- Oct 30, 2002
Year: 2005 (Blu-ray release 2008)
Film Length: 123 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Languages: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Can a soldier serving in a time of war ever be completely free of the obligation and memory of the tour? Do the hands ever forget the feel of the rifle after the conflict, as is asked by the film's opening voice-over. These are a few of the questions posed by Sam Mendes' true-to-life war story "Jarhead". Anthony Swoffard (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes across as a normal young adult who makes the decision to enlist in the Marines. This ultimately provides a wonderful window to view Swoffard's slow descent into boredom-induced cabin fever when he is deployed to the Persian Gulf along with his platoon-mate Alan Troy (Peter Sarsgaard).
The approach to telling a story about war is what makes "Jarhead" so unique. Instead of deciding to focus on blowing things up or being poetic, "Jarhead" presents the life of a Marine platoon in the Gulf war with subtlety and grounded realism. What do you do when you're given a rifle, flown to a remote land, and then instructed to wait? The answer, according to the film, is you find ways to entertain yourself. In Swoffard and Troy's case, boredom is even more pervasive (and destructive) because they want to fight and can't.
As a scout sniper team, Swoffard and Troy are anxious to get into the conflict. They were trained by Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx) to want the "pink mist" of a perfect headshot from long range. What they both discover is that this war seems to be moving too quickly for them to keep up. By the time a confrontation arises and they get orders, the fight has already moved miles down the road. Ultimately, this conflict that they were so eager to get involved in continues to elude them as they, along with the rest of the platoon, try desperately to keep pace with a rapidly advancing fight and stem off self-destructive boredom.
The picture quality on the Blu-Ray version of "Jarhead" is what really made the movie for me. As good as the story and character development is, the presentation delivered by this HD format is even better. The desert is blanch white, stark and almost blinding, but there's so much sharpness and detail to it that even grains of sand are distinguishable. Marching through the burning oil fields turns out to be one of the most impressive visual treats of the entire film. The sky is inky black and the glow from the burning wells adds deep orange and red colors to the enveloping darkness of the smoke and oil. "Jarhead", to me, is one of the best demonstrations of what great HD content can look like. It's not that the resolution is so much higher than other films, it's that Mendes' direction and cinematography really come to life with extra details that Blu-Ray can provide.
This is a very active audio track. DTD-HD Master Audio is my preferred audio format and it does not disappoint in this film. There is gunfire and grenade explosions galore and it's all presented in a crystal clear fashion. The LFE gets a lot of exercise from "Jarhead", since it seems everything from Jeeps rolling across to the sand to helicopters flying over head is given a rumble. The one thing that was most interesting about the audio is that, just like the war, the action is punctuated by brief encounters; two minutes of chaos followed by fifteen minutes of relative silence.
As far as special features are concerned, this is the only aspect of "Jarhead" that I found highly disappointing. The Blu-Ray release only includes two audio commentaries; one from Sam Mendes and the other from screenwriter William Broyles, Jr and author Anthony Swafford. The latter of which was the standout track. What I can't understand is why these are the *only* special features included here. The two disc Collector's Edition DVD was loaded with extra goodies and even the HD-DVD release had these included. I can't fathom a reason why Universal would release such a barebones Blu-ray version when a straight port of the HD-DVD would have been just as easy and would have provided far more entertainment value.
"Jarhead" ultimately succeeds because of the different direction it takes to show war and the lives of the Marines who experience it on the ground. I'm sure there's plenty of subtle events that I'm not catching on to because I didn't live it and, conversely, I'm sure that there are Marines out there who would watch this film and say that it's completely off the mark.
I give "Jarhead" my recommendation, but I will say that I am undeniably frustrated with Universal's decision to leave out the special features that were included in the HD-DVD release. From the viewpoint of somebody who wants the complete experience of the movie, omitting the extra features that are easily duplicated is just sloppy production. As the movie puts so succinctly, "Welcome to the suck."