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Full Metal Jacket 25th Anniversary
I was only 5 when Full Metal Jacket was released, so the first I heard about it was from some friends a little later in life. One of my chums described it as such - "Basically, the first half of the movie is freakin' hilarious. I mean, I was rolling on the floor with laughter. The second half is really just a depressing look at war." As a young teen, I raised an eyebrow. I couldn't decide if it sounded interesting or not, but the thought of a film that was half comedy, half war, struck me as something I needed to see, mainly because of how odd it sounded. Obviously, my immature friend (yes, even for his age at the time) didn't quite grasp the point of the first half of the film, because funny, it was not. I didn't exactly comprehend the film as a whole myself at the time, but I knew one thing - Full Metal Jacket was not a war movie. Hell, there was hardly even any action in it. No, it was something far deeper, but I didn't have the capability to decode its true meaning.
I revisited the film again in my early 20's, and with a different understanding and appreciation for film by then, it was like watching it for the first time all over again. It was one of the few films in my life (up to that point) that I decided to 'research', and the internet lead me to a quote that helped me to understand the film that much more:
That's such an important quote from Kubrick. If you examine most of his films, they're all based on thoughts, concepts, and relatively bleak ideologies. 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn't really a sci-fi film, A Clockwork Orange wasn't just about the exploits of a criminal undergoing rehabilitation, Dr. Strangelove wasn't just a tale about accidental nuclear war, and A.I. - Artificial Intelligence (yes, I know Spielberg directed it after Kubrick's passing) wasn't just about a boy robot trying to make his way home. No, these stories merely served as a backdrop for Kubrick's main point, which was typically some variation about how we're being dehumanized and setting ourselves up for destruction. Full Metal Jacket is no different in this respect, as its serving purpose is to make us understand what war feels like psychologically, rather than going the typical Hollywood route, showcasing guns and bombs to merely show us that 'war is hell'.
Kubrick does this by splitting the film into two distinct halves. In the first part of the film, we follow the training of a platoon at Parris Island during Vietnam, especially that of Private J.T. 'Joker' Davis and Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence. Enter Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, whose job is to turn this party of recruits into emotionless, cold-blooded killing machines. His methods are draconian at best, humiliating and breaking the spirit of anyone who isn't performing their duties exactly as instructed. However, Lawrence is somewhat of a bumbling buffoon and incurs Hartman's wrath as a result. Despite the fact Hartman goes to extreme lengths to keep Lawrence from dragging ass, none of his training techniques seem to be getting through. So, Hartman pairs Lawrence with 'Joker', hoping some guidance from a fellow recruit might help. It seems to be working, at least better than Hartman's demoralizing efforts, but all bets are off when the Sergeant finds out Lawrence has hidden contraband. The Sergeant institutes a 'punish everyone except Lawrence for his mistakes' policy, which ultimately causes the recruits to beat Lawrence one night in a blanket party. All of a sudden, Lawrence seems to shape up and even become a model recruit, but Joker is concerned his designated pal might be having a mental breakdown. The events that follow are horrifying, although not particularly shocking considering what we've seen.
The film then jarringly cuts to its second act, where Corporal Joker has taken on correspondence duties with the Stars and Stripes newspaper. However, Joker has very little respect from his peers, as his role as journalist means he hasn't seen as much action as everyone else. Joker tries to convince the others that he's seen his share of warfare, but the Marines called his bluff, saying he didn't have the 'thousand-yard stare' of a man that's seen any real action. Ironically, it's at this moment their base in Da Nang is attacked, leaving Joker with his first real taste of what it's like to be in a life-threatening battle. The next day Joker is briefed to go to Phu Bai, and it's from this point on that Joker is finally in the thick of it; witnessing people fall victim to hidden booby traps, soldiers fighting for their lives in battles that seemingly spell certain doom, and eventually finding out what it's like to play cat and mouse with a sniper. It's at this point the film finally brings Joker to the crossroad Kubrick has been leading us up to all along - The Corporal, who has somehow maintained his humanity throughout the entirety of the film, is left with a choice. A mortally wounded enemy combatant lay at his feet - Does he do the inhumane thing and let the person suffer, or does he perform a mercy killing, allowing their torment to end?
