Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” shows off what 4K UHD can really bring to the table.

Joining the list of catalogue titles Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is re-releasing on 4K UHD comes the widely beloved Stanley Kubrick Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you’re likely familiar with many of the taunts spewing forth from the vicious drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, made famous by R. Lee Ermey, the original military consultant on the film. The exchanges included Gny. Sgt. Hartman telling Arliss Howard’s Private Cowboy, “Five-foot-nine, I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!” Or telling Vincent D’Onofrio’s Pvt. Pyle, “Bullshit. I bet you could suck a golf ball through a garden hose.” These are merely two of the lines — and not even the most grotesque — that Hartman yells at the unit he’s working through basic training before they graduate as full-fledged Marines, many of whom will be sent to fight in Vietnam. Unlike new Vietnam War films like Da 5 Bloods (2020) or classic pictures like Apocalypse Now (1979), Full Metal Jacket isn’t an exploration of war so much as it is a look at what the military do to our citizenry in order to turn them into soldiers, to turn them into killers. The fact that audiences continue to remember Hartman’s ferocious insults more than the message is cause for concern. Perhaps with the new release, the film will expose a new generation of audiences to its message and it may proliferate again.

Beginning with the induction into boot camp, Full Metal Jacket follows Private J. T. Davis (Matthew Modine), nicknamed “Joker” due to his wise-ass tendencies, as he undergoes boot camp at Parris Island under the command of Gny. Sgt. Hartman. Intentionally cruel at every opportunity, Hartman subjects Joker and the rest of the unit to countless humiliations in an effort to create soldiers physically able and mentally ready to use lethal force against any enemy. Upon graduation, the entire unit is dispersed to a variety of positions, with Joker sent to Vietnam to the journalism department working on the paper “Stars and Stripes.” It’s while on that tour that Joker sees real combat and the real test of his training is laid before him.

This may be a 4K UHD recommendation review, but I’d be remiss not to at least discuss the film a little. For some reason I can’t explain, Full Metal Jacket has never appealed much. Maybe it’s my own disgust with the violence of war or my lack of pugilistic fortitude, but there’s something about Full Metal Jacket that seemed to take delight in the machismo required to be a soldier which didn’t repulse, but certainly didn’t pull me in. Watching it now, older, wiser, and certainly more weary, Full Metal Jacket becomes more clear as an anti-war statement which puts the degradation of humanity right in front of you, challenging you to face it in full. Kubrick’s favored long-shot style serves the film well, especially in the first part taking place at Parris Island, as the lack of edits generates a feeling that what we’re seeing is playing out in real-time. It isn’t, of course, as we observe the unit going through a variety of trainings and exercises, but when Hartman is ripping into someone, the cuts stop and the camera continues unflinching. He’s a hard bastard that gives zero shits about their feelings and is only concerned about pushing them beyond themselves in order for each to possess a chance at serving what comes next. Deservedly, the performance Ermey gives is iconic, remaining as resonate now as it was then. Yet, why do we mimic it? Why are *his* lines the ones most remember? Why do we not remember what those words drove the unit to do? What the outcome of a killer mentality creates? Even as part two begins in Da Nang and Joker is embedded with Cowboy’s unit, the dialogue most remembered are those in which someone is a target, a victim. In bringing Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short Timers to life, Kubrick and co-writers Michael Herr (Apocalypse Now) and Hasford accidentally created a pop culture sensation which bestows all the appreciation without any of the social nuance. Unlike the aforementioned Apocalypse Now and Da 5 Bloods, two films which explore the war itself and its impact on those who fought in it, Full Metal Jacket makes no such declarations of social or political motives, it merely entrenches the audience in with the foot soldiers as coldly as possible in order to create an experience just to the side of reality.

However one feels about either the military or Full Metal Jacket’s place in pop culture, it does continue to remain a well-regarded film as much for the direction as it does for the performances. While the 4K UHD won’t change either of those things directly, it does impact the reception indirectly. For one, the audio on the 4K UHD disc is delivered via lossless audio compression codec DTS-HD Master Audio, meaning it’s as clear a sound you’ll hear as it comes from the original master recording. Without getting too technical, since the 4K UHD disc can handle more data, there’s more room to offer improved clarity of sound. Interestingly, when comparing some scenes against each other, the Blu-ray release, which uses a Dolby Digital codec, offers a cleaner sound. Scenes like Joker in the barracks in Da Nag sound markedly different in the 4K UHD vs Blu-ray, as the 4K UHD possesses a slight warble or reverb when he and the other characters talk. This happens a few times throughout the film on 4K UHD, though this may have to do with mic placement within the scene and the restoration of the audio. This strange audio distortion occurs enough to be noticeable, but never enough to reduce the overall experience.

Visually is another story completely.

When people describe 4K UHD releases as though offering a new film entirely, Full Metal Jacket will become your baseline moving forward. The introduction of HDR enhances images by bringing out colors, enhancing blacks, and, ultimately, offering a more realistic picture. In this case, Kubrick’s former assistant, Leon Vitali, worked with the team at Warner Brothers Motion Picture Imaging to craft the 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative and the results are staggering. For part one, this is noticeable in the crisp clarity of the Parris Island barracks (the whites glisten, the sparse reds run deep, and the brown of Hartman’s uniform is a beautiful tan) as well as in the training sequences where the sky is a beautiful blue and the grass a lush green. On the Blu-ray, the training sequence is more washed out, the vibrancy absent. The best example of the change to the film comes in the climax where Joker and Cowboy’s unit are engaged with a sniper. If you compared one shot of the Blu-ray against the same employing HDR, the differences are immediately known. On the Blu-ray, as Joker and the unit navigate destroyed structures, the sky is a light blue, the walls of the remaining structures a golden tan, and the unit is clearly visible. With HDR on the 4K UHD edition, the sky is purple as the natural blue of the sky mixes with the red-orange of the fires to creating a gorgeous dusk, the walls lose the golden tan for crimson red tinting as the only light source shifts to the fires, and the soldiers themselves appear bathed in blood. Ultimately, the image is lit more naturally, resulting in a richer, more beautiful scene even as it comes amid the horrors of war.

The only downside to the 4K UHD release is that if you’ve owned Full Metal Jacket’s previous Blu-ray release, there’re no new materials included here. The 4K UHD disc only contains the commentary track featuring actors Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, and R. Lee Ermey, and critic/screenwriter Jay Cocks, while the commentary track, previously released featurette Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil, and theatrical trailer are all on the Blu-ray disc accompanying the release. At the time of writing, the digital copy is not available, but marketing materials imply that what comes available on the physical release will be available on the digital edition purchased from approved digital retailers. All in all, if you are a fan of either Full Metal Jacket or you’re a Kubrick completionist, the 4K UHD release is worth the cost, if only for how the HDR transforms the drained appearance into something utterly remarkable.

Full Metal Jacket 4K UHD Special Features

  • Commentary by Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey and Critic/Screenwriter Jay Cocks

Full Metal Jacket Blu-Ray Special Features

  • Commentary by Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey and Critic/Screenwriter Jay Cocks
  • Featurette Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil
  • Theatrical Trailer

Available on 4K UHD/Blu-ray Combo Pack and digital September 22nd, 2020.

Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming

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