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Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Green Berets

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Ken_McAlinden, Jan 7, 2010.

  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Well-Known Member
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    The Green Berets

    Directed By: John Wayne and Ray Kellogg

    Starring: John Wayne, David Janssen, Jim Hutton, Aldo Ray, Raymond St. Jacques, Bruce Cabot, Jack Soo, George Takei, Patrick Wayne, Luke Askew


    Studio: Warner Bros.

    Year: 1968

    Rated: G

    Film Length: 142 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1

    Subtitles: English SDH, French, German, Spanish (Castellano), Spanish (Latin), Danish, Finnish, Greek, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish

    Release Date: January 5, 2010

    The Film **½

    The Green Berets follows the exploits of an elite group of American soldiers during the Vietnam conflict. The bulk of the film follows Colonel Mike Kirby (Wayne) as he arrives with a handpicked Company of soldiers including his right hand man, Master Sergeant Muldoon (Ray), medic Sergeant "Doc" Mcgee (St. Jacques), resourceful scrounger Sergeant Peterson (Hutton), and "Gung Ho" soldier Sergeant Provo (Askew) to oversee the transition of command and complete the construction of a forward base Army encampment in conjunction with a squad of South Vietnamese Soldiers under the command of Captain Nim (Takei).    Accompanying Kirby and his men in order to gain first hand knowledge of the conflict is George Beckworth (Janssen), a skeptical journalist whose newspaper is opposed to the war.  The forward base is deep in a war zone, and under constant threat of being overrun by Viet Cong forces.  Their efforts to complete it are hampered by regular mortar fire at night, VC terrorization of local villages, and, ultimately, a massive siege.  The rest of the film follows Kirby's team on a covert mission behind enemy lines to kidnap a high-ranking and heavily guarded  VC general with the aid of Kirby's South Vietnamese Army counterpart, Colonel Cai (Soo).

    Robin Moore's well-researched fiction book "The Green Berets" is chock full of remarkable stories about the American Army's Special Forces unit. One would think that all a film producer would have to do would pick any one of them and they would have the basis for an exciting movie paying tribute to these elite American troops. When John Wayne's decided to adapt the book through his Batjac production company, he chose two of the stories, but then wrapped them up in a red white and blue blanket of pro-war propaganda the likes of which had not been seen in American cinemas in 25 years.

    The result was a film that was politically polarizing, unevenly paced, and peppered with a few remarkable action set-pieces. Quite a few viewers and critics found the film to be hopelessly naive, politically unpalatable, and curiously out of step with both the events of the war as they were being documented on television and the cinema of 1968. One man's "curiously out of step" being another man's "refreshingly traditional", the film still managed to find enough of an audience to become a modest sized hit.

    41 years later, the film certainly does not play any less dated than it was upon its release, but cinema having moved on, concerns about it feeling out of step with its times are of less importance. Similarly, accusations by detractors that it was irresponsibly advocating an unwinnable and/or unjust armed conflict have less bearing on the film's merits 37 years after the Paris cease-fire agreement ended US military involvement in Vietnam than they did when the film was released in the midst of the war. Looking at it with modern eyes through the filter of history, the film suffers from the weakness that afflicts all but a select few propaganda films from any era. Every time the film turns itself over to the advocacy of the filmmakers' no longer directly relevant political views, it stops the proceedings in their tracks as if a commercial interruption had suddenly been inserted.

    In the case of The Green Berets, these moments are stacked most heavily in the film's opening scenes, where the audience is shamelessly lectured on what they should think about the Vietnam War by Aldo Ray and Raymond St. Jacques through the dramatically awkward method of having their characters lecture a group of cynical journalists and "average Americans". After initially laying it on so thick with barely any artifice at all, the film's subsequent propagandistic elements are metered out regularly but less severely via interactions between Janssen's cynical reporter and members of the military outfit in which he is embedded. The standard war film method of canonizing allies and demonizing enemies carries the rest of the load. Interestingly, the complexities inherent to the stories being adapted from the source novel creep in and sometimes mildly subvert the message. While the South Vietnamese soldiers are generally painted as strong willed freedom fighters needing only the backing of Uncle Sam to even the odds against the Communist-backed Viet Cong, the acknowledgement that their ranks are heavily infiltrated by VC spies and that they have difficulty gaining the trust of civilian villagers subtextually suggests complexities the filmmakers determinedly avoid facing head-on.

