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Platoon made a huge, lasting impression on the genre of American war movies. Without Platoon, we wouldn’t have films like Saving Private Ryan, where accuracy of detail and a sense of being there is of utmost importance.

The Movie

When I saw first saw Platoon (it was released in 1986), I remember thinking how muddled and pointless the plot line was. There was a lot of walking through jungles, and there were battles and booby traps, but there was no clear objective or goal.

Watching the film again, I realize that I was right about my assessment, but wrong to dislike the film for it. Platoon really is an aimless, pointless walk through the jungle, but that was director Oliver Stone’s intent. To impose some sort of structure on it would be to diminish the “realistic” feel that Stone was trying to achieve.

Platoon follows Chris Taylor’s (Charlie Sheen’s) tour of duty in Vietnam through a series of vignettes. There are scenes of battle, of sleepless nights on patrol, of parties and latrine duty at base camp, and even a scene of an American raid on a South Vietnamese village. There is no overarching story that ties all these vignettes together, but that isn’t an oversight, it’s Stone’s deliberate presentation of the confusing, harrowing, exhausting experience of fighting in Vietnam.

Two important figures in Chris’ tour are rival sergeants. Willem Dafoe plays sergeant Elias, who’s been in the Nam for three years. He’s skeptical of those above and sympathetic to those below. Tom Berenger plays sergeant Barnes, a blood-and-guts warrior with no patience for diplomacy, indecision, or other perceived weaknesses.

The reason Platoon made such an impression is less obvious today, precisely because of the success of the films it inspired (like Saving Private Ryan). But 14 years ago Platoon was hailed as groundbreaking for its accuracy, for its attention to detail, for presenting the war as veterans actually remembered it.

Stone was able to portray the war so accurately because he himself had a tour of duty in Vietnam. Like the lead character, Stone came from a wealthy family, but felt obliged to volunteer to fight on the front lines. Some of the scenes from the film are taken straight from Stone’s life, (according to the accompanying booklet). For example, both the scene where Chris shoots at the feet of a suspected V.C. and the scene of Chris stopping an American soldier from raping a Vietnamese girl are stories from Stone’s own experiences.

Picture and Sound

The new DVD release shows a few scratches on source, but they are so few and so quick that most people will not notice them. Aside from that, the transfer is very good, with rich jungle greens, and a crisp picture.

The sound is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 discrete surround, but the sound is not impeccably edited. A helicopter moves from behind you to in front of you, but not smoothly. There is sudden switch of the sound. Likewise, you aren’t surrounded by the sound of Asian crickets, but rather you always hear them in front of you. Granted, 14 years ago, sound editing was a different craft. Knowing that, it might have been better to let the source just be stereo — to let sound geeks with expensive decoders make their own surround sound. Still, I have no complaints; the sound, music, and dialogue are all crisp and audible.

Special DVD Features

Like other recent MGM DVDs, Platoon has very few extra features, which it almost makes up for with good “liner notes.” There are 32 chapter stops, 3 languages, and 1 trailer — not much for bonus-feature afficionados. But the 8-page booklet, though brief, has some interesting factoids and pictures.

Fans of Platoon will want to get the DVD for the widescreen presentation, for the picture quality, and possibly for the booklet, but not for any special features.

  • roland garner: can you give some information abour the soldiers that came into the war with learning disabilities October 26, 2006 reply