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What can I say about Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 war movie “Full Metal Jacket”, except that it was the movie that reassured me, if I ever had any doubt, that I would never, ever become a Marine. Or a soldier. Or an airman. Simply put, I never wanted to go anywhere near a boot camp. Of course, you’ll seldom fine Drill Instructors choking a recruit in today’s United States Armed Forces, but hey, “Full Metal Jacket” was a Vietnam War movie, and as we all know about the Vietnam War — shit happens. Now, the late Stanley Kubrick’s depressing but ultimately brilliant anti-war movie is getting a new lease on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Home Video, just in time for it’s 25th anniversary.
A superb ensemble falls in for Kubrick’s brilliant saga about the Vietnam War and the dehumanizing process that turns people into trained killers. The scathing indictment of a film was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Screenplay (1988). Pvt. J.T. ‘Joker’ Davis (Matthew Modine), Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), Pvt. Leonard ‘Gomer Pyle’ Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), Eightball (Dorian Harewood) and Pvt. Cowboy (Arliss Howard) are some of the Marine recruits experiencing boot-camp hell under the punishing command of the foul-mouthed Gny. Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). The action is savage, the story unsparing, and the dialogue is spiked with scathing humor, as the raw grit and brutal drama of the Vietnam War comes through loud and clear.
Essentially a movie of two halves, “Full Metal Jacket” is a blistering look at the process of turning young men into killing machines. Besides featuring a career making turn by R. Lee Ermey (a real-life ex-Marine who would go on to parlay his role in many, many other cinematic ventures), the film is intensely frank, brutal, bleak, and if you can leave a viewing feeling even remotely good about yourself or in humankind, more power to ya, because it drains me every single time.
Matthew Modine is our eyes and ears (and voice) into the hellish world of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket”, which opens in the mud and grit of Marine boot camp, where Modine’s Private Joker will learn how to kill Charlie and have his individually stripped from him. Set during the Vietnam War, the film most certainly falls into line with most films featuring that war — that is, nothing good can or will come out of being involved in it. Besides Joker, favorite targets for Ermey’s Drill Instructor include a pre-“Firefly” Adam Baldwin, Cowboy (Arliss Howard), and most unfortunate of them all, Private Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio), so nicknamed because of his, well, pathetic nature. This…will not end well. At all.
The second half of “Full Metal Jacket” transplants the recruits, now full-fledged Marines, over to Vietnam, where the war is in full swing. It’s here that the film swaps the close-quartered hell of Marine boot camp for the wide-open hell of Vietnam, culminating in a firefight between the squad and an enemy sniper who is picking them off one by one. Nihilistic to the core, “Full Metal Jacket” is not the kind of film you watch if you’re in the mood for a little pick-me-up. It’s intense from the first second on, and doesn’t let up until the very end. It’s probably the best movie ever made that puts you into the combat boots of soldiers preparing for and then fighting an unwinnable war. Stanley Kubrick’s film was met with mixed reactions back in 1987, but 25 years later, I think there’s no doubt about it — this is a war classic, one that will make a dent in you for years to come.
The Blu-ray book release of “Full Metal Jacket” comes with two discs, the remastered film on Blu-ray and a second disc in DVD format containing the documentary “Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes”. As with all the Blu-ray book format, this one comes with color and black and white biographies on the actors and behind-the-scenes photos from the making of the movie. Bonus features include a full-length audio commentary track with the cast, including Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, and writer Jay Cocks. Unfortunately this is one of those commentaries where everyone did their own thing separately, with their contributions later intercut into one track. I’m not a very big fan of this, but it’s still really cool to hear D’Onofrio and Emerys thoughts, since their characters drive so much of the film’s first half.
You also get a 30-minute featurette called “Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil”, which dives into Kubrick’s motives for making the movie, the casting, and the production itself. Good stuff if you’re really interested in knowing every little thing about why/how Kubrick made “Full Metal Jacket” from an inside perspective. “Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes”, on the separate DVD, is an hour-long documentary about Kubrick’s life. A mini-biography, if you will, including a tour of the notoriously private director’s house, which happens to contain, yes, boxes. Stanley Kubrick’s boxes, if you will. So what’s inside those mysterious boxes stacked high on shelf after shelf? Sorry, but you’ll have to watch the documentary to find out.