Some of the most powerful moments Hollywood have brought to the screen regarding any war you can read about in a history book, isn't what happens on the battlefield, but off. War is a life altering event that will change someone's perception about everything, and without showing the audience the scars war can inflict on the mind, you're left with nothing more than an action film. Why bother filming an intense and infamous battle if there's no context wrapped around it? You would never know that war is hell just by watching the movie. Jarhead understands this, but to a flaw. This film focuses on a group of Marines that never see a lick of action, yet we still see them descend into madness at times. The only problem is, there's no additional context to compliment this aspect of the war story.
The film is based on some memoirs by real life Marine, Anthony Swofford. He signed up for boot camp, went through a nerve-wrecking initiation, courtesy of his new boot camp buddies, got screamed at by his drill sergeant, and drank bottles worth of laxatives to fake the flu and skip out on the daily grind.
Coming to the realization that he would have nowhere to fit in at home, he decides to take up the opportunity to become a sniper for the Marines. His training let him shoot rifles, and even crawl under barbed wire with real explosives and live rounds going off all around him. After some difficult trials in boot camp, the Gulf War of 1991 begins, and ironically closes the book on Swofford seeing any additional action.
When Swofford arrives in the desert with his platoon, there's nothing left for them to do other than running more drills, and work on better conditioning their bodies to the hot temperatures that reach over one hundred degrees on a regular basis. They're American Marines! They're not allowed to stand around and gawk out over the sand and twiddle their thumbs, waiting for some action, hell no! Their job is to dedicate every fiber of their being to forgetting everything they knew about themselves, as well as others, and forget it for the sake of becoming efficient, dehumanized killers. So no action is going on, but they're supposed to stay focused and pumped up at all times, still performing rigorous routines to keep them sharp.
When soldiers are forced to constantly teeter on the brink of imposing destruction against their enemy, bottled emotions have a tendency to come out in ways that would leave a person unrecognizable to themselves. They fight with people they formed a tight bond with, sometimes separating themselves from the pack because they have no other way to unleash how they're truly feeling. Other times, they all stick together and misbehave and take the punishment together like a family.
You might think that training hard to go to a war that doesn't give any action might not be the worst thing in the world, because in the end you're alive. "They're trained to kill, and get over to the desert, and they don't have to fight, so what?" Again, it all comes back to the dehumanization process that occurs throughout the training, and even more so from the waiting. You have to be a tough soldier on the outside, but you're constantly thinking about the gunfire and bombs that you imagine you'll inevitably hear. When you're trained to rush rush rush, kill kill kill, and nothing happens, it's like having a body sized band-aid being pulled off of you ever so slowly.
Not only does the waiting game play massive tricks on your mind, but don't forget, you're also isolated from the rest of the world. Take poor Swofford for example. He has a hot girlfriend at home that's waiting for him to return someday. Walking around the camp that's set up in the desert, he sees poster boards that are loaded with pictures of other soldiers girlfriends at home, ones that have been unfaithful since their beloved's departure. An instance where Swofford receives a letter from his girlfriend, who mentions she met a new friend at the hotel she works at, sends Swofford into a paranoid tizzy.
There are numerous examples of the human condition in this film, and how it can change due to the horrors of war that are caused by a 'waiting for your death' complex. As far as that aspect of the film goes, it was perfectly executed. It was done very artistically with a great soundtrack to accompany some of the stepping stone moments along the way, the acting was fantastic, and the cinematography was great. Unfortunately, the dehumanization process is the only context in the film. We're already aware of the affects war can impose on someone that's overseas, action or no action. To devote an entire film to showing us how nothing matters when you're overseas, political or otherwise, is pretty unnecessary at this point in the game.
