We Were Soldiers
Film Length: 138 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
There need to be more movies like We Were
Soldiers that show war in its most graphic
reality. Hollywood is far too guilty in the way
they have honored, patronized and glorified their
war stories. This film has none of that. It's
as frank about the horrors and atrocities of the
Vietnam war than any film before it. More
importantly, if for only a brief airport scene
at the end of the film, it so righteously shows
the attitude our surviving veterans received upon
their return to the states.
We Were Soldiers is based upon the book
written by Lt. Col. Harold Moore, along with Joe
Galloway. It concerns The Battle of Ia Drang, one
of the lesser-known, yet painful entries in American
The year is 1965. Lt. Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson)
is a war scholar who spends his nights studying the
history of General Custer and other fallen heroes.
He's about to go into Vietnam with a bunch of
fresh-faced kids to face what could ultimately be
a massacre like Custer experienced. Making one of
his final addresses at home, he promises he will not
lose (or leave behind) any men that have been given
to him. He explains to his men that there are no
divisions between them. Neither race nor status
nor religious separates them, they are all equal.
The story shoves us head first into one of the
most brutal battles in the Vietnam War. Welcome
to the Ia Drang valley, where 400 helicopter-dropped
US soldiers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore and
Sergeant Major Plumley (Sam Elliot), are brought
face-to-face with some 2000 Vietnamese hiding in
the hills and caves surrounding them. The Americans
who have been thrusted into this deadly battle
include Major Bruce Crandall (Greg Kinnear), Lt.
Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein), who has just left
his young wife and newborn daughter, and Joe
Galloway (Barry Pepper), a man from a military
family who would rather study war -- not fight it.
What sets this war film apart from all others is
that we get the perspectives of war from not just
the Americans who came and fought, but from the
perspective of the Vietnamese commander, which
allows us to understand their strategies. Finally,
we see the war from the perspective of the waiting
and worrying wives who take it upon themselves to
deliver the dreaded yellow telegrams to the
newly-widowed women living around them.
How is the transfer?
I first had the opportunity to watch this DVD
a day earlier on a JVC DLA-G15U projector that
shot the image on a large 10x20 foot outdoor
screen. Upon viewing the movie, I was just
taken back by the clarity and brightness of the
picture -- especially the deep blacks that were
evident in scene after scene.
I suppose a $14,000 projector can make anything
look outstanding, for watching this on my ISF
calibrated 57" Toshiba HX81 garnered entirely
different results altogether.
I found the transfer to be quite gritty looking.
What bothered me up front was the very evident
amount of grain and noise in the picture that you
can immediately notice in brightly lit scenes.
Go to chapter 2 where Greg Kinnear and Mel Gibson
are talking or chapter 4 where the wives are sitting
on the couch discussing themselves and you can see
a picture littered with grain. In fact, the noise
is so disruptive that in Chapter 4 you can actually
see it breaking up within the faces of the women.
Flesh tones also seem to run a bit too hot, with
everyone's face looking more red than it should.
This also results in quite a bit of sharpness being
lost in this rather soft transfer. The colors of the
film look more subdued than vivid, but that actually
helps give the film a more period look.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is as good as one would
expect from a war film. The mix contains distinct
direction that keeps the dialogue firmly in the
center channel as the two front channels deliver
powerful bass-heavy audio that is accented by the
pounding warfare rumbles of the LFE channel. The
rears never seem to let up, immersing you in the ever
so realistic sounds of bullets, helicopter flyovers
and soldiers yelling from just about every direction.
An extremely active mix that will test the limits
of your system.
The DVD begins with a very patriotic menu sequence
that shows dog tags of soldiers and text that
remind us of the inevitable odds these men faced
and the one man who led them into battle.
A full length commentary with Director
and Writer Randall Wallace
Getting It Right begins with actual B&W
footage from Vietnam of a soldier talking to the
press, commending Lt.Col. Hal Moore's command of
his battalion. The images dissolve to present day
as we watch the real-life Lt. Col Hal Moore describe
how accurate this film portrays Vietnam. Director
and Writer Randall Wallace was immediately intriqued
by Harold Moore's novel that repeatedly blamed
Hollywood for getting the Vietnam war stories
wrong every time. Wallace realized that he had a
story to tell, and he wanted to tell it right.
Mel Gibson describes receiving an early draft of
the script two years earlier and wanting to be
involved in the project. He describes the direction
of Director Wallace, who directed huge scenes with
a large cast and lots of wartime explosions happening
all at once. There are some extensive footage from
behind the camera of the training and battle scenes.
Director of Photography Dean Smith wanted to make
sure that this movie did not come off as a slick
Hollywood production, but rather a film that looked
authentic. Special Effects Coordinator Paul Lombardi
stresses the importance of dirty frames, where there
are always pieces of kicked up dirt and smoke to
be found. There is some really cool footage of
special effects test shots that include dummy
soldiers that were rigged to be shot and bled, as
well as test footage of some of the film's most
elaborate napalm explosions. Next we get into
the casting of the film as Hal Moore's wife Julie
talks about being with Actress Madeleine Stowe,
giving her insight into the real life person and
situations she was portraying. Mel Gibson talks
about the wives's own private battle and the
responsibility of becoming messengers, delivering
the yellow telegrams. Military Technical Advisor
Jason Powell describes the 2-week crash course
he gave to the actors on how to be a soldier. We
watch the actors struggle through boot camp,
running through obstacles and firing weapons.
Wouldn't you know it? Greg Kinnear complains of
hangnails. The documentary then turns to Editor
William Loy who talks about the great task of
editing this picture. Composer Nick-Glennie Smith
describes how his music became the heart and soul
of the American and Vietnamese soldiers. This is
an outstanding documentary that takes us from the
film's preproduction to its post production without
skimping on detailed footage.
(length: Approx. 24 minutes)
There are ten deleted scenes that include:
* A group of young soldiers on a lake trip
and a tall-tale story of an officer who gets
chewed out about not wearing his war decorations
only to return butt naked.
* An early meeting of Julie Moore (Madeline Stowe)
and Barbara Geoghan (Kerri Russell) where the two
women first bond. We see an emotional Jack
Geoghan (Chris Klein) holding his newborn daughter.
* A short clip that tells the story of two soldiers
(Adam and Beck) who fought hard in battle.
* An original proposed ending to the film that
was never shown. The surviving company returns
to Camp Holloway and march off down a dusty road.
* There is a final debriefing sequence that was
cut - but I'll be vague of its contents since it
may ruin the ending of the film for anyone that
has not seen it.
All of these scenes can be played with optional
commentary by Randall Wallace, which I highly
recommend you do.
With all these added features, I was sort of
perplexed as to why the film's original theatrical
trailer was omitted.
For those of us who have never had to experience
war, We Were Soldiers is the closest thing
to being there. It's a startlingly graphic story
whose characters really make you care about what
happened in Vietnam. It's also another testament
to the useless act and absurdity of war.
Add this to your collection.
Release Date: August 20, 2002