Jarhead (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

As a film critic, people often ask my opinions on movies. Naturally I point them to this site, but if they must – then I let them know what I think. Movies like “Jarhead” makes my job hard as film itself is subjective, but a war movie with no real action is certainly hard to classify as a war movie. Right? “Jarhead” is based on the best-selling book by Anthony Swofford (Gyllenhaal), a Marine sniper in the Gulf War. The movie is told through his point of view of him and the seven other snipers in his troop (“troop” might not be the correct word, I was never in the military so correct me if need be). I vividly remember the Gulf War – it started on January 17, 1991 – just about two weeks shy of my 18th birthday. I remember walking into my after school job and my boss saying “You ready to go to war?”. As history has told us, the war didn’t last very long and most of us watched it on CNN every night. “Jarhead” tells the tale of the frustration that our troops faced over there and that the only thing worse than war, is the lack of one when you expect it the most.

The film opens in 1989 as we meet Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has just enlisted in the Marines. He’ young and eager and ready to fight for his country. We see him go through the arduous process of boot camp and he even makes the cut to be one of the elite Marine snipers. Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx) is his parental figure throughout the film, both encouraging and discouraging Swofford throughout the cycle of the war. Swofford also bonds with Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) as they cope with being in Saudi Arabia and the thought of what their girlfriends are doing back at home.

“Jarhead” tells it like it is. And for a war movie, there’ not a whole lot of action but then again – not every war movie is like “Platoon”. Ironically enough, the movie pays homage to “Apocalypse Now” – another war movie that was more of a psychological voyage as opposed to the firing of guns. As far as the cast goes, it’ pretty much Gyllenhaal’ shows from opening to close. Gyellenhaal has shown tremendous range as an actor and after last year’ “Brokeback Mountain”, there’ not a lot that the guy hasn’t done (at his young age). Director Sam Mendes has remained pretty true to the book and has faithfully re-created the Desert Shield/Storm atmosphere of 1991. I found myself instantly recognizing songs from the era and the Academy Award winning director has done a good job of portraying war (or lack thereof).

Video: How does it look?

“Jarhead’s” 2.35:1 VC-1 HD image is one of the more washed out images I’ve seen on screen. The bleakness of the Saudi Arabia desert is shown here with some very polarized images. Skin appears red and almost black in contrast to the white of the ground and the deep blues of the sky. This is the way it’ intended to look, of course. As with all Blu-ray discs, there’ really no problem with edge enhancement or any artifacting in the least. And that’ the best way I can describe HD. It’ not so much different that your jaw will drop, but it’ like finding a picture on the ground and cleaning all of the debris off of it. It’ just the best version of the movie and this is how it was meant to be seen.

Audio: How does it sound?

Again, Universal has seen fit to give the soundtrack an upgrade. The HD DVD contained a Dolby Digital Plus, but this has since been replaced by a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Admittedly, it isn’t the most robust out there, but it does have some moments where it shines. As Gyllenhaal’s character admits near the end of the movie “I’ve never even fired my rifle” – we begin to realize that there isn’t a plethora of audio that will shake the room. That said, there are a few instances in which things explode and the audio is overall a strong track. Surrounds kick in from time to time, but don’t offer a whole lot of ambiance. To put it bluntly – this sounds about average, but it’ not the fault of the soundtrack; that’ just how it’ supposed to sound.

Supplements: What are the extras?

In a move that’s sure to tick some fans of the film off, gone are most of the supplements found on the HD DVD and only the duo of commentary tracks are left. Granted, the tracks are pretty full of information and do offer some insight into the films, but the remainder of the features are evidently off in never never land. We do get the “exclusive” Blu-ray feature that includes “My Scenes” which allows you to add some bookmarks, but I doubt fans will feel that’s an appropriate substitute for the missing material.

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