The movie takes off well enough, but halfway through the film I was getting impatient. I felt like everything that we were seeing Swofford go through would eventually bring us to some point or conclusion, and it never did. The affects of dehumanization just keep rearing their ugly head until the film is over. Even so, Jarhead is a film I would recommend everyone should see at least once. Despite the fact that its ultimate destination is 'nowhere', you get a great sense of what war can do to a man in the modern era. There's too much in this film that was done right to ignore the film as a whole.
This 1080p VC-1 encoded video is at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and looks fantastic. There's hardly any film damage to complain about. When you do see a speck of dirt or something similar, it's so minor, most people won't even notice. Overall, this is an incredibly clean print.
The film has a very light layer of grain over a film that sports surprisingly inky blacks, and hot contrast. It's usually not a combination that's made in heaven.
The combination of blowing out the contrast can create some incredibly nasty effects on an image. Softness can sit on every edge, and all the colors can look washed out. Jarhead takes on this stylish look, but without softening the image or sacrificing a lot of color, whenever there is color that is. This film was meant to look a little drab. It takes place in the desert, after all.
Sharpness is excellent, and so is the detail. Black levels are inky, and really drive home the high contrast imagery the director was trying to convey. If this is a film you really happened to enjoy, and you're wondering if this is worth the upgrade from DVD, the answer is a big, big yes! If you already own the HD-DVD, you already know what to expect.
If audio is a touchy subject with you, then you'll be happy to know this release includes a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, and it's pretty impressive. The dialogue is crisp and clear with no imperfections at all, which is amazing considering how often someone can be whisper quiet, and then be shouting at the top of their lungs just an instant later. The dialogue can always be heard over the soundtrack too, which at times really swells and booms to add to the emotion the director is trying to convey in any given scene. If you own the HD-DVD and want an upgrade, then this is going to be a no brainer for you. The dynamic range always keeps things audible, and really knows how to fill your living room without being unpleasantly overbearing. The film may be dialogue heavy, but there's always some surround noise around to create an enveloping experience, so the directionality is pretty impressive too.
Also included: Spanish and French DTS 5.1. Subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Here's where the deal breaker comes into play, for probably most of you. The only extras that appear on this Blu-ray, are the two commentaries you have heard before :
Commentary with Director Sam Mendes - Sam isn't bad to listen to. He goes into great detail about almost every aspect of the film, and often discusses the creative differences he took instead of strictly following the book that Swofford wrote, which after hearing this commentary, I didn't think was a great move. The fictional Swofford we follow throughout the film does a little narration here and there, and although it's a great creative effect for this kind of film, the movie never feels like it's a narrative. It looks like we're merely watching a movie that's trying to convey some sort of message, without ever really getting there. To include pieces of narrative in the film, but not make this film more about Swofford personally, feels a little mismatched.
Commentary with Screenwriter William Boyles Jr. and author Anthony Swofford - This is the commentary you'll want to listen to if you're only going to choose one. Being such an emotional and dialogue heavy film, means that a lot of what we saw had to come down to ideas and writing. What's a better person to listen to than Anthony Swofford himself? Not only do we get a lot of information about how the script was translated from Swofford's memoirs, but we get a lot of good information about military life in general.
Unfortunately, that's it. All the features that were on any of the DVD releases or even the HD-DVD release, all gone.
Jarhead is a pretty decent journey to take, even if there's seemingly no point to it all. There's not really a statement, there's not any battles to break up the monotony of the dehumanization process, but for what the film tries to show the audience, the life of a man in the Military and only this, it was put together incredibly well. There's enough artistic vision here that kept it entertaining, despite the fact that the film didn't diversify itself enough to be something great.
Many of you are going to have a tough choice in front of you. Do you opt to go for the lossless audio and ditch your old HD-DVD or DVD, or do you want to hang on to your extras and hold on to your money? It is pretty offensive to see the features that were already available dropped for the winner of the format war, so for this reason, I'm going to have to recommend most of you only rent this. It's a good film, although not great, but it doesn't really have any replay value. The inclusion of a lossless audio track is nice, but the absence of all the special features really is a letdown.