Probably Oliver Stone's best known and best received 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 Dafoe) 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, rather it's 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 most noble of intentions. All of these elements help to make this more than just a war movie. Like other great entries in the 'war film' genre like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket it humanizes its subjects and puts character development ahead of explosions and firefights. What we wind up with is a very emotional film, one in which our central characters are more than just indestructible fighting machines bent on destroying the thread of communism but instead very real men who are understandably conflicted as to their place in this war.
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. The performances are strong across the board, with Sheen turning in what is probably his best big screen role and Berenger and Dafoe standing tall right alongside him. Everyone cast in the picture is completely believable in their part. As the conflict between the different parties, all of whom are supposed to be on the same side and to share a common goal, grows more intense the performances also become more intense to the point where, during the last half hour, things have gotten so heated and so undeniably bad for all involved that we can't help but be pulled along with the characters in the film. It's easy to write Sheen off as a joke these days given the recent turn of events in his personal life but here he anchors the film in reality, his narration and his reading of letters sent home to family members establishing the emotional core of the film and grounding it for the 'everyman' to be able to relate to.
Stone's real life experiences in Vietnam have obviously had a hand in his treatment of the material as there's meticulous attention paid to detail here. There's an authenticity here that many other Vietnam films seem to lack, and it's that same authenticity that helps to make Platoon as smart and as moving as it is. The film remains a brutal and uncompromising picture, and stands out as arguably Oliver Stone's best film, a picture that makes us really think about the reasons for and against armed conflict and about the effects that it can and definitely does have on those who are involved in it.
Platoon looks pretty good on Blu-ray in this AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. The increase in detail really helps the jungle scenes a lot, and the nice, natural color reproduction really helps put you in the green Hell with the soldiers. Fine detail looks very good, you'll notice a lot more when the camera zooms in on various faces while texture is also nicely increased, and you'll notice that on the uniforms and clothing as well as in the various backgrounds. Black levels aren't perfect and if you look for it you'll notice some crush here and there, but they're better than previous DVD versions could provide. There are no problems with serious compression artifacts and there's enough grain throughout that it doesn't look like too much noise reduction was applied here (though if you look for it you will see it in a few scenes), and as such, skin tones usually look pretty natural and show only occasional instances of waxiness. All in all, this is a pretty nice looking disc and most fans should be pretty happy with it.
MGM gives the film a lossless option with an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. What's here sounds good, but don't expect the movie to sound like a more modern war film might on Blu-ray as this track plays it fairly safe and doesn't differentiate from the original mix too much at all. Some background and ambient noise is welcome and helps to fill out some of the jungle scenes nicely, and the levels are well balanced throughout ensuring that dialogue is always easy to understand. This sounds a lot like a stereo mix, however, and at times it is quite front heavy. The film's score never quite opens up the way that you might want it to or the way that it could have, and while sound effects have a bit more punch here than they do on the DVD's 5.1 remix, they never quite hit reference quality levels. For an older mix, however, Platoon sounds good. Not great, but good.
The original English 4.0 mix is also offered in Dolby Digital format. Optional dubbed tracks are provided in Spanish, French, German, Italian and Russian DTS 5.1, Portuguese and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and Czech and Hungarian Dolby Digital 2.0. Subtitles are provided in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Thai and Turkish.
As far as the extras go, this is essentially the MGM special edition disc as it carries over the supplements from that release starting with the commentary track from director Oliver Stone in which he talks about his own experiences in Vietnam, how they relate to what we see on film, the historical significance of certain events that the film deals with and what it was like shooting on location out in the jungle. Stone's commentary tracks are always interesting and this one is no exception - if you haven't heard it before, it's definitely worth your time. A second commentary from Captain Dale Dye that focuses more on the military aspect of the movie is also included and it too is worth checking out simply because it relays a lot of welcome information as to the realism of the film, the locations, and more as it all pertains to both the film and the war taking place in the film.
From there we move on to the featurettes, starting with the forty-eight minute Flashback To Platoon which is a three part look at the making of the movie that starts off by exploring the late sixties time period in which the movie is set before delving into cast and crew interviews with pretty much all of the principal players involved in the film. It covers a bit of the same ground as Stone's commentary at times but has enough exclusive information that it's certainly worth the time to watch. One War, Many Stories is a twenty-five minute featurette that is made up of interviews with a few different Vietnam veterans who each tell of their experiences in the war, with some stories from Stone himself who recounts his time in the military as well. Preparing For 'Nam is a seven minute piece in which Stone and the other interviewees talk about how they decided to enlist and what they did to prepare themselves for the war they were going to be sent into while Caputo And The 7th Fleet is a two minute bit with author Phillip Caputo discussing the evacuation of Saigon that took place in 1975. In The Dye Training Method Dale Dye talks about how he got the actors ready for their roles as soldiers while the one minute Gordon Gekko explains the co-relation between Platoon and Wall Street.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are eleven minutes worth of deleted scenes (available with optional commentary from Stone who provides valuable context for them and explains why they weren't used in the final cut of the movie), three television spots, a theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter stops. Since this is a combo pack release, a DVD copy of the movie is also included, both discs fit inside a standard Blu-ray case that in turn fits inside a sleeve cover. All of the extras on the Blu-ray are presented in standard definition except for the theatrical trailer which is the only extra in high definition.
Platoon remains an exciting and moving picture, an intelligent war film that focuses not just on the action so often associated with it but on the impact it has on the very real people who have served their country. Emotionally gripping and expertly made, it remains one of Stone's best and MGM's Blu-ray gives it a strong transfer, marginally improved audio, and a good selection of extras making this release 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.