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Blu-ray Review Heaven & Earth Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Richard Gallagher

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Heaven & Earth Blu-ray Review

The release by Twilight Time of Oliver Stone's Heaven & Earth on Blu-ray has created a firestorm of controversy regarding the quality of the transfer. While this is by no means a flawless transfer, neither is it a nightmare of horrors as it has been portrayed by some of its critics (I will editorialize a bit by pointing out that many of the most vociferous critics apparently have not even seen this release, relying only on screen caps for their opinions). Those who choose to believe the naysayers and refuse to buy this Blu-ray will be missing out on an extraordinary cinematic experience. Whatever shortcomings may exist in the video transfer - and there are some - they are compensated for by a riveting story and an absolutely stunning 5.1 DTS HD-MA soundtrack.

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Studio: Warner Brothers

Distributed By: Twilight Time

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA

Subtitles: English SDH

Rating: R

Run Time: 2 Hr. 22 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray, Other

Standard Blu-ray Case

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 12/09/2014

MSRP: $29.95




The Production Rating: 4.5/5

Many times Heaven and Earth changed places.Heaven & Earth is the third and final installment of Oliver Stone's Vietnam War Trilogy. The first installment, Platoon, is based upon Stone's personal experiences in the war while a member of the U.S. Army in 1967 and 1968. The second, Born on the Fourth of July, recounts the story of Ron Kovic, a gung-ho Marine who returned from Vietnam paralyzed from the waist down and became a prominent anti-war activist. Heaven & Earth examines the war from the perspective of the Vietnamese people, in particular the peasants who wanted only to peacefully work their fields and raise their families but had their lives torn apart by outsiders from near and far.This true story of the war and its aftermath is seen through the eyes of Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le, in a remarkable debut performance), a beautiful girl who was born in the rural village of Ky La in 1949, when Vietnam was a French colony. Le Ly lives with her papa (Haing S. Ngor) and mama (Joan Chen), as well as several siblings. Their modest but generally idyllic lives are thrown into upheaval when French soldiers enter Ky La and inexplicably burn the village to the ground. Following the decisive defeat of the French by Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh Army in 1954, Vietnam was partitioned into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Ky La, located south of Da Nang, became part of South Vietnam.After the partition life in Ky La is generally peaceful until helicopters bring U.S. military advisors and South Vietnam soldiers to the village. Although Ky La is in South Vietnam, the South Vietnamese soldiers do not trust the villagers, in part due to religious differences. The villagers are Buddhists, but the President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, is a Roman Catholic. The American soldiers are there to assist South Vietnam in its fight against the Viet Cong, Communist revolutionaries who want to overthrow the Diem government and reunite the country under Ho Chi Minh.The villagers are generally sympathetic to the Viet Cong - two of Le Ly's brothers join the rebels - but it soon becomes apparent that the Viet Cong can be as ruthless as South Vietnam’s army and Le Ly and her family find themselves caught in the middle. When they help the Viet Cong by digging tunnels they face reprisals from the Army; when they comply with orders from the Army, they are punished by the Viet Cong. Le Ly is taken prisoner by the Army and accused of helping the Viet Cong stage an ambush. She proclaims her innocence but is tortured by soldiers while American advisors passively look on (the torture does not work, by the way - she admits to nothing). Eventually her mother raises enough money to bribe an official to effect Le Ly's release, but that only serves to make the Viet Cong suspect that she is collaborating with the government. The Viet Cong arrest her and threaten to execute her, but they decide to rape her instead. She and her mother then leave Ky La and move to Saigon.In Saigon they obtain domestic work in the home of a wealthy family. Life is good for a time, but eventually Le Ly is seduced by Anh (Long Nguyen), the master of the house, and she becomes pregnant. Efforts to abort the fetus are unsuccessful. When Anh's wife, Madame Lien (Vivian Wu), learns about his infidelity, she insists that Le Ly and her mother be sent far away from Saigon. They end up in Da Nang, where they are forced to fend for themselves by selling marijuana and black market cigarettes to American soldiers. Le Ly gives birth to a son and eventually lands a legitimate job in a club. She meets an American Marine, Sgt. Steve Butler (Tommy Lee Jones), who immediately falls for her. She initially resists him, but she is softened up by his craggy good looks, the attention he pays to her young son, and his tenderness toward her. She does not know quite what to make of it when Steve tells here, "My first wife taught me a real serious lesson in life. I'm serious. I need a good Oriental woman, like you."He promises her a better life in America, but when she gets to America both she and Steve discover that starting over is easier said than done. The story does bog down a bit in the final 1/3 of the film, when the focus is on domestic strife and Le Ly’s efforts to adjust to an entirely new culture. Viewers will be intrigued by the surprising but effective casting of Debbie Reynolds as Steve's mother.Hiep Thi Le, who apparently had no acting experience prior to Heaven & Earth, is a revelation as Le Ly. Tommy Lee Jones is equally impressive as Steve, displaying a wide range of intense and honest emotions. The beautiful Joan Chen is nearly unrecognizable as Le Ly's peasant mother, and Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields) turns in a fine performance as the father. This had to have been a challenging project for director Stone, weaving together a complicated story which spans several decades and two continents. Heaven & Earth is a powerful film which will linger in your thoughts long after you view it.


Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA

I will preface my comments on the picture quality of Heaven & Earth by noting that I watched it on a 46-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen, via a Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player. My viewing distance is roughly six feet. Your mileage may vary based upon the equipment you use and how it is calibrated.I will also note that I am reviewing a moving picture, not a series of still frames. I do not freeze-frame and zoom in on a Blu-ray unless I see an anomaly while watching the normal-sized picture in real time.That said, my impression of the Heaven & Earth transfer is that while it is not perfect, it is very good. Try as I might, I am not seeing the "jagginess" about which others are complaining (my sharpness is set to zero). There are white specks here and there, and dirt and detritus pop up fleetingly. For the most part, however, the picture is clean, highly detailed, and exhibits excellent color. Some banding is evident, but it is infrequent and did not take me of the film. One commenter posted a link to a screen cap to show aliasing in a shot, but also posted a 75% zoom of the shot for those who could not see the aliasing in the unzoomed screen capture. Who watches a Blu-ray at 75% zoom? I certainly do not. I watched that scene as a moving picture and saw nothing amiss. If you have to blow it up to see aliasing, don't blow it up.Heaven & Earth was gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Robert Richardson and was filmed on location in Vietnam, Thailand and California. The 2.40:1 picture has been accurately framed and is encoded with the AVC codec.The bottom line is that this Blu-ray is as good as Heaven & Earth is ever likely to look, barring enough interest in the film to justify a full restoration. As our esteemed expert Robert A. Harris has noted, this film has never been a money-maker for Warner Brothers, so there is little incentive for the company to finance a restoration. Mr. Harris estimates that this transfer was made a decade ago, and others have suggested that it possibly was converted from 1080i to 1080p. The only thing I have to compare it with is the laserdisc, which was very good for its time but pales in comparison to this Blu-ray, flaws notwithstanding.It has been reported that Oliver Stone personally approved of this transfer, which in some quarters has been greeted with "So what?" That is perhaps an understandable response from those who dislike the transfer, but I cannot dismiss the fact that Heaven & Earth would never have been issued on Blu-ray had not Stone lobbied to have this transfer licensed to Twilight Time.



Audio Rating: 5/5

Even those who object to the picture quality of Heaven & Earth will have to acknowledge that the English DTS HD-MA 5.1 audio is nothing less than spectacular. The soaring score by Kitarô immediately immerses the viewer in the action, and the soundtrack includes popular songs from the late sixties such as "Mellow Yellow" by Donovan and "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum.Dialogue is consistently clear and understandable, and English SDH subtitles are available.


Special Features Rating: 4/5

This Blu-ray release is different than most other Twilight Time Blu-rays in that there is no isolated music score.A commentary track by director Oliver Stone is both thoughtful and informative.Seven deleted scenes are shown letterboxed in standard definition. There is an option to watch them with illuminating commentary by Stone. He particularly regrets that he deleted a scene of Le Ly and Father Bob (Jeffrey Jones), Steve’s Roman Catholic parish priest, discussing religion and her problems with Steve (Father Bob’s less than sage advice is that Le Ly should consider having another baby). The running time of the film would have approached three hours if the deleted scenes had been included, but they are very interesting and worth viewing.An alternate opening of the film is letterboxed in standard definition. It opens with four minutes of black & white footage before shifting to color. Elsewhere Stone explains that he originally intended to have the film move back and forth between Le Ly's life in California and her life as a young girl in Vietnam, but eventually he concluded that it worked better dramatically to tell the story chronologically. The alternate opening has a running time of 22:33.Also included are the original theatrical trailer (which is letterboxed) and an illustrated eight-page booklet with an informative essay by Julie Kirgo.I would give the extras a higher score if the deleted scenes were in high definition, but that obviously was not going to happen.


Overall Rating: 4.5/5

I believe that Heaven & Earth was ahead of its time, notwithstanding the fact that it was released 18 years after the fall of South Vietnam. I am not sure that audiences were ready to embrace a film which so graphically emphasizes the effect of war upon innocent civilians. For that matter, there might not be a large audience for this film if it were released today. That would be a shame, because we seem to forget that atrocities such as those which are occurring now in the Middle East are nothing new. According to a study by the Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington, there were 3.8 million violent war deaths during the Vietnam War, of which two million (53%) were civilians. An estimated half million Vietnamese women turned to prostitution to survive. 70 million liters of herbicidal agents such as Agent Orange were dumped on Vietnam in an ill-advised effort to defoliate the countryside, with tragic consequences for Vietnamese and Americans alike.As readers have probably surmised, parts of Heaven & Earth are difficult to watch, and it obviously is not for all tastes and sensibilities. That said, the film does end on a hopeful note. Whether that hopefulness is entirely justified is a question which is still playing out around the world.The Blu-ray release of Heaven & Earth is being released in a limited edition of 3,000 copies. Readers who are interested in purchasing it should go to the Screen Archives website and verify that copies are still available.


Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher


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schan1269

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Great write-up. Sad that people can't just accept "this is as good as it gets".I have several BD from the same transfer era. They all have the same things in common...1. Not outright money makers.2. Not the best they could possibly look.3. Still miles better than even a PAL DVD.
 

Richard Gallagher

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schan1269 said:
Great write-up. Sad that people can't just accept "this is as good as it gets".I have several BD from the same transfer era. They all have the same things in common...1. Not outright money makers.2. Not the best they could possibly look.3. Still miles better than even a PAL DVD.
Agreed. As I mentioned elsewhere, it cost $33 million to make and the domestic gross was less than $6 million. That isn't much of an incentive for Warner to invest more money in it.
 

PMF

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Now with all the dust settled; both as a film and as a transfer; where do those who've purchased this title stand, at this point? I think I'll have to give in, as I have the first two Vietnam entries from Mr. Stone.
 

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