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Platoon: Special Edition

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 120 mins . M15+ . PAL


Single handedly, Oliver Stone's 1986 Platoon revolutionised the war movie and triggered massive social change in America - forever altering a wounded country's perception of the Vietnam conflict and the veterans who fought it. It also brought legitimacy back to the genre, triggering the 'big-name director make-em realistic war movie' phenomena that has resulted in movies such as Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War, Saving Private Ryan, and The Thin Red Line. Despite these more recent efforts (and a deluge of copycat films) Platoon, with it's miniscule $6USD million budget, is easily Hollywood's most compelling depiction of the Vietnam conflict to date, and is arguably one of the best war movies ever made.

Primarily based on Stone's own combat experiences as a ground soldier in 1967, Platoon revolves around a young middle-class recruit Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) who drops out of college and volunteers for a tour in Vietnam. Fresh in from the world, Taylor must endure his trial by fire, the heat, the exhaustion, and the confusion brought on by long marches, sleepless nights, and constant gnawing fear. This is a unique and absorbing "coming of age" story set within (not against) the hell that is war. This is not a movie about heroes or great deeds, merely about survival and the human condition living on the brink of extinction.

The movie is told in a narrative style, with Taylor and his unit encountering incident after bloody incident, and always without warning. Platoon is a film of confusion and violence, where right and wrong are hopelessly intertwined and confused. Slowly, Taylor's platoon is being split into two factions - one led by the angry and invincible Staff Sergeant Barnes, and the other by the caring and disillusioned Sergeant Ellias.

The palpable tension, established in the opening scenes, continues for the remainder of the film. And yet some of the most telling moments in this film are when the film it is quiet - the sounds of the forest, the thud of boots, the crack of twigs, the swish of a machete and the sudden screech of a voice on the radio, amplified beyond all reckoning by the silence.

Platoon went on to near-unanimous critical acclaim and four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Stone. It certainly deserves the praise it received, documenting the suffering and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans without judging or analysing. What Stone has captured here is not a moralistic debate or an essay on the senselessness of war, merely his memory of what the conflict was like on the ground.

Where Platoon really excels in its superb supporting cast, headed up by Tom Berenger as Barnes, and Willem Dafoe as Elias. In 1996 Berenger had only played the sickly-sweet and Dafoe the villain, and in casting against type, Stone struck pure gold. Both Berenger and Dafoe are scarily believable as characters that, each having been damaged by war, have evolved into vastly different men. Platoon also contains great performances from a then largely-unknown supporting cast including Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, and John C. McGinley. With the help of these great supporting performances, Stone manages to create over a dozen well-rounded characters in less than two hours.

In part, these superb performances can be attributed to the grueling 13-day "basic training" exercises that the actors undertook at the hand of the film's technical adviser US Marine Captain Dale Dye. Exhausted and at the breaking point after enduring 13-days of battling 100-degree heat in the Philippine jungle, camping out, surviving on military rations and lugging around 60 pound backpacks, filming began in earnest the very next day.


Thankfully, we are presented with a fantastic anamorphic transfer of Platoon that is worthy of this fine film. Apart from a few minor issues with the source material, this is indeed a great effort from Fox. The transfer exhibits no compression artefacts, with the many instances of billowing dust and smoke handled without a hint of posterization. In general the colours are well-balanced but quite muted, with predominantly earthy colours - the browns and the surprisingly bluey greens of the mud and jungle. There are many night scenes and thankfully the blacks are deep and shadow detail is spot on. The image is sharp and detailed throughout and does not exhibit any aliasing problems.

The print used for the transfer is looking its age somewhat, with specks cropping up constantly throughout. Having said this, these specks are small and aren't the kind of film artefacts you'll notice first time through. On the odd occasion, a small line or hair can also be seen. A small amount of grain is also evident on the odd occasion in low light conditions, predominately at dusk - a product of higher speed film stock.


In terms of audio, Platoon is definitely showing its age and even more-so its limited budget, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack often limited, at least initially, to the front of the soundstage. The surrounds are used sparingly and more towards the second half of the film. In terms of amibient sound we are treated to some great stuff, with sounds of the jungle and monsoonal rain sourced from right on location. The use of the rear speakers to carry the ambient sound varies markedly from scene to scene, sometimes providing an wide immersive sound stage, and sometimes limited to the front speakers.

