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Case Number 09295

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Full Metal Jacket (HD DVD)

Warner Bros. // 1987 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // May 22nd, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Ryan Keefer noticed that in the Guinness Book of World Records, oddly enough, the world's largest ball of chewed bubble gum does weigh 150 pounds.

Editor's Note

Our review of Full Metal Jacket: Deluxe Edition, published November 12th, 2007, is also available.

The Charge

In Vietnam the wind doesn't blow, it sucks.

Opening Statement

In the 1980s, everyone was making movies about the Vietnam War or the people that were affected by it. Sylvester Stallone made a cottage industry out of it with his Rambo films during the decade. Other more notable movie actors like Bruce Willis and Kris Kristofferson were making films in that same vein. Brian De Palma even made Casualties of War which touched on the era. And aside from Oliver Stone's Platoon, Stanley Kubrick's (2001: A Space Odyssey) Vietnam interpretation Full Metal Jacket stands out as one of (if not) the best movie depicting that war, even though it came out long after the others. How does is look in high definition?

Facts of the Case

>From the novel by Gustav Hasford, Full Metal Jacket follows a soldier (Matthew Modine, Birdy) through his experiences in the Marine Corps from Basic Training to what can presumably be called his defining experience in Vietnam. His basic training experience can be called comical, engaging and brutal, all in one fell swoop, and he goes to Vietnam for more of the same.

The Evidence

A word of advice; abandon ye, all those who may read spoilers in the first (or third) paragraph!

I've experienced Full Metal Jacket in three different (but important) stages of my life. The first was as a bewildered teenager, the second was as a soldier who graduated basic training and was watching the film for the first time in years while playing spades, and the third was as a intellectual and well recognized online film critic (at least that's what I keep saying to myself). When I first saw it, I thought that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey, Se7en) was equally scary and powerful. I thought that Gomer Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio, The Cell) was worthy of the abuse and ridicule heaped on him, first by Joker (Modine), then by the rest of his squad. I thought Pyle's death slammed the door on a rather memorable first act. Then it was on to Vietnam, and I thought the movie dragged a little bit, but Abigail Mead's (a.k.a. Kubrick's daughter Vivian) score and the final scenes were somewhat memorable but pretty harrowing, and the movie stayed with me for a little while.

Then it was on to the Army and defending us from…something. And anyone who has ever been to basic training from 1987 or so on to the present day has to admit that they were looking for a bit of Sergeant Hartman in their drill instructor. If they don't, it's because they never saw the film, or are flat out lying. In watching it with some other misfits paid for by Uncle Sam, the surreal, verbally brutal first act was a helluva lot funnier this time around. Perhaps it was because we all went through basic and while we didn't experience the joys of being slapped or choked (as far as I know), we all realized in hindsight that a lot of what goes on is full of piss and vinegar, designed to disorient and help break you down, so you can be built back up into a more reliable team player, one capable of killing at a moment's notice if need be. We all knew what the lines were, but we all had a more tangible relationship with them. And watching the transition to Vietnam was different as well, because now we were armchair officers, vociferously correcting the foot soldiers on what they could have done better to stay alive. If for nothing else, this proved futile because, well, we were yelling at a crappy television screen. As strange as it may sound, Full Metal Jacket became sort of a de facto Rocky Horror Picture Show for the American soldier of the late '80s and early and mid '90s.

Nowadays it's a bit of a mixed bag. My inner soldier still loves the first half of the film, and thinks that there should be more Sergeant Hartmans in basic training nowadays, but we live in a legal society, so that wouldn't happen. The downside of something like that, as readily apparent as it was noticed in the film, if you have a poor neglected kid in the midst, he's bound to take the "gung ho" messages given by a Drill Instructor to a large extreme. The second half of the movie, specifically the ending, was something that was allegedly still being worked out by Kubrick as he was filming. Originally Joker was supposed to die. But the thing that Modine recalls in his book "Full Metal Diary," which is a combination journal and photo gallery of his time on the production, was that he suggested that Joker should live. Joker was the one that watched as Gomer Pyle killed Sergeant Hartman before turning the rifle on himself. Joker was there in country when his friend Cowboy (Arliss Howard, Birth) was shot and died in his arms, and Joker was the one that killed the sniper, a young Vietnamese girl. It was Joker, the comic, the smart ass, who seemingly didn't want to be a part of the Corps, much less in the Vietnam conflict, who wound up surviving, and would remember what happened to him during his time with the Marines more than a lot of people would. Fair or unfair, that's what winds up happening. Of course, Modine suggested the title Youth in Asia as an alternative for the film, so he (and I) may be completely off base.

As far as the picture and sound of the film, this HD DVD version of the film is probably the weakest to hit the platform. The picture does maintain the film grain and all, but it doesn't look as clean as you would expect from similar HD titles. The big concern among cinemaphiles is that this version of Full Metal Jacket is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, whereas most of the other Kubrick films on DVD have come in the 1.33:1 ratio. There's always been talk that the Kubrick films have been filmed in such a way that they could be easily adaptable to either format (or so I've heard). Now, not having the older versions of the film to compare this one to and not nearly having the knowledge of someone who spent five times more on their theater equipment than I, judging from this incarnation, things to appear to look OK, but there appears to be a little missing from the overall edges of the image. Comparing a screencap of the Hartman closeup to what I was viewing on screen, it looks like the medals on his jacket are missing in this new aspect ratio. Am I being too geeky? OK, I'll stop. The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is OK, the only nice part about this "upgrade" is that there's some low end fidelity noise that provides some body to the soundtrack, something I hadn't experienced (or noticed) before.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

This is not a new complaint, but for Kubrick's sake, we know there was some handheld "making of" footage lying around somewhere, so where is it? Well, if you're a total fan and looking for as much exhaustive information about this film, check out the Modine book or the book covering the Kubrick archives.

Closing Statement

The thing that sours me about this film is the thing that's supposed to boost it. The video quality is sad and the audio quality is improved, but not too substantially. If I spent money on a new HD DVD player, I wouldn't buy this disc. I'd probably wait for the heavily rumored new Kubrick boxed set to be released and be satisfied with that.

The Verdict

The film and filmmakers are found not guilty, but the studio is found guilty for the crime of not doing enough justice to this classic title. Call the next case.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 79
Audio: 83
Extras: 4
Acting: 88
Story: 91
Judgment: 87

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer

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