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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Oliver Stone Collection - ''Heaven and Earth''
Oliver Stone Collection - ''Heaven and Earth''
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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 22, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

The third in Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy (along with "Born On The 4th Of July" and "Platoon") takes the viewpoint of a Vietnamese woman who experiences the war in her country and the chaos that accompanied it. The film starts with Le Ly(Hiep Thi Le) experiencing the end of the tranquility of her homeland as the Viet Cong march in. Stone and cinematographer Robert Richardson capture the early moments of beauty in the country quite well, through shots of swaying, deep green grass and sunsets. As the conflict begins to rage, she seeks peace elsewhere but finds that her life still has problems and her family is falling apart.

Just when she reaches her lowest point, she meets Steve Butler, an American soldier who wants to marry her. Although at first it seems as if moving back to the States will mean a better life for the both of them, it soon becomes apparent that there is still damage done to the spirits of both of them.

I hadn't seen the film before, I'd actually only caught parts of it here and there. After watching the full film, I'm suprised that some seem to feel slightly negative towards it. There are some points as the film goes to America that are rather awkwardly done, but the movie as a whole is poetic and often haunting, with some marvelous performances - especially by the two lead actors. Technically, the film is also wonderful, with excellent cinematography and an elegant score. It also has quite good sound, which I'll talk about further in the DVD review portion. I certainly enjoyed "Heaven and Earth"; it starts off well and ends well, but occasionally runs off the tracks slightly in the middle section.



The DVD

VIDEO: "Heaven and Earth" recieves a fine presentation for this special edition. Although there are a few minor problems, the video quality certainly doesn't have nearly the amount of flaws that the "Born On The Fourth Of July" special edition has. In fact, the beautiful photography and scenery of "Heaven and Earth" really makes for a pretty remarkable viewing experience at times. Sharpness and detail are sometimes fair, but usually good - some of the presentation seemed noticably on the soft side, but not so much so that it became irritating, and these moments were brief. Some of the darker scenes of the movie are a little bit murky at times, as well.

Flaws are noticable but only appear on occasion. Often, they are also overshadowed by the otherwise beautiful look of the movie. Print flaws are pretty minor, a couple of speckles here and there - but nothing that's distracting. I didn't notice any pixelation, but there is some slight edge enhancement at times.

Colors are often beautiful; the greens of the fields take on a deep, rich look that is gorgeous. Other colors look well-saturated and pleasing. Overall, although there are some flaws apparent in the presentation, this still does Robert Richardson's stunning cinematography justice.

SOUND: I hadn't expected a great deal from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of "Heaven and Earth", but I was actually mistaken in my expectations. Although not an absolutely full-out agressive sound experience, there is certainly some strong surround use on occasion. The score also really comes into the listening space well, strongly and crisply enveloping the viewer. There are also some more intense sequences. A battle at about 25 minutes into the movie provides a more traditionally agressive sound environment, as does one that begins at about an hour and 23 minutes into the picture. Even during the quieter scenes, I was pleased to hear that ambient sounds are included, which make for a more realistic sense of space.

Although as the movie goes into the second half it does become somewhat calmer, I still found the audio very enjoyable as the score still sounds wonderful and there are the occasional touches of more active audio. Dialogue throughout is clear and easily understood. It's not a traditionally agressive sound presentation, but I think that the film still makes very effective use of sound. Sound designer Scott Martin Gershin and sound editor Wylie Stateman also worked together again recently on "The Perfect Storm".

MENUS:: Menus are very basic and non-animated.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: This is a commentary track from director Oliver Stone. I'm always looking forward to a track from Stone, who, whether or not you enjoy his movies, comes across in these discussions as a very intelligent, very articulate person who is often fascinating to listen to. He also has quite a lot to say; although the running time of "Heaven and Earth" is over 2 hours long, there is few pauses of silence throughout the track. The filmmaker discusses a great deal of different subjects, talking about how this film relates to other films of Stone's career, working with the actors, the story and philosophy behind some of the themes and the technical processes and obstacles behind filming.

Stone provides a terrific amount of insight into nearly all levels of the movie throughout the commentary, and provides an absolutely fascinating amount of facts about the making of the movie and opinions and reactions to it. In the first hour of the track alone, I felt I'd learned so much about the movie, and the second hour continues along the same excellent pace. I've listened to commentaries from Stone on "Wall Street", "Born On The 4th of July" and now "Heaven and Earth". I've listened to more commentary tracks than I can remember, but I still think that these three are among the best. Stone simply provides wonderful discussions.

Deleted Scenes: There is quite a lot of deleted footage to go through from the film, including a 22 minute alternate opening sequence. According to the commentary, the opening (and although not mentioned, probably the rest of the footage) was found in Stone's personal collection. Stone provides optional commentary during all of the scenes, most of which are pretty fascinating to watch. In total, there is about 46 minutes of footage.

Also: Theatrical trailer and cast/crew bios.

Final Thoughts: "Heaven and Earth" offers good video and great sound quality, along with a handful of very interesting extra features. Recommended, and available separately from the Oliver Stone box sets.

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