The surrounds come to the fore when used for front-to-back panning effects (eg. for the numerous chopper fly-overs), and during the many battle scenes which exhibit good separation and directional effects for explosions, incoming shells, gunfire and so on. Although the audio for these scenes is more than adequate, they are nowhere near as immersive as movies such as Saving Private Ryan with their gazillion-dollar effects budgets. Thankfully, the budget did extend to effects that make good use of the subwoofer, which chimes in continuously during the majority of the film.

Platoon features a very prominent and moving score, mostly courtesy of renowned French composer Georges Delerue. The theme from Platoon, the instantly recognisable "Adagio For Strings", by American composer Francis Barber makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up before the film even starts. Like the majority of the soundtrack, the score is often confined to the front soundstage.


Although we have had to wait for some time for our release of Platoon in region 4, we've jumped straight to the Special Edition of the disc, not having to suffer the garden-variety releases like other regions. Believe me, the wait has definitely been worth it. The disc's production values are very high with nicely animated, anamorphic menus throughout. Behind the menus, the film's haunting theme plays. In addition, we're presented with a comprehensive set of extras that will have any fan of the film drooling:

Documentary: Tour of the Inferno A 51 minute making of program that documents the making of Platoon from casting, pre-production, basic training, and filming on location. The main focus is on retrospective interviews with the main cast and crew members, including Oliver Stone, Cpt. Dale Dye, Tom Berenger, Willam Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp John C. McGinnley and more. The lengths to which Stone and technical adviser Cpt. Dale Dye went to mentally transform these guys into hardened Vietnam grunts is detailed. In addition to the interview footage, we're also presented with footage from on set, archival footage from the war itself, and photos from Oliver Stone's own tour of duty. All in all this is a fantastic documentary - one of the best and most comprehensive looks at the making of a film I've seen on a DVD thus far. This is the equivalent of a commentary track featuring all the stars of the movie.

Audio Commentary - Oliver Stone: As usual, Stone delivers a comprehensive look at his own work, providing insight into most aspects of a film that is very dear to him. In fine form, Stone never missed a breath, providing his motivations for each scene, choices of location, subtle inclusions you may have missed and so on. This is truly riveting stuff, and even a little disturbing as you hear Oliver recall his own experiences - 'Oh yeah this happened to me... I fell asleep on ambush. Yeah I got shot in the neck...'.

Audio Commentary - Cpt. Dale Dye: Technical Advisor Dale Dye also delivers a fantastic and riveting commentary on the film, providing an examination of the minute military details that have been replicated. Like Stone, Dye peppers the commentary with some of his experiences in the field and how they compare to Oliver's experiences depicted in the film. A great companion piece to Stone's own commentary.

Theatrical Trailer: 1.85:1, anamorphic, with a transfer equal to that of the film.

Theatrical Trailer - Salvador: A trailer for Stone's directional debut. 1.85:1, non-anamorphic. A decent transfer but very dirty.

TV Spots: The normal fare, 3 TV spots featuring varied portions of the theatrical trailer and new voice over. yawn.

Stills Gallery: Two montages of still images. The first presents 27 images from on set. The second presents 4 variations of the poster art for the film.


It is remarkable to think that it took Oliver Stone 10 years to get Platoon onto the big screen. Neither the Pentagon nor Hollywood wanted anything to do with it, the Pentagon citing its brutality as "unrealistic". The money was eventually fronted by a British company and Stone, with the help of Dale Dye, created one of the most accurate depiction of the Vietnam war that you'll ever see. The fact that Stone lived many of the moments in the film adds a rare feeling of authenticity to proceedings. This movie is not fantasy, not metaphor, but simply one man’s memory of what the it was like on the ground.

A harrowing, yet ultimately fulfilling movie experience, if you haven't seen Platoon then go out and rent it. If you’re a fan of the film or the genre then this Special Edition release sporting a nice image and fantastic set of extras represents an essential purchase.

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      And I quote...
    "Arguably one of the best war movies ever made, this Special Edition represents an essential purchase for fans of the genre."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
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    • Surrounds:
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    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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