    Setting aside the film's dated political aims, the viewer is left with a war film that mixes intriguingly authentic aspects of how a circa-1968 Green Beret team works, drawn largely from the source novel, with defiantly old-fashioned broad characterizations and transparently manipulative plotting. Director Wayne and his longtime collaborator, screenwriter James Lee Barrett, leave no cliche untouched in their efforts to evoke audience sympathy for the ensemble cast of characters which is bad news if you happen to be a child, a puppy, or an officer with only one more day of service before returning home. The film does manage to be fitfully impressive, though, with an expertly staged siege sequence when the Viet Cong attempt to overrun the forward base being set up by Wayne's Colonel Kirby and his troops. The covert operation behind enemy lines that comprises the bulk of the film's final 40 minutes is also entertainingly staged, but it follows so abruptly on the heels of the combat sequences that it seems almost like a completely different movie.

    The performances by the ensemble cast come across as a bit broad and one dimensional, but this actually feels appropriate given that those adjectives also describe how the characters are written. The only two characters afforded any opportunity for growth through the course of the film are David Jannsen's skeptical reporter and Jim Hutton's cynical "scrounger". Even in these cases, their character arcs are telegraphed by the film's transparently propagandistic angle with respect to Jannsen's character and its embrace of the all too familiar cliche of bonding with an orphan in the case of Hutton's character.

    The film has frequently been criticized for its inauthentic look due to the use of American forests to represent Vietnamese jungles as well as a famous continuity gaffe in which a dramatic sunset at the film's conclusion appears to be happening in the eastern sky. These aspects of the production should not bother viewers with even a mild tolerance for artistic license.  

    As a side note, the film was rated "G" when the movie rating system was in its infancy, and has moments of bloody violence that would undoubtedly earn it a more restrictive rating if released today.  Anybody who thought the rating was an indication that this would be the elusive "Vietnam combat movie for the whole family" can now consider themselves warned.

    The Video ****

    The 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer at the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 is pleasingly film-like and detailed. Natural film grain is apparent, but appears both lower in level and more finely resolved than in the most recent SD DVD presentation of the film. Source element artifacts, which included mild positive and negative speckling on previous video presentations of the film, are all but eliminated here. The only weaknesses in the presentation are some sporadic low intensity halos along high contrast edges and a handful of shots that seem to have sections of the frame out of focus. The latter is most likely a production and/or print artifact (Lens problems? Partially mis-aligned separation masters?) since it is also apparent on every version of the film I have seen previously. Most of the suspect shots occur during the first night spent by Kirby and his men at the forward base encampment. The smearing/lack of focus seems most prominent in the lower half of the screen, and does not appear to correspond with the depth of objects in the frame (i.e. it is not just an artifact of using long lenses).

    The Audio ***½

    The English Dolby TrueHD 1.0 track effectively ports the mono theatrical mix to the home viewing environment. The prime beneficiary of the lossless audio encoding is the outstanding score from Miklos Rosza, which is possibly my favorite aspect of the entire movie. Dialog and effects are not quite as dynamic as the music, but are mixed very skillfully with impressive sequences including the arrival of multiple helicopters at the forward base and the NVA siege action centerpiece creating an illusion of sonic depth that may surprise those inclined to generally dismiss mono mixes. 192 Kbps Dolby Digital mono French, Spanish (Castillan), Spanish (Latin), and German tracks are also available.

    The Extras *½

    The two extras on this blu-ray edition of The Green Berets are identical to those from the previous DVD edition.

    The Moviemakers: The Making of the Green Berets (7:12) is a contemporaneous "making of" featurette that was used to promote the theatrical release of the film. It has some behind the scenes footage and information on the location work in and around Fort Benning, Georgia, but it is mainly a promotional fluff piece. It is presented in 4:3 standard definition video encoded via the VC-1 codec.

    The Theatrical Trailer (2:58) is a fairly lengthy promo that emphasizes Wayne and the cast of characters while providing a significant glimpse of nearly every action set-piece in the film. It is presented in 16:9 standard definition video encoded via the VC-1 codec.

    Packaging

    The disc is enclosed in a standard blu-ray case with the only insert being the standard "disc manufactured to highest quality standards/make sure your firmware is up to date/etc." disclaimer sheet. Cover art is derived from vintage movie promotional art and is a welcome improvement over the bland Wayne portrait used for previous SD DVD editions of the film.  Menus are straightforward, and the disc is authored without any excessive use of Java, which means that the "resume" function of most BD players should work.

