Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Platoon: Special Edition (1986)
Studio Line: MGM - The first casualty of war is innocence.

Winner of 4 Academy Awards® including Best Picture, and based on the first-hand experience of Oscar®-winning director Oliver Stone, Platoon is powerful, intense and starkly brutal. "Harrowingly realistic and completely convincing" (Leonard Maltin), it is "a dark, unforgettable memorial" (The Washington Post) to every soldier whose innocence was lost in the war-torn jungles of Vietnam.

Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) is a young, naïve American who, upon his arrival in Vietnam quickly discovers that he must do battle not only with the Viet Cong, but also with the gnawing fear, physical exhaustion and intense anger growing within him. While his two commanding officers (Oscar®-nominated Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe) draw a fine line between the war they wage against the enemy and the one they fight with each other, the conflict, chaos and hatred permeate Taylor, suffocating his realities and numbing his feelings to man's highest value… life.

Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn, John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp
Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Film Editing; Best Sound. Nominated for Best Screenplay-Oliver Stone; Best Supporting Actor-Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe; Best Cinematography. 1987.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9; audio English Dolby Surround 5.1, French Stereo Surround, Spanish Monaural; subtitles French, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - double layered; rated R; 120 min.; 32 chapters; $24.98; 6/5/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary With Director Oliver Stone; Audio Commentary With Technical Advisor Dale Dye; “Tour Of the Inferno” Documentary; Trailer; TV Spots; Photo Galleries; Collectible Booklet.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B/A-

As I reflected in my recent review of the “uncensored” edition of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, movie studios run a risk when they issue new DVDs that feature previously-released films. Some ascribe nefarious motives to these choices, but in the vast majority of instances, I truly believe that the studios create the new DVDs in response to consumer complaints. For example, Columbia-Tristar (CTS) have replaced a slew of their old, movie-only releases with new special editions, and I feel this was done to bring their early catalog “up to date”.

Not all instances seem this clear, however, which is why I mentioned the concern during my review of Klumps “Uncensored”. The CTS special editions have replaced discs that had been on the market for at least two or three years each; the original releases appeared at a time during which deluxe DVDs were not the norm, and since the marketplace has changed over that period, CTS wanted to rectify the situation. Of course, they also hoped to make some extra money along the way, but unlike some other people, I don’t think CTS did this in an attempt to “rip off” consumers with double purchases; I don’t think they knew they’d release better discs down the line when they put out the original DVDs.

The situation became much more complex with Klumps “Uncensored”. After all, that disc hit shelves less than six months after the original theatrical issue materialized on DVD. Was the new package created in response to some concern raised by the initial disc, or did Universal know all along that they planned to put out a second DVD once the dust had cleared on the first one? Frankly, I don’t know, but the motives behind the reissue seem iffy.

Similar thoughts swirl about in regard to MGM’s new special edition release of 1986’s Platoon. This is actually the film’s third DVD release. It first came out as a special edition from Artisan back in 1997. That disc included a slew of extras originally found on an old laserdisc package but it failed to provide a new anamorphically-enhanced transfer of the film.

Artisan soon lost the rights to Platoon, and once MGM owned the title, they issued their own version of the film on DVD in 2000. While this disc offered a new anamorphic image, it failed to present any of the old DVD’s extras; only a trailer and some production notes made the cut. I don’t think that MGM ever offered a concrete reason for the omission of these supplements, but speculation tended to indicate that they might not have had the rights to the material.

Here we are less than 10 months after the appearance of MGM’s “bare-bones” release of Platoon, and they miraculously now can provide all of the Artisan DVD’s extras! How did this occur? Frankly, I have no idea. Did MGM respond to consumer complaints and pursue the materials after they released the original disc? Did MGM always have the rights to the supplements but they purposefully wanted to “double dip” and get the movie’s fans to buy the DVD twice? I can’t say. Honestly, I’d like to believe that the former case is accurate, but I have no inside knowledge to back up this idea.

However, I can say that this new special edition is a welcome package. Sometimes new releases don’t do much to improve upon the old ones; for example, the Ultimate Edition of The Mummy really isn’t much better than the old DVD. That is not the case for Platoon, where the wealth of extras makes it a much stronger piece than was the old “movie-only” version.

As for my opinion of Platoon, I continue to think it’s a good but overrated flick. To check out my full thoughts, refer back to my review of the bare-bones DVD, but suffice it to say that Platoon is a generally solid effort but not one that really does a lot for me.

The DVD:

Platoon appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I felt that the special edition release duplicated the picture found on last year’s “movie-only” DVD. Although it looked rough at the start, the vast majority of Platoon presented a very strong image.

One consistent positive came from the image's sharpness, which seemed excellent throughout the movie. It always appeared crisp and well-defined, and I noticed no significant signs of softness at any point. This occurred with virtually no side effects, as I discerned a complete lack of moiré effects or jagged edges.

The print itself showed a few problems. As I alluded, some of the early parts of the movie demonstrated flaws; I noticed scratches, speckles, and a few hairs. Grain was limited to only a few scenes, but it appeared extremely heavy at those times. Oddly, however, once we got about a fourth of the way through the film, almost all of the defects disappeared for most of the remaining parts of the movie. They'd crop up from time to time, with a tiny amount of speckling and at least one major hair, but they didn't compare with the dirtiness I saw earlier in the picture.

Colors tended to be fairly subdued, but they looked very natural and well-saturated. Other than some of the reddish tones in the "Feel Good Cave" - which could come across as a bit murky and heavy - hues seemed accurate and precise. Black levels appeared appropriately dark, but shadow detail was a minor weakness, in large part due to the apparent use of "day for night" photography at times. The definition of low-light scenes looked inconsistent, as some shots appeared quite clear but others became excessively thick and opaque. As with the print flaws, it was another concern that gradually improved as the film progressed. The issues related to the debris in the image and the shadow detail caused me to lower my grade to a "B", but be advised that much of the movie looks a lot better than that; had the first half been as strong as the second, this picture definitely would have entered "A" territory.

I also felt that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Platoon duplicated the sound found on the 2000 DVD. As with the visuals, I thought the mix offered inconsistent pleasures, though it worked fairly well overall. On the positive side was the film's soundfield, which seemed surprisingly active for a movie from 1986. The front speakers were used to good effect, as a lot of action popped up in all three channels. The rears also got a decent workout. Though their general demeanor was to reinforce the front spectrum, the surrounds still added a nicely involving dimension and also provided a fair amount of unique audio; the latter generally regarded some showy helicopter effects but also encompassed other elements. I found the mix to be a little too "speaker specific" at times, and it didn't blend especially well, but for its age, it seemed well above average.

Unfortunately, the quality of the sound caused some concerns. In general, it felt as though the dynamic range was limited, and when the audio wanted to go above or below a certain point, it appeared rough and thick. Dialogue displayed the most problems; although much of the speech was relatively natural, a great deal came across as flat and harsh. Intelligibility remained fairly strong, however; the only times I had trouble understanding dialogue related to the cacophony of the situation.

Effects seemed similarly restricted. Due to the many explosions we hear, there's a mild amount of distortion from this track, and the high end never seemed as crisp or clear as it should. Bass also was present but it seemed rather insubstantial; admittedly, I don't expect Haunting quality low-end from a 14-year-old track, but I thought it could have been stronger. Only Georges Delerue's poignant score emerges from the mix unscathed; it appeared pretty clean and smooth and seemed to replicate the music well. Platoon earned its "B" through the quality of the score and the ambition of the mix, but the reproduction of speech and effects sounded slightly disappointing.

As I already discussed, this new special edition DVD expands the scanty extras found on the old MGM release, and it apparently duplicates the materials that appeared on the original Artisan disc. The new MGM SE offers two audio commentaries that came with the old package. First up is a running, screen-specific piece from director Oliver Stone. Old Ollie usually provides a compelling experience with these tracks, and the piece for Platoon was no exception.

Although I always knew that Platoon was a personal flick for Stone, I never realized just how personal until I screened this commentary. Throughout the track, Stone often discussed the real-life counterparts for scenes and characters. It was fascinating to hear of his actual experiences and discover just how much of the movie came from Stone’s life. Of course, much of it was fictionalized, but I was surprised to find out how much duplicated Stone’s tour in Viet Nam. Stone also provides a lot of interesting information about the day-to-day problems he had while at war as well as some tidbits about the making of the film itself. The latter aspects of the commentary are pretty minor, however, as Stone’s main emphasis sticks with his past. He even occasionally refers to Charlie Sheen’s character as “me”! At times, Stone did little more than simply describe the action on screen, but as a whole, this was a very interesting track.

In addition, we get a second commentary from Captain Dale Dye, the technical advisor for Platoon. I found this piece to also work very well. During much of the track, Dye discusses the training through which he put the cast, and he covered the ways in which he and Stone tried to ensure that the movie would accurately represent the actual war experience. Dye includes a lot of compelling factoids throughout the track, and he also went into his own combat memories, though not to the same degree as did Stone. In any case, the second commentary provided a nice complement to Stone’s and it was an interesting listen.

Next up we find a solid documentary called “Tour of the Inferno”. Originally created for a mid-Nineties laserdisc package, this 53-minute program combines film snippets, archival footage from the war era, “behind the scenes” snippets from the set, and then-contemporary interviews with a number of principals. In the latter category, we see Stone, producer Arnold Kopelson, creative consultant Dale Dye, and actors Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, John C. McGinley, Forest Whitaker, and Johnny Depp. In addition, toward the end of the show, we hear some voiceover quotes from vets who provide their reactions to Platoon.

Directed by Charles Kiselyak, I found this program to provide a largely compelling examination of the film. The show proceeds in chronological order as we go from early training to the production itself to the film’s critical and popular reception. Although I thought it was interesting to learn of the cast’s “boot camp”, the best parts of the documentary focused on the shoot itself. This was a frank program that communicated many of the hardships and problems experienced during the making of the movie, and it offered a fine look at these elements. My only complaint stemmed from the virtually constant use of background music, which I thought was distracting. Otherwise, this was a terrific documentary that added a lot to my appreciation of the film.

A few other extras round out the DVD. We get a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery with 27 fairly interesting shots plus a four-image “Poster Art” section. We also find the film’s original theatrical trailer, three TV spots, and a nice eight-page collectible booklet that contains production notes. The trailer and the booklet are the only components that also appeared on the prior MGM DVD. I believe that the two photo galleries came from the old LD but I don’t think that they made it to the original Artisan DVD.

In any case, the new MGM special edition of Platoon is a nice piece of work. As for the film itself, I continue to think it’s a good and often effective flick, but I don’t feel it’s a masterpiece or the best of its genre. The DVD replicates the inconsistent but generally positive picture and sound from the previous disc and it adds a fine collection of supplements; from the two audio commentaries through the documentary; there’s a lot of compelling information to be had here. I don’t know if this is the “definitive” edition of Platoon, but it’s probably as close as we’ll ever get, and it’s the first truly satisfying DVD release of the film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9824 Stars Number of Votes: 57
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