This is a misleading conundrum, really. Both choices are actually sadistic and virtuous at the same time - If Joker leaves the sniper in peace, then she will suffer until she finally dies. If Joker performs the mercy killing to stop the suffering, he can only do so by actually taking a human life. The reality is that no matter what Joker decides, he's already paid the highest price for being in the middle of a war; he's been dehumanized. Kubrick's point finally seems to make itself clear when the film comes to a close - Violence does not bring peace regardless of what good intentions might be behind it (the US's 'official' reason in Vietnam was to protect peoples basic rights and freedoms). All aggression and violence will ever beget is more aggression and violence. We saw this in the first half of the film, when Lawrence was pushed too hard in training. He became exactly what the Sergeant wanted him to be; a heartless, cold-blooded killing machine, which is ironic since the point was to make him an instrument of 'peace'. There were dire consequences as a direct result of that. After all, how can we expect to train people to essentially be monsters and then expect to keep them all under control? In the second half of the film, Joker, who obviously seems to have a decent head on his shoulders, shows us yet again that good intentions will leave even the sanest person broken. Although politics depict war as a basic issue of right versus wrong, actually being in the middle of one is a different story. People sign up to defend the rights over the wrongs, and instead find themselves plunged into a darkness from the moment they begin their training, until they're in the thick of battle and come to understand that there is no 'right' involved at all. But of course, we can tell just by looking at history that man has an inclination towards war, and that's exactly what Kubrick is trying to make us understand - History keeps repeating itself and for what? War only does one thing - destroy lives. If someone doesn't have their life claimed by a bullet or a bomb, their very souls are ripped from them, leaving them empty for the rest of their lives.
It might be hard to believe with all this in mind that Kubrick wasn't aiming to make an anti-war film. Again, he merely wanted to make us really feel what war was like psychologically, and I think he did an amazing job at stripping away the typical 'good versus bad' analogy most Hollywood films portray, instead leaving us with the sense that war isn't just hell, but rather an instrument of our own decay. So, why do I agree that Kubrick didn't actually make an anti-war film despite such an 'anti-war like' message? Because Kubrick is saying more about the bleak nature of man than he is about war itself. But despite his bleak outlook on humanity, I don't think the director's films are meant to leave us with as bleak a message as many believe. I think Kubrick, in this film and many others, is trying to tell us that although we've allowed history to endlessly repeat itself, therefore mindlessly allowing progressive dehumanization, we're able to identify what we're doing to ourselves, meaning we can change before it's too late. Yes, I might be looking too deep or too far past his film to find a message of hope here, but here's another quote from Kubrick to illustrate my point:
Based on this, I also feel that the message of Full Metal Jacket is that when man is forced to face challenges by finding 'bravery' in devaluing death, moral decay ensues, if not our very destruction when all is said and done. It is only in embracing death - that is, to fear death and have enough respect for it to finally begin valuing all human life across the board - that man will finally learn to embrace peace, instead of aggression or other negative actions in the name of peace. Of course, this is something that can be endlessly debated, and in all actuality, has been debated by many ever since the film's initial release. Regardless as to how you might interpret things differently than I, I think we can all agree on this - Full Metal Jacket is just as relevant today as it was in the late 1980's, if not even more so. This is going to remain a timeless classic not just for the fantastic acting on display or the memorable scenes at the end of each act; it's going to remain a timeless classic because it's something that can forever be discussed and will always be embedded in our minds after experiencing it. So, if you haven't seen this film before, I'm sorry I provided some spoilers in my review (but hey, I did warn you), but it was necessary in discussing the film's many complexities, and hopefully, this leaves you with enough interest to see such a deep film for yourself. Full Metal Jacket is just another example as to why Stanley Kubrick is debatably the best director of all time, and if that's not enough of a 'standing ovation' comment for this review, then I don't know what is.
I held off on buying the previous release of Full Metal Jacket, because the 25th Anniversary Edition (digibook) was advertised as having a brand spankin' new, remastered transfer. It seems that the studio has intentionally mislead us in order to get people to bite, because this isn't a new transfer at all. Yep, it's the same exact one that appeared on the 2007 release (I can verify this because a friend was ditching his old copy for the digibook, and allowed me to have it). Oh, it's an upgrade when compared to the original 2006 release, sure, and if that's the only version of Full Metal Jacket you own on Blu up to this point, then this release technically is 'remastered' for you. But, for the many others who were expecting something even better than the 2007 release, this is clearly false advertising. Needless false advertising at that, because there are plenty of people that will want to upgrade to the digibook just because of the new book-style packaging itself, anyway.
