixed media techniques that he experimented with in Natural Born Killers and some rather unorthodox cinematography. A well rounded supporting cast featuring fun smaller roles from Liv Tyler, Claire Danes, Jon Voight and Joaquin Phoenix complement the main cast members nicely, highlighted by a very strong performance from Sean Penn in the lead.
The film also has great, quirky score that at first feels out of place against the gritty visuals and dark storyline but soon falls into place and sets up a nice contrast in the look, sound and overall feel of the film. While it may not be as heavy a picture as some of his other films, U-Turn is a great piece of stylish and interesting entertainment that tells a great story with a great cast through some great visuals.
Any Given Sunday - Director's Cut (1999)
As a general rule, I tend to hate sports films. They're quite often faux patriotic and full of contrived spirit and horribly written 'feel good' dialogue. Every once in a while though, a sports movie comes along that makes me realize that there are ways to make a good movie based around competative athletes. Any Given Sunday is one of those movies.
NFL quarterback Cap Rooney (Denis Quaid) takes a hit during a play and gets injured. He's out of the game and his career may be in trouble. The couch, Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) has to do something quick to keep things going, so a virtual unknown named Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx) is called up from the ranks and given a shot in the spotlight. He jumps at the chance, tired of sitting on the bench, and he makes the best of it. Over the next few games, Beaman proves himself to be a great player, and D'Amato begins to plan the teams strategies around Beaman's strengths.
D'Amato also beings wrestling with the fact that he's not getting any younger. The pressure is starting to mount on him in his personal life and from his boss, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), co-owner of the team. Since her father passed away, she's become very aggressive in the way she's now doing business and D'Amato isn't quite sure how to cope with all of this. She sees the players and coaches as her own personal property, not as human beings, and will do anything she needs to do to prove herself a strong woman in a male dominated arena.
Any Given Sunday is more a trio of character studies than anything else. Stone contrasts the aging coach with the young quarterback and new co-owner, both of whom are very different and have a lot more drive (or at least a very different drive) than he does. While it isn't as strong a movie as some of Stone's other films, Diaz and Pacino give some really stand out performances and Foxx isn't half bad either as the cocky 'next big thing' in the game. Some of the more action oriented scenes that take place during the games played out during the story are well directed and pretty intense, and while this isn't the movie that Stone will be remembered for, it's a solid sports film that is well worth your time.
This set contains the director's cut of Any Given Sunday which is actually shorter than the theatrical cut of the film, though it's a tighter and better paced film because of the six minutes worth of cuts applied to the movie, though some of the football game sequences are trimmed which means that there is less onscreen action than in the other version.
Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, Natural Born Killers, and U-Turn (which also has a fullframe version included on the same disc) are all presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen, while Born On The Fourth Of July, The Doors, JFK, Heaven & Earth, Nixon, and Any Given Sunday are presented in 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen (except for Born On The Fourth Of July, Nixon and The Doors which aren't anamorphic). The shorts and documentaries in the extra features section are all presented fullframe, 1.33.1 format.
Thankfully, all of the films and extras are presented in their original aspect ratios retaining the films' intended compositions. Having most of the widescreen films enhanced for anamorphic sets is also a nice bonus. It looks like these transfers are identical to the earlier single disc releases of these films (the lay out of the extra features backs this up). This means that although most of the films do look very nice, there are still a few problems that were inherent on the earlier releases of these movies that have been carried over to this set, such as some mpeg compression evident on Talk Radio and Nixon. Also, The Doors still suffers from an ugly, blotchy transfer that really should have been cleaned up ages ago. Most of the other films do look very nice though, Platoon and JFK earning top marks for their crystal clear transfers and nice, bright colors.
