A Political Reeducation

Interviewed on camera for Stars and Stripes, multiple soldiers recount why American entered the Vietnam war. There’s no consistent answer. Full Metal Jacket’s script clutters their words, a jumble of ingrained propaganda, superiority, and eagerness to shoot things.

These Marines come from the same basic training. There, R. Lee Ermey famously denigrates the youngest squad members, but as they begin to click, there’s a critical Q&A where Ermey asks his troops who Charles Whitman was. Then, Lee Harvey Oswald. He’s celebrating their marksmanship, holding them up like heroes. It’s gruesome, cruel, and heartless, and everything Ermey wants his troops to be.

In Vietnam, the Stars and Stripes editor cuts “search and destroy.” Too violent. “Sweep and clear.” That’s better. Anything that sounds successful, not egregious. Joker (Matthew Modine) wears a peace symbol on his uniform, and for a time, he’s almost idealistic. No wonder, if he read Stars and Stripes.

Full Metal Jacket builds flesh-bound, obedient robots who never question their cause

Stanley Kubrick never shied from war. Paths of Glory considered violence, its tensions, and what conflict does to people. Dr. Strangelove mercilessly battered the Cold War’s nuclear machine. Vietnam provided Kubrick a platform to tear down systems that mutated young recruits from excitable freedom defenders to traumatized civilians. Full Metal Jacket carefully structures itself to follow the unflinching beginnings through to troops singing the Mickey Mouse Club jingle minutes after watching a Vietnamese soldier die in front of them.

Joker notes the Marines don’t want robots, rather killers. That line comes early in Full Metal Jacket. Revisiting that line after his tour, it’s likely his perspective changed. Full Metal Jacket builds flesh-bound, obedient robots who never question their cause, even if they jumble the ideology when asked. Those failing their programming – Pvt. Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) – end up less trained than abused. The urge to kill still gets through though.

Under Kubrick’s lens, soldiers lose their dignity, grow resentment, and cherish their guns more than women. Reporting on the offensive, Joker stands over a mass grave, the Vietnamese bodies covered in lime to increase their decay, and the American soldier responsible grinning for the camera as the shutter clicks. He’s proud, oblivious to the humanity, and certainly, oblivious too to the reasons for all of this. Robots only need to know their program and how to run it. Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket unravels how the code removes any inhibitions between a finger and a trigger. It’s a still startling piece, and in an era where PTSD entered the vernacular, a damning indictment on military aggression.

Video

Warner’s mastering is impeccable. That’s inarguable. It’s clear the resolution bump over the Blu-ray editions makes a significant difference. Wide shots in bunkers or of the cast produce substantial sharpness, enough to identify anyone, even those deepest into the frame.

Not impeccable is Warner’s encoding. Full Metal Jacket struggles. Grain too often looks imprecise and digital, with frequent mosquito noise. This is evident from the opening scenes in boot camp, as Ermey paces the hall. The solid walls show artifacts, and trained eyes will catch the grain moving along with him. A little ringing draws ire too, although a less disappointing issue than compression.

Subtle HDR keeps things properly muted, preserving the aesthetic. The brightest peaks show up via fire, awesome in its vividness. The hottest flames hit exceptional nits. Contrast otherwise stays flat, relying on dense black levels by the end, inside the sniper nest. Those look spectacular too, because among the flames in the surrounding areas, shadows hit their marks.

Deep color adds only a little boost – again, the flames a definite standout. Denser greens on uniforms, stable flesh tones, and overall pleasing earthy hues beautifully defined.

Audio

Borrowing/recycling the DTS-HD 5.1 mix from the Blu-ray, the wide split between channels on the gun range or in shoot-outs adds accurate spacing to action scenes. Surrounds envelop as needed, sending tanks through the soundfield, and debris scattered throughout.

The disc offers mono too, but other than purists, the 5.1 will be standard for most. Added range lets tank engines rumble a bit, along with the brooding score. Range isn’t especially notable, so much as adding life into the track.

Extras

Likewise taken from the Blu-ray, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Matthew Modine join critic Jay Cocks on commentary. That’s included on both discs, while the 30-minute featurette/retrospective is only on the Blu.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Full Metal Jacket
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

Stanley Kubrick’s potent anti-war story Full Metal Jacket remains a classic in deconstructing western militarism.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 51 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: