There had been caustic war movies before, of course. Think of Robert Aldrich's Attack, the 1956 World War Two film whose cynicism and bitterness feels birthed in the battles of Korea. Then there was M*A*S*H, set in Korea but playing in 1970 through the tragic headlines and TV news gore of the Vietnam War. More recently there's Malick's Thin Red Line musings, Spielberg's salvation and Ridley Scott's ra-ra immediacy...But none of these equal the power of chaos and rage in Oliver Stone's Platoon. It will still blow you away. This 'Ultimate Edition' may have taken a while to journey over the Atlantic, but it lives up to its dog-tag: the supplementary material is exemplary.
Charles Kiselyak, whose previous work includes One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest doc Completely Cuckoo, delivers another excellent Making Of: A Tour Of The Inferno. With lucid recollections from key cast and crew, it tracks the actors' experiences in pre-production boot camp with former army captain Dale Dye, as well as the intensity of the shoot itself and Stone's tender direction to his on-screen alter ego, Charlie Sheen ("What are you, a pussy? What the fuck is wrong with you?"). Sheen has never been better (or even close) and it's apparent Stone's in-your-face attritional direction took everyone, in Sheen's words, "to the next level". During shooting, Tom Berenger, who had taken on the sense of responsibility - though not ruthless brutality - of his character Sergeant Barnes, lined up his 'troops' to tell them he felt, "This could be one of the great movies. It's unfortunate if it's too early in your life, because there's never anywhere else to go." A point his subsequent career proves...
The camaraderie and extreme nature of the shoot is evident in everyone's eyes and doesn't come off as it-was-just-like-being-at-war posturing because of Stone and Dye's involvement. As their separate commentary tracks show, authenticity was always key to these two real-life veterans and they pushed their cast as hard as they could (see left) to produce a picture that drops you right into the jungle; a film of harsh truths and shocking reality.
But don't take a lardy London film critic's word for it; listen to those who were there. One War, Many Stories is a 24-minute post-screening Q&A with a group of veterans, which may just be the most moving extra you'll ever see on a DVD. "The military was a microcosm of what was going on in the United States," remarks one vet, defending the rep of those in uniform. "They were having the race riots, they were having the drug wars, they were facing the daily assassinations going on..."
It's not the only insightful and sad comment to be found amid the extras, which were recorded before the latest American/British adventure in the Gulf. "By the end of Platoon," says John C McGinley, "it felt like we'd made a love story about young men dying in war." "I only hope that the kids coming up are smarter than I was and have read a little more history than I had," says Stone. "So they can make up their own mind the next time some politician tries to sell them a used war like this."