- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2020

Here’s a look at a recent pair of stylized war movies recently released to the ultra-high definition format.

Full Metal Jacket (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Rated R, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, 116 minutes, $29.99) — Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 sobering look at soldiers preparing for and engaging in war receives a much-appreciated ultra-high definition remaster.

The Academy Award-nominated script breaks up into two acts, first looking at a select group of Marine recruits including J.T. “Joker” Davis (Matthew Modine) surviving the boot camp of vicious senior drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey).

The second half of the movie follows the now Star and Stripes war correspondent Joker and soldiers such as ruthless Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin) plunged into a very dangerous, unfocused and deadly Vietnam War including the Battle of Hue.

Perhaps the moments most remembered featured the intense and heartbreaking performance of Vincent D’Onofrio as recruit Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence with not much of a brain but crafted to become a lean, mean killing machine by the drill sergeant.

Comparatively, “Full Metal Jacket” takes its place alongside classics such as “Saving Private Ryan,” offering a brutal look at war and the men forced to become killers.

4K in action: Viewers of the screen-filling presentation need only examine a horrifying scene taking place in a near sterile white bathroom in the barracks.

Bathed in eerily blue light at night and splatters of blood, the action plays out in crisp and lifelike color, balanced in the new 2160p restoration that offers a sickly view of one man’s insanity.

Other locations that revel in color and detail include the sunny streets of Da Nang, the first Marine division camp lit by fireworks, nighttime battle scenes lit by exploding vehicles, gunfire and gas flames, a landing zone with red smoke set against a blue sky offering an eerie purple glow and, most stark of all, a grave of dead civilians covered in white lime.

Near terrifying in 4K are now the first-person perspective combat scenes as soldiers progress to enemy-occupied buildings that will make the viewer feel like he is running for his life.

Best extras: The 4K disc features what should have been an entertaining optional commentary track with Mr. Baldwin, Ermey, Mr. D’Onofrio and screenwriter Jay Cocks.

Unfortunately, all of the participants were not in the same room and tracks were recorded separately leading to a disjointed, uneven sounding presentation.

Still, fans should focus on Mr. D’Onofrio as well as Mr. Cocks’ as their words dominate and delve into the vision of Kubrick as well as the acting process in a challenging film.

Next, on the included Blu-ray disc only, is a 30-minute vintage look at the production featuring the origins of the drill sergeant as well as casting of the characters with interviews from Mr. D’Onofrio and Ermey; lots of talk about Kubrick the perfectionist (37 takes to capture yelling at Pyle for stealing a doughnut); and why “Full Metal Jacket” is one of the more authentic war movie ever made.

300 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 116 minutes, $29.99) — Director Zack Snyder’s artistically ambitious 2007 cinematic adaptation of comics’ legend Frank Miller’s sequential art interpretation of the Battle of Thermopylae arrives in 2160p and is not as impressive as I would have hoped.

Chronicling the three-day siege of Greece during the second Persian invasion of Greece, the story finds King Leonidas of Sparta (Gerard Butler) amassing an army of 300 to defend his city state against an overwhelming collection of soldiers aligned with King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).

As an endless supply of Xerxes’ ferocious warriors, mutants, deformed creatures and exotic animals attack the Spartans in waves, the heroes hold their ground but threaten to be undone by Greek politics or an unassuming hunchback forbidden to join the defense.

The overtly bloody and violent, appendage-lopping, decapitating combat battle scenes are simply stunning, paying precise homage to the graphic mini-series and making “Braveheart” look like a square dance.

4K in action: The originally heavily stylized visual presentation was greatly enhanced by digital effects magic to tint colors, warp the contrast and inject unnecessary grain in the 35mm source material. It should have had an immaculate restoration delivered through this 4K digital transfer.

Alas, we get more or less an upscale from the original 2K master with high dynamic range tweaks and the abundance of the grain, still left in to too obvious levels, impacting my appreciation of the picture quality.

Despite my gripe, Mr. Snyder stays religiously faithful to Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s illustrative style often surpassing her vision.

For example, moments to freeze and admire, appearing as if painted by Miss Varley, include Persian ships destroyed in an angry sea frozen or a silhouette of a wolf about to be impaled by a young Leonidas or a Persian regiment being pushed off a cliff by the Spartans.

Although one must bow to the original source footage, the persistent grain just seems like a missed opportunity, counterproductive to a film that could have offered a deeper, cleaner clarity within its color saturated realms.

Still, detail not unnoticed such as a sword strike so fierce it etches and burns a mark in a Spartan helmet, the finest of beard bristles and nose pores, and the tendrils of fireworks as crude bombs explode off of shields.

A final scene in a wheat field bathed in golden hues provides the best that the 4K format offers for this version of “300.”

Also worth noting is the addition of a Dolby Atmos sound mix that does make the release pretty special for owners of an aurally immersive home theater setup.

Best extras: All of the bonus material was culled from the 2007 Blu-ray release but at least it’s bountiful.

An optional commentary track (found on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs) leads the way as Mr. Snyder, cinematographer Larry Fong and writer Kurt Johnstad sparingly reflect on bringing the source material to life. This should have been bursting with insight, but too much dead space hurts the track.

Better is a 24-minute historical perspective on a Spartan life and the battle from historians Victor Davis Hanson and Bettany Hughes intertwined with insight on the film and comics from Mr. Snyder and Mr. Miller.

Next a 15-minute homage to Mr. Miller follows as he discusses his career and “300” with help from mentor Neal Adams as well as DC Comics’ editors Paul Levitz and Bob Schreck.

The best of the extras rounds out with test footage to prove the film could be realistically and stylistically done and a dozen webisodes (averaging three minutes each) concisely covering everything from adapting the comics to training the actors and interviews with the cast.

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