Salvador features English audio available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and in mono and comes with French and Spanish subtitles. Platoon comes with sound mixes in English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Stereo, English Stereo Surround, French Dolby Stereo Surround, and Spanish Mono with optional subtitles available in French and Spanish. Wall Street has two English language options, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Stereo Surround, and a French Dolby Stereo Surround track with subs available in English and Spanish. Talk Radio has an English Dolby Digital Stereo Surround track and subtitles available in French and Spanish. Born On The Fourth Of July has an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track and a French Stereo Surround track, as well as optional subtitles available in Spanish. The Doors features an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. JFK has English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes and optional subtitles available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Heaven & Earth has an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track and a French Dolby Digital Stereo track, with subtitles available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. For Natural Born Killers we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track in English and a French Dolby Digital Stereo Surround mix with subs in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Nixon is presented in an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. U-Turn has an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix as well as Dolby Stereo Surround mixes in English, French and Spanish with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Any Given Sunday has an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix with optional subtitles available in English and French. The extra features on disc thirteen and disc fourteen are all presented in Dolby Digital Stereo. Oliver Stone's America has optional subtitles available in English and French.
With the specifications out of the way, I didn't note any glaring problems with the audio on any of these releases. Some of the older films have the odd moment of hiss or the odd pop or two in the mix but the dialogue always remains clean and clear and the levels are well balanced on each of the films. Some of the surround mixes are really well done, especially Platoon and Natural Born Killers, both of which have very active soundtracks that make nice use of the rear channels to add some atmosphere and ambience to the films.
The individual movie discs have the following extra features one them, most of which will seem familiar to those who own the single disc releases:
Salvador: In addition to the Oliver Stone commentary, this disc also features a documentary on the making of the film entitled Into The Valley Of Death that features interviews with the key players in getting the film made and runs just over an hour in length providing a wealth of great information on the film and its creators, as well as a handful of deleted scenes (eight in total, all presented fullframe and in rather poor condition) and a theatrical trailer.
Platoon: This is essentially the MGM special edition disc, and contains the Tour Of The Inferno documentary on the making of the film (which is very informative and quite a comprehensive look at what went into making this award winning movie), a commentary from Oliver Stone, a second commentary from Captain Dale Dye that focuses more on the military aspect of the movie, an extensive photo gallery, a trailer, and a few television spots.
Wall Street does well in the extras department with a commentary from Stone, a making of documentary entitled Money Never Sleeps that features interviews with most of the 'name' cast members, a theatrical trailer, and a few television spots.
Talk Radio : Sadly, the only extras on this film are some basic production notes and some cast and filmmaker biographies. There isn't even a trailer on this release, which is a shame as it's a sorely underrated movie.
Born On The Fourth Of July: Featured on this disc is a commentary from Stone, some basic production notes, and some cast and filmmaker biographies. Considering what a big deal this movie was when it was released theatrically I honestly expected there to be more on this disc. Some of the supplements from the recently two disc special edition from Universal would have been very welcome, but that didn't happen.
The Doors: The only extra on this disc is a commentary from Stone and a 'jump to a song' option. This disc is the first disc of the two disc set that Artisan released not too long ago. Most of the extra features were on the second disc, which has not been included on this set. The disc is even labeled 'Disc One' but for whatever reason (probably cost) the second disc containing all of the supplements for this movie except for the commentary was nowhere to be found.
JFK: Yet another commentary from Stone, cast and crew biographies and a listing of the awards that the film earned. The solo release of this film from Warner Brothers had a second disc that included roughly forty-five minutes of deleted scenes that were not included in either the theatrical or director's cut of the film. None of those scenes are included in this set.
Heaven & Earth: Here we find a few deleted scenes (nine in total that, when combined, run for roughly fifty minutes in length, including an extended version of the opening scene that runs for twenty minutes), a commentary from Oliver Stone, and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Natural Born Killers: Stone supplies yet another commentary track, and we also get a making of documentary entitled Chaos Rising that runs just under half an hour, some deleted scenes (six in total), an alternate ending (with introduction), and the theatrical trailer.
Nixon: The only extra feature on Nixon is the commentary from Oliver Stone. No featurette or even a trailer. Again, these extras do exist on other version of the film and it's disappointing not to have them included here.
U-Turn: Nothing but a theatrical trailer on this release, indicating that this is exactly the same as the solo release from Columbia/Tri-Star.
Any Given Sunday: Stone provides a full length commentary and there is also an isolated score, a 'jump to a football scene' option, a theatrical trailer and some cast and crew biographies.
