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Warner Home Video presents
Full Metal Jacket HD-DVD (1987)

"The dead know only one thing: it's better to be alive."
- Private Joker (Matthew Modine)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 15, 2006

Stars: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood
Other Stars: Arlis Howard, Kevyn Major, Ed O'Ross
Director: Stanley Kubrick

MPAA Rating: R for (strong language, violence)
Run Time: 01h:56m:24s
Release Date: May 16, 2006
UPC: 012569809314
Genre: war


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-CB D

DVD Review

The DVD review and Final Comments are by Daniel Hirshliefer.

In a career filled with masterpieces, Full Metal Jacket stands out as Stanley Kubrick's worst film. It's not entirely his fault, though. He released the film a year after Platoon, which immediately drew comparisons. Also, Kubrick intended to make a "war" film, not an "anti-war" film (saying he'd already done that in Paths of Glory). However, the quintessential American war film in my opinion will always be a World War II film (or perhaps a Revolutionary War film), because of the lack of social controversy. Vietnam films are almost all anti-war, and while we can appreciate that Kubrick is trying to break the mold, it just doesn't work.

The film is divided into two parts, the first follows a group of recruits through training by the vicious Drill Instructor Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). At first Hartman is equally tough on all the recruits, but soon his aggression is directed towards Private Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), dubbed "Gomer Pyle." who is slower, fatter, and dumber than the rest of the troops. Hartman assigns Private J.T. Davis (Matthew Modine), dubbed "Private Joker," to show Lawrence the ropes. However, not even Davis can stop Lawrence from snapping. The second half concerns Davis (now a Sergeant) as an army journalist in Vietnam. After giving lip to his superior, Davis gets stuck with field work, and while on patrol with a group, a Vietnamese sniper starts taking men down one by one, and it's up to Davis and a small core of men to find the mysterious shooter.

Full Metal Jacket isn't really bad, it just doesn't compare well with Kubrick's other films, and not as good as Platoon. Let's face it, when you make a film on the same topic as the past year's Best Picture winner, you had better make it amazing or not make it at all. Probably the biggest problem with the film is that you don't connect with the characters, as they're not very interesting. Not a fault of the performances (although Modine seems a little too relaxed in the Vietnam portion), the characters are simply underwritten.

The best thing here is undoubtedly R. Lee Ermey as Drill Instructor Hartman. Ermey crafts the definitive drill instructor character (due to the fact he WAS a drill instructor), and every other similar character will always be judged against his performance. In fact, I recently watched part of Tom Hanks' Band of Brothers on HBO. As I saw the scenes with Ross - er - David Schwimmer playing a Drill Sergeant, images of Ermey immediately rocketed themselves to the forefront of my brain, and all I have to say is that Band of Brothers was weaker because of it. I have heard that marine vets say that the boot camp sequences in Full Metal Jacket are the most realistic ever put on film, no doubt in large part to R. Lee Ermey.

The other truly brilliant portion of the movie is the climax with the hidden assassin. Up to that point, Kubrick took a fairly detached stance from his subject (also part of the problem of the overall film), but in this sequence, he's down and dirty with the troops. Camera zooms, whips, and pans are used to incredible effect as the tension becomes palpable in the air, and the men try to find who is taking them down one by one. The ending to the sequence is almost surreal, in the best possible way. I think this sequence alone stands up as well as most other full-length war films, but it's almost not worth going through the rest of the movie to get to it.



Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The aspect ratio may be a matter of some controversy, since Kubrick has been known to prefer an open matte presentation of his films on home video. But while the native aspect ratio of 1980s television was 1.33:1, the native version of HD is 1.78:1, which is practically the same as the 1.85:1 theatrical ratio of this film. So we'll have to assume Kubrick wouldn't object in principle. It does look quite properly framed. Those expecting a crisp, sharp HD picture are likely to be disappointed. Kubrick intentionally went for a very grainy look, and there isn't a lot of fine detail to be seen. However, where HD excels on this presentation is in differentiating the subtleties of color, especially the many shades of green in the first half. The grain is still somewhat sparkly (though nowhere as bad as on the SD release). The bright white skies are still highly problematic, however. At times they come alive with compression artifacting and become distracting. It was a noble idea to use this as an early HD effort but I expect that as the format matures we may want to have this revisited.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 remix from the earlier release is carried over here, and although it's not the original mono there's not a lot of directionality either. The only instances that catch the attention are the firefights. The audio is lacking in deep bass, though the musical score (always vital in a Kubrick film) comes through quite clearly. As is the case with most of Warner's early HD titles, the audio is much too low and requires substantial compensation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 39 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Since Kubrick objected to extra materials, there are none here beyond the theatrical trailer (presented in 480p). Chaptering is quite thorough.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

While Full Metal Jacket is Stanley Kubrick's weakest film, it still has its high moments. R. Lee Ermey's unbelievably intense performance, and the masterful climax rank among the best of Kubrick's canon. However, the film's underwritten characters and detached feeling means the audience doesn't connect emotionally. Much of Full Metal Jacket leaves something to be desired, making for a disappointing penultimate film from one of the great masters of cinema. Though the HD transfer marks a big improvement, there's still plenty of room for this to look better.

 


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