Regardless, the 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer from 2007 (1.78:1) really didn't need any sprucing up to begin with. The film has a slightly faded look to it, the photography at times soft, and the grain varies wildly depending on the shot. This is all inherent from the source however, meaning this is not an issue of a faulty encode. For all intents and purposes, Full Metal Jacket seems to accurately replicate the source without issue. DNR isn't a problem, there are no troubling artifacts to distract you from the story, and there's no noticeable banding or 'blobbing' in smoke. There's some evidence of very minor edge enhancement from time to time, but it really is a minimal issue. All in all, Full Metal Jacket looks just as was intended, and if you've already seen the 2007 disc, this should come as no surprise.
This release also contains the same lossless 5.1 PCM track as its predecessor, and again, this isn't a bad thing. The dialogue is always perfectly intelligible, but it has a quality to it that isn't as 'clean' as most modern films. As with the video presentation, this minor shortcoming is a result of the source and not of an inferior encode. Other than that, the rest of the soundtrack is a pleasing experience, despite not being completely immersive. LFE delivers a respectable punch when appropriate, and the entire surround stage is used appropriately for gunfire, explosions, tanks and the like. The depth is fairly good although not pinpoint precise, and there's some environmental ambience but it's not constant. Yes, other films from the late 80's and early 90's sound better, but that's to be expected when the presentation we're given isn't the original mono track, and instead an 'enhanced' surround track. Taking that into consideration, Full Metal Jacket sounds quite good for what it is.
Although this release will disappoint some since it doesn't sport a newly remastered transfer, there's actually some reason to upgrade here, most especially if you're a big fan of Stanley Kubrick. Two discs come packaged in a digibook, which in and of itself sports information about the history of the film, as well as profiles for most of the main actors/characters in the film. As typical with digibooks, the pages are high gloss, shiny and smooth. There's 48 pages in this beautiful presentation, and has many behind-the-scenes shots from Matthew Modine's personal photographic collection. The first disc is the original 2007 release, albeit with different disc art than before, and the second disc houses a 61 minute documentary not previously available.
-Audio Commentary with Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Ermey, and Author/Screenwriter Jay Cocks - This seems like it would be an interesting commentary with such an appropriate ensemble piled together, but they weren't recorded together at the same time, meaning while although there's some valuable information and insight to take in, it's disjointed and a little boring. Also, nobody really takes a stab at dissecting the film, which is perhaps the biggest disappointment of all.
-Between Good and Evil - At nearly 31 minutes, this is a pretty nice tell-all about Full Metal Jacket. Everything about the film is touched upon, including its inspiration and impact, casting, what it was like filming on location, and there's even discussion about an alternate ending that was never filmed. I found this to be more enjoyable than the commentary, after all was said and done.
-Stanley Kubrick's Boxes (On Disc 2) - At 61 minutes, this doesn't really focus on Full Metal Jacket, but Stanley Kubrick fans will still get quite a kick out of this supplement. After the famed director's passing, director Jon Ronson is invited to Kubrick's estate for what any film historian would dream of doing - Going through thousands of the late director's boxes and cataloguing all their contents. This gives a tremendous amount of insight into the films we know of Kubrick as well as many of the films that never ended up becoming a reality for one reason or another. Kubrick was very meticulous in how he stored things, up to and including fan letters (something that, for some reason, really surprised me when they were revealed). Although any Kubrick fan already knows this, newcomers to Kubrick's work will be fascinated to see that despite the fact there was usually a long wait between his films, he was always seemingly working day and night on 'the next big thing'. This is NOT to be missed.
Full Metal Jacket - The 25th Anniversary Edition isn't going to entice everyone. The film itself is unquestionably a masterpiece - Kubrick has made a very interesting statement about man's relationship with war and vice versa. On a more abstract scale, this film tells us that good intentions or not, violence will always beget violence. The film even addresses the absurd notion that violence will somehow result in peace, as is evidenced by Joker's helmet which has 'Born to Kill' written across it, while he simultaneously sports a peace sign on his jacket. He said it was to demonstrate the duality of man, but this film makes it very clear how destructive these two ideas are when thought to be relevant to each other. It's a rewarding film that will reveal a new layer of depth with each and every subsequent viewing, so there's no question that the film itself is worth the coin. However, people are likely to be put off by the fact that this is not a newly remastered release, as was advertised. That being said, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the video or audio as is, and the supplemental material is intriguing. The digibook is gorgeous, and if you don't own this film on Blu-ray already, then making this purchase is a no brainer. If you own the 2006 release, the upgrade is substantial. Own the 2007 release? It is my humble opinion that this release still comes highly recommended. The Stanley Kubrick Boxes feature is worth the price of admission alone.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!