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Platoon’ reloads with 20th-anniversary DVD

Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Two decades ago, Oliver Stone was the toast of Hollywood. The “Scarface” and “Midnight Express” screenwriter’s directorial breakthrough, “Platoon” was a smash hit, winning the Best Picture Oscar and awarding the filmmaker the Best Director Statuette.

But Stone would never equal the raw power of that early masterpiece and it’s not hard to see why. “Platoon” crackles with passion and purpose, fueled by its semi-autobiographical perspective, which examines war from the point of view of one of its lowest soldiers.

Written and directed by Stone, who was a soldier in Vietnam, “Platoon” follows Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), who drops out of college to join the war effort in 1968. Under the watchful eyes of two commanding officers, Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe), Taylor slowly becomes disillusioned with the war and witnesses it devolve into chaotic fighting.

At the time, “Platoon” was evolutionary because it offered a different perspective than its contemporaries. Unlike “Apocalypse Now” or “The Deer Hunter,” which were epic and allegorical in nature, “Platoon” is immersed in minutiae, with its mostly realistic portrayals of the nature of individuals in war. Although it ultimately goes over the top with some of Stone’s patented spectacle, the first three-quarters of “Platoon” are among the finest depictions of war ever committed to film.

Barnes and Elias form the crux of the film’s conflict, as the two have differing opinions on how to approach the war. Initially enamored with Barnes, Taylor begins to realize the futility of his rage and eventually sides with Elias, whose genuine affection for his troops is one of the few reprieves from misery in the jungle. The performances of Berenger and (especially) Dafoe guide the film, though Sheen is undoubtedly the weakest link.

“Platoon” already had a special edition, but that never stopped a studio from going back to the well. The new two-disc 20th Anniversary Edition comes in beautiful packaging that features some essays and photos from the film. The image quality is sharp and clear, with several noticeable improvements over the last edition. The sound has been augmented with a DTS track in addition to the standard 5.1 Dolby Digital. The DTS track is deep and immersive, which is a major improvement over the sometimes-thin Dolby Digital track on the special edition release.

The special features include a commentary from Stone and a separate commentary from Dale Dye, who was the military consultant on “Saving Private Ryan” as well as “Platoon.” Both of these commentaries are ports from the Special Edition, though they are also both insightful and interesting.

The second disc retains “Tour of the Inferno,” an insightful 52-minute documentary, from the original release and also adds several new featurettes and documentaries, many of which give real-life context to the film, framing it in terms of the situations in both America and Vietnam in 1968.

In the wake of films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Platoon” already feels a bit antiquated, but its immersive quality is undeniable. Of all the films in Stone’s rich oeuvre, this is among his finest and certainly his most personal. The third time seems to be the charm for MGM, making the 20th Anniversary Edition of “Platoon” the definitive take on a classic war film.