Touchstone Pictures // 1997 // 125 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // April 23rd, 2007
Failure is not an option...unless this is Hollywood.
It's a game of "who's oppressing whom" in Ridley Scott's 1997 film G.I. Jane. If you like your feminism bubbling, your politics simmering, and your bald women ripped and rough, you've come to the right place.
Feminist Texas Senator, Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker), acting head of the Armed Service Committee, is outraged at the lack of gender integration within the male-dominated military. In a power play, she trades a confirmation vote for Secretary of the Navy-elect Theodore Hayes (Daniel von Bargen, Super Troopers) in exchange for the enlistment of Lt. Jordan O'Neil (Demi Moore, Striptease) into the SEAL program. Naturally, the presiding naval brass aren't too keen on the idea, persisting in their prevention of women in combat, but comply in order to secure Hayes' confirmation. Jordan now has the task of enduring the rigorous training that routinely dispenses with 60-percent of the male recruits, striving to break the glass ceiling that would continue to deem women in the armed services require special considerations and are, therefore, a liability to any military unit.
From its raw premise, G.I. Jane is a veritable powder keg certain to explode in the faces on either side of this particular debate. The film would serve, then, to mediate between the two opposing factions, providing equal time for this long-standing argument over equal rights. Unfortunately, objectivity seems absent in this particular dialogue, penned by Danielle Alexandra and David Twohy (Pitch Black), given that every men-versus-women stereotype is exploited without compunction. Ultimately, it exposes the most despicable natures of military minds and political profiteers. The film begins with the caustic Senator DeHaven exploiting a confirmation hearing through the surprise issuance of damning details about the lack of sexual integration in the Armed Forces. She then has the temerity to confirm the candidate, a man she publicly blasted for his chauvinistic attitudes. For DeHaven, it's all about leveraging her position to secure her own reelection.
We also see how O'Neil, as a Naval radar intelligence analyst, is snubbed over her suggestions to ensure the safety of a small collective of troops facing ambush in the Middle East. The presiding commander determines her analysis is naive and proceeds to counter her suggestions only to discover she was right and the potential losses are narrowly avoided.
Then, when it comes time to select a candidate for the SEAL "test case" program, DeHaven is careful to choose a relatively attractive individual, unwilling to risk a physically overdeveloped female might also bring the embarrassment of being exposed as a lesbian.
When O'Neil arrives to the SEAL training camp, she's immediately ogled and assailed by catcalls from the sexually aggressive cadets while her superior officer, Capt. Salem (Scott Wilson, Pearl Harbor), seethes at the political correctness that has infected his base, personified by O'Neil.
And so the story goes, back and forth, the script never giving us much to settle into since the whole operation, politically and militarily, appears absolutely SNAFU. This isn't to say it's uninteresting; it's not. The acclaimed Ridley Scott does well to construct a fast-paced drama, and he gives us plenty of time with the different characters so we can appropriately root or hiss them. Unfortunately, the characters are so two-dimensional that we can only develop binary assessments of each. The other men at the SEAL training camp are shallow and utilitarian in their existence, none provide any sort of interesting backstory nor undergoing anything that would remotely resemble a character arc. At the center of it all is Demi Moore as Lt. Jordan O'Neil, played by Demi Moore. That is to say, we can never forget that it's Demi Moore we're watching -- she plays Lt. Jordan O'Neil -- and it's really Demi Moore doing those extreme ab-crunches and one-armed push-ups. Perhaps the point is belabored but certainly G.I. Jane was intended to be a bounce-back project for the growingly irrelevant Moore, who at the time was in the midst of a freefall following the woeful The Scarlet Letter and Striptease. While there is much to be admired in Moore's physique and commitment to "go commando" (well, she shaved her head, anyway), we lose the relevance of the character of O'Neil for all of Moore's upstaging screen presence. Some viewers might not take exception to this but whenever a character cannot obscure the actor, we all lose.
But there's plenty of rigorous and brutal training taking place and it does become interesting to watch. Unfortunately, the script lacks the requisite confidence to play out its intention and, instead, delivers a final act that is so woefully contrived it smacks of the same cheese that set Top Gun aloft. Ultimately, it renders any previous good work as almost completely FUBAR.
G.I. Jane was one of the earliest DVD releases, being issued in 1998 with a non-anamorphic transfer that looked pretty dismal. Now, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (via Touchstone Pictures) offers the film in a high-definition transfer that should stand head and shoulders above its predecessor. Well, it doesn't necessarily stand up to the rigorous expectations that early adopters have established. The image is encoded in a 1080p / AVC transfer, framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. From the opening frame, it's immediately apparent this disc will be lacking, the depth looking flat and the color palette being noticeably drab. Surely this is within the production design and many scenes were filmed with a softened focus, but this only translates to an unimpressive high-def presentation that hardly looks better than an upscaled DVD playback. If there were any moments of "pop," they could be counted on one hand. The audio, however, fared better, the uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track extending the soundstage well and delivering many well-imaged directional effects (especially the training sequences that featured bullets and tracer rounds zinging overhead). Through it all, the dialog, stilted though it is, never gets muddled. There are no extras on this disc.
Unfortunately for us all, G.I. Jane never opens up new dialogue over the issue at hand, it merely fans the embers that have been smoldering for decades. If it does bring light to anything, it's the fact that it's difficult to determine which is more archaic: men's attitudes towards women or women's attitudes towards men they believe have attitudes towards women. Despite itself, the film comes off as a pissing contest through its vitriolic condemnation of men and whining protest over women's' lack of military opportunities.
While it would be satisfying to be able to shout out a "Hoo rah!" for this Blu-ray release of G.I. Jane, cooler thoughts prevail and this disc can only be marginally recommended. Rent it before you buy it because, Blu-ray or not, this one inevitably fails to make a lasting impression.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R