    Summary **½

    John Wayne's The Green Berets is dated by its frustratingly preachy and transparently propagandistic elements and saddled with cliched plot and characterizations. This makes it less effective as a tribute to the capabilities and service of American Special Forces troops than it aspires to be. That being said, it still manages to incorporate a couple of effective action set-pieces and some interesting technical glimpses into modern warfare circa 1968. It is presented on Blu-ray disc with outstanding video marred only by some light and sporadic high contrast edge halos and what appear to be source flaws on one reel. Lossless mono audio does justice to Miklos Rosza's outstanding score, and the minimal extras include just a trailer and a vintage promotional behind the scenes featurette.

    Regards,

     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I watched my BRD last night and found the A/V presentation very good except for the scenes noted in the above review which has always been there in every video format release of this film. As far as the quality of the film itself, I enjoy it as a "war" film with some good action sequences, but I tend to ignore the other aspects of the film that are certainly controversial and have been debated endlessly for too many years. It is, what it is with just about all the principal members of the cast and crew dead except George Takei.

    It's certainly not one of the Duke's best, but I do enjoy viewing the film every 3-4 years.





    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Well-Known Member

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    I also made note of the G rating. Every time I have seen the film, that is what has stood out the most.

    Times sure have changed.
     
  4. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Well-Known Member
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    True Grit, released the following year, was also rated "G" and has a pretty bloody sequence involving Dennis Hopper. Nothing as gruesome as the stuff in this movie, but still a long way from what would be considered for a "G" these days.
     
  5. John Morgan

    John Morgan Well-Known Member

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    I think it looks great too. Although I am glad they included the original mono soundtrack, I really wish Warners would have remixed this title for 5.1 sound. I know all the original music survives on 3track stereo, and I would think a film of this vintage they would have M&E tracks or separate dialog and sound effects stens. I kind of miss stereo sound on a big film like this. They did great work with NORTH BY NORTHWEST and THE TIME MACHINE. But I am sure that would be a heavy added cost in production.
     
  6. Richard Gallagher

    Richard Gallagher Well-Known Member
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    I saw this in 1968 when I was in the Navy, stationed in the Philippines. My strongest memory is a scene involving a Vietcong booby trap, a scene which made me grateful that I wasn't in the Army!

    I haven't seen it since, but now I feel like watching it again.

    It's worth noting that Robin Moore's book came out in 1965, a time when the Vietnam War was still relatively uncontroversial. There had been a few anti-war demonstrations up to that point, but polls showed that most Americans supported the war. The landscape had changed significantly by the time that Wayne made the film, hence his heavy-handed pro-war propaganda.
     
  7. Terry Hickey

    Terry Hickey Well-Known Member

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    I think that Warners did a good job on this release. The presentation was good. Now, I can watch the movie without having to flip the
    disc over to view the rest of the movie. I hope that they revisit "The Man Who Would Be King" (another flipper) and release it on blu-ray or re-address it on SDDVD.
     
  8. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Well-Known Member
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    A dual layered 16:9 enhanced version of "The Green Berets" was released on SD DVD, too. It appears that way in the TCM Greatest Classic Films: War - Battlefront Asia set released in the second half May of last year [just verified the release date - time flies when you are reviewing DVDS [/url]

    I think that Warners did a good job on this release. The presentation was good. Now, I can watch the movie without having to flip the
    disc over to view the rest of the movie. I hope that they revisit "The Man Who Would Be King" (another flipper) and release it on blu-ray or re-address it on SDDVD.
     
  9. Terry Hickey

    Terry Hickey Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Ken, didn't know that Warners had finally issued a non-flipper of "The Green Berets". I'm happy that I have it on blu-ray to add to my small collection of hi-def discs.
     
  10. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Well-Known Member
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    I guess technically, the one I mentioned is still a flipper, except in this case, it's a DVD-18 and the flip side of the disc is the Cary Grant movie "Destination Tokyo" rather than the second half of the movie. [/url]

    Thanks Ken, didn't know that Warners had finally issued a non-flipper of "The Green Berets". I'm happy that I have it on blu-ray to add to my small collection of hi-def discs.
     
  11. FrancisP

    FrancisP Well-Known Member

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    I think that some of the people that were criticizing it at the time were playing some politics. There is a scene when they are being waken up and I think that Jim Hutton is about to say "Chicken-shit outfit" but all we hear is chicken which makes no sense. Are we being censored?
     
  12. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Well-Known Member
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    To be fair, there is no question that the filmmakers themselves were playing politics. The cut away from the "chicken" line was intentional and has always been there. John Wayne was not a big fan of profanity in his movies, and I think he correctly figured that audiences would be able to finish the sentence in their heads..

     
  13. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    The Man Who Would Be King definitely needs a non-piece-of-shit release. Not only was that poor classic a flipper, it looked like ass!
     

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