Plot: What’s it about?
[Editor’s Note: Since this is now the third version of this DVD and the contents of the movie and, more importantly, the video and audio elements haven’t changed…we see no need to re-review what hasn’t changed…even the third time around.]
When Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) was about to leave high school, his patriotic spirit and love for his country led him to serving for a time in the military, to help his country, and the free world, claim victory in the conflict in Vietnam. Now, Ron wasn’t some frail little boy, he was a willing and able young man, athletic and gifted, in other words, a good soldier. But war has a way of cracking even the hardest and most gifted soldiers, and mistakes become inevitable. Kovic, like any soldier, had his share of mistakes, but one mistake would change him forever, and land him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. When Ron, and the other Vietnam veterans returned home from their tours, they were greeted not as the previous veterans of foreign wars were greeted. There were no parades, no streamers, no thankful masses, only bitterness, uncaring nature, and sometimes utter hatred. As soon as he returns, Ron is faced with the reality that the people he thought he was fighting for in the conflict, want nothing to do with him, and couldn’t care less about him and his ailments. Once he realizes that the cause he believed in is so despised, he starts to despise it himself, and relies on alcohol for support. Soon, Ron decides to protect future veterans from suffering the same fate, and begins to fight for veteran’s rights. What makes this incredible story even more powerful is that the story is true.
This is one amazing movie, filled with such raw emotion, powerful directing, and intense acting. While I am sure there is a segment of the readership who would argue this claim, I find this movie to be one of Oliver Stone’s best, with only Natural Born Killers and Platoon in the same league. Perhaps what makes me like this movie so much is the sheer emotion the movie conjures up, and I am not even old enough to be a Persian Gulf veteran, so it’s not because I’m a Vietnam vet or anything. The fact that the story is a true one really brings the feelings and power to the film. Add to that Oliver Stone’s passion about the conflict in Vietnam, and you’ve got the recipe for one hell of a movie. The movie took home several awards, including two Oscars, one for Best Director, the other for Film Editing, and a total of four Golden Globes. While not a war movie in a literal sense, I consider this one of the finest war movies, even though it deals with the after effects of war more than the actual war itself. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, and even though the disc is somewhat lacking, no movie buff’s collection can be complete without this title.
As I mentioned, this story is true and based on the events that happen to Ron Kovic. Kovic wrote the book which serves as the basis for the screenplay, which was penned by Kovic along with director Oliver Stone. By keeping the subject and writer of the film close to the project, this ensures the passion and emotion resounds through the film itself. While Oliver Stone is considered one of the most respected and influential directors of this, and possibly all, time, his movies are wildly different one to the next, and fans of his films are scattered and varied as well. While all his films have a personal touch evident, his three films about the conflict in Vietnam stands as the most personal and emotional, and are starkly different from each other. The other two films, Platoon and Heaven & Earth, combine with this film to forge a total look at almost all aspects of the brutal conflict. This movie focuses not on the brutalities of the war itself like Platoon, or the Vietnamese perspective like Heaven & Earth, but on the effects the war had on one man, and the difference he makes. If you find yourself enjoying this movie, I suggest you seek out the other two as well.
Even if a movie has a touching storyline and the power of a skilled director keen to the subject matter, without a cast of actors that can convey the message, the film is lost. With this movie, there is no shortage of talent, and Tom Cruise gives the performance of his career, at least in my opinion. Cruise (Eyes Wide Shut, The Firm) gives a tour de force here, really showing off his dramatic skills. Cruise had already wowed fans and critics with Rain Man and The Color of Money, but here he truly established himself as a top notch dramatic talent. Others giving performances above and beyond the call of duty here include Kyra Sedgwick (Something To Talk About, Critical Care), Frank Whaley (Career Opportunities, Swimming With Sharks), Tom Berenger (Major League, Last of the Dogmen), Willem Dafoe (The Last Temptation of Christ, Platoon), and Raymond J. Barry (Falling Down, The Ref). Even though Cruise plays the main character and garners much of the screen time, these supporting roles are vital, without them the movie would seem hollow. The supporting cast also includes Lili Taylor (Short Cuts, The Haunting), Stephen Baldwin (The Usual Suspects, Bio-Dome), Abbie Hoffman (Heavy Petting), Caroline Kava (Snow Falling On Cedars), and Jerry Levine (Teen Wolf, Iron Eagle).
Video: How does it look?
Sadly, this was released before Universal starting doing a lot of anamorphic transfers. The image lacks any quality that a 16:9 transfer would have cleared up. While it’s true that this is the best out there, it leaves a lot to be desired. No matter, I’m sure this movie, like some other Universal titles (Carlito’s Way, Filed of Dreams…), will get the good treatment one day…or maybe not. This is now the third edition of this title (it has been released in a Dolby Digital version, a DTS version, and now this new “Special Edition” which basically sports a commentary track only). Universal has really missed the boat with this new version, this was their chance to “make up” for their other efforts on this, and they just didn’t do it. There might have been legal trouble or other issues, all I know is that the third time should be the charm, but it doesn’t hold true in this case. The picture, though sharp at times, is in despereate need of a new transfer, as DVD can only do so much. C’mon Universal!
Audio: How does it sound?
This is the exact same mix that the first version of this movie has. With a new version coming out, it would be a great time to include both a Dolby Digital and a DTS mix along with a Director’s commentary (as they have with Bone Collector, The Best Man and U-571 to name a few), but we find no such treasures on this disc. The same 5.1 mix is a decent mix, though the DTS version makes up for a few spots that the Dolby Digital can’t handle. On the whole, the mix isn’t the real problem with the disc, it’s the lack of extras.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Ok…time for us to really go off. Originally, this was supposed to be a very good Special Edition. It was supposed to have a new 16:9 transfer, a 5.1 soundtrack, deleted scenes and a Commentary by Oliver Stone. Well, two of those made the final cut. If you have any other version of this disc, then I wouldn’t recommend buying this one. The commentary by Oliver Stone is certainly interesting, and if you don’t own another version of this disc, then this is certainly the one to have. Stone, being only one man, chatters away for the entire movie and avoids the gaps that so many other commentaries seem to have in common. He is full of information and isn’t shy about sharing it with us (big surprise, right). There are some Production Notes and Cast Bios (that haven’t been updated to reflect the stars new movies…i.e. the last movie it showed for Tom Cruise was Eyes Wide Shut), which is just another example that they didn’t try with this disc at all. It’s disappointing to say the least, but like I said before, if you don’t own this movie yet, this is the one to have. But hopefully, and it’s running out, they will finally come to their senses and treat this movie right.