While it's unfortunate that there were no commentaries supplied for U-Turn and Talk Radio the commentaries that we do get, ports from earlier releases, are all quite interesting. Stone is never at a loss for words and isn't ever afraid to speak his mind about the making of his movies or his feelings on how things turned out in the end.
Disc thirteen contains Oliver Stone's America. This is the same disc that was previously only available in the earlier Oliver Stone box set collection from Warner Brothers. This is a feature length interview with Oliver Stone, who discusses his entire career as a director, writer, and producer. The interviewer seems to have a serious case of hero worship which tends to mire this down a little bit but it's still a pretty comprehensive retrospective of Stone's career. Stone, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward and answers the questions honestly even when it doesn't paint him in the most flattering of lights.
Also included on disc thirteen is Stone's short student film, Last Year in Viet Nam. This is an interesting piece in that it sets a lot of the ground work for his later Vietnam films like Platoon and more specifically, Born On The Fourth Of July. The basic premise is that a Vietnam veteran is trying to forget what he went through will overseas by disposing of his war memorabilia. This is cut amongst some footage that Stone shot while he was serving there. This is all done without any dialogue at all, it's simply a montage of images and background music but it's a very somber, emotional piece that succeeds because of its simplicity.
Moving on to the fourteenth and final DVD, we find Looking for Fidel. This is the second documentary that Stone has made on the intriguing subject of Fidel Castro (following Commandante which is suspiciously absent from this set). This time out Stone, through interviews with Castro, focuses in on his decision to execute three Cuban men who stole a boat and tried to escape to the United States. While the content of this interview between Stone and Castro is quite interesting, for some reason it is shot primarily with handheld cameras and this combined with the constant zooming and cutting makes for a very seizure like experience. There's no narration and much of the time is spent with Stone shuffling his notes on camera. Castro comes across as a very passionate man who, regardless of whether you agree with his ideology or not, has no problem with sticking to his beliefs. While Cuba has its problems, he's quick to point out how some things have flourished under his regime, such as literacy and food supply. Obviously Castro is going to be biased in the way that he evaluates his time in power but this still makes for an interesting fifty-seven minutes. It's just too bad it looks like it was filmed by during an earthquake.
Also contained on this disc is the new short documentary On The Set Of Alexander. This isn't much more than a quick look at Stone's upcoming biopic detailing the history of Alexander The Great. There is some behind the scenes footage and some interesting tidbits here and there, but it's mostly a glorified promotional piece. This set also includes a coupon good for up to twelve dollars off admission to see Alexander when it opens theatrically soon.
Finally, rounding out the last disc is Persona Non Grata. This documentary, which makes its DVD debut on this set, is the result of Stone's quest to capture some reaction to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from those who have lived it. We witness a basic history of this seemingly endless conflict through a barrage of news and archival footage, interspersed with footage of Stone and company busying themselves in preparation for interviews with various key players involved in the past and present of this war – Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and more. He also gets some interesting interviews with a few terrorists who discuss their suicide bombing methods and their skewed logic behind it. Once again, much like Looking For Fidel, the rapid edits and shaky camera work detract and distract from what would otherwise be an interesting (though hardly unbiased) look at an age old conflict that many of us in North American really do not fully understand.
A booklet listing credits, a plot synopsis and the extra features for each of the DVDs in this set is also included, which makes navigating the set a little bit easier than it would be otherwise. On a semi related note, it's a shame that there wasn't more care put into the packaging of this set. With so many discs in it, it weighs more than the average box set does and the flimsy cardboard packaging on my nearly new set is already showing wear and tear.
Though not quite perfect (or Ultimate – how can it be ultimate with the R-rated Natural Born Killers?) there is a massive amount of material contained on this set and it does make for an easy way to instantly build yourself a mighty Oliver Stone collection. The movies all hold up really well, there's not a stinker in the bunch, and the audio and video, while not perfect, is of pretty good quality. A few more unique extra features might have been a nice gesture but what is supplied is plentiful and quite interesting. Despite it's shortcomings, The Ultimate Oliver Stone Collection still comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.