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We Were Soldiers(2002)
The year is 1965 and the U.S. is at War with North Vietnam. Commanding the air cavalry is Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Gibson), a born leader committed to his troops. His target: the La Drang Valley, called "The Valley of Death." As Moore prepares for one of the most violent battles in U.S. history, he delivers a stirring promise to his soldiers and their families: "I will leave no man behindůdead or alive. We will all come home together."
For more about We Were Soldiers and the We Were Soldiers Blu-ray release, see We Were Soldiers Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on June 19, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliott, Chris Klein, Keri Russell
Director: Randall Wallace
» See full cast & crew
We Were Soldiers Blu-ray Review
An unforgiving look at the first major engagement of the Vietnam conflict is now a Blu-ray disc worth owning.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, June 19, 2008
This story is a testament to the young Americans who died in the Valley of Death and a tribute to the young men of the People's Army of Vietnam, who died by our hand in that place.
2002's We Were Soldiers, I hoped, would rekindle Hollywood's interest in churning out high-quality Vietnam War movies, a genre that seemed to dominate the decade of the 1980s. With films such as 1986's Best Picture winner Platoon, the critically acclaimed Full Metal Jacket, the gut-wrenching drama and violence of Hamburger Hill, and the ethical drama that is Casualties of War, the decade pulled no punches in its cinematic representations of the most controversial American conflict of the 20th century. Alas, the only meaningful Vietnam film since We Were Soldiers that I can recall is the unequivocally excellent Rescue Dawn, a film that is a departure from the "typical" Vietnam movie, focusing almost completely on the human drama rather than running gun fights interlaced with a morality tale. We Were Soldiers is a film that mostly steers clear of transparent political themes and simply tells a straightforward, gruesomely realistic tale of a historical engagement in Vietnam from three perspectives: the American soldiers, the Vietnamese soldiers, and the families of the soldiers stateside. We Were Soldiers may be the most divisive of all the major Vietnam War films insofar as its perceived status as a pro-or-anti-war film, as it is a departure from the obvious anti-war messages espoused by the excellent films from the 1980s.
Based on the book "We Were Soldiers Once, and Young" by Retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers stars Mel Gibson (Signs) in the role of Hal Moore, then a Lieutenant Colonel and the commanding American officer during the first major engagement of the Vietnam Conflict at the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965. Showcasing the men's preparation stateside for the conflict (but from a completely different perspective than Full Metal Jacket portrayed), the impact of the conflict on the wives of the soldiers, and the combat and tactics from the American perspective and, to a lesser extent, the enemy's, We Were Soldiers feels like a "complete" war story that primarily focuses on the action of the battle, but also examines it from a few other unique angles. Once in Vietnam, Moore's mission is simple: he is to "find the enemy, and kill him." So begins one of the most intense engagements of the conflict, one that is easily seen as a microcosm for the entire conflict itself. We Were Soldiers also features fine performances from Madeleine Stowe (Revenge), Sam Elliott (The Golden Compass), and Barry Pepper (Flags of Our Fathers). Sam Elliott is the best of the bunch; his tough, no-nonsense, and imposing physical exterior fits the persona of his grizzled character well.
We Were Soldiers is unique amongst its Vietnam War film brethren in that it never forgets the humanity of the combatants from both sides by not only showing their families and loved ones, but involving them in the drama of the film, fleshing out their characters, and showing their struggle to maintain normalcy whilst their husbands fight halfway around the world. This depiction not only allows audiences to recognize the chaos of the battlefield but also that of back home as the spouses and families fight their own war against time, despair, heartache, and the unknown. The scenes depicting the soldier's final night at home before going halfway around the world to fight in a foreign land, and perhaps never again speak with or lay eyes on their families, is remarkably powerful and poignant. I've probably seen this movie half a dozen times, and this sequence is still hard to watch every time for the flood of emotions it engenders. The older, more mature, and set into the ways of married life I become, the more heartfelt and hard-to-watch such scenes become. We Were Soldiers does a fine job of prompting an emotional response, and such is the sign of an excellent film whereupon repeated viewings of the same material, over time, can let loose the same emotions time and again.
We Were Soldiers is gut-wrenching in more ways than one, and several scenes, both stateside and on the battlefield in Vietnam, may leave even the most stoic of viewers in tears. The film is neither phony nor sappy; instead it contains real, raw emotions that beat the viewer into the ground and never relent until the credits roll. I don't see We Were Soldiers as a pro-war movie by any stretch of the imagination. It simply shows war for the brutal, but sometimes necessary, exercise that it is. We Were Soldiers is best experienced through the Barry Pepper character who portrays photographer and reporter Joe Galloway, who himself is somewhat of an 'audience' to the film. He sees the war through a lens, much as we the audience see it. His experiences and emotions become ours, and his character, even more so than the film's central character of Hal Moore, proves to be the most fitting narrator for the picture.
We Were Soldiers Blu-ray, Video Quality
We Were Soldiers returns to the front lines of Blu-ray in a 1080p high definition, 2.35:1 framed transfer. This is a transfer sure to be as divisive amongst Blu-ray fans as the movie itself. We Were Soldiers sports an intentionally rough look to it that lends a gritty, almost documentary-like feel to the movie. Heavy grain permeates many frames which adds a raw feel to the movie that befits the unforgiving war films of recent vintage. Much of the movie is just the slightest bit soft and lacking in ultimate detail. Colors appear a bit dull on occasion, but they look striking most of the time, as the green fatigues of the soldiers, the green paint on the helicopters, and dense foliage of the battlefield manage to stand out well one against the other. Black levels are very solid, though they appear a bit gray and washed out in places, and skin tones appear naturally pleasant. Detail is generally fine, though not jaw-droppingly good as mentioned above. However, some shots allow us to see the dew on the early morning grass, the fine lines and stitching in uniforms, patches, and the like, the wear and tear on helmets and weapons, and fine lines in faces. The film's more violent sequences and the major injuries of war are more apparent on this disc. This was my second viewing of We Were Soldiers on Blu-ray and in fine detail it surpasses the DVD by leaps and bounds, leaving me shocked by a few images I saw here but never noticed before. There are a few black speckles on the print, though I didn't notice them until 90 minutes into the movie. Taking into account that director Randall Wallace chose for this film a nasty, grisly look, what we see on this disc is well-representative of that vision.
We Were Soldiers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unfortunately, Paramount has left We Were Soldiers behind in the audio department, providing listeners with no lossless audio option, easily the biggest fault to be found on the disc, but rest assured that both the DTS 6.1 track as well as the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track are excellent lossy mixes. For the purpose of this review, I watched the film in its entirety with the DTS soundtrack. Explosions, of which there are many, rattle and reverberate with a might that truly places the viewer in the middle of combat. Heavy machine gun fire also thumps with a powerful, no-nonsense feel. Helicopters played a key role in Vietnam, and they are crucial to this film as well, and every time they are on-screen, flying by, we feel the rotors reverberating through the room. Dialogue reproduction is good, but the volume seems just a bit disproportionately low to the action, even in calmer, pre-war scenes. Sound directionality is excellent; helicopters fly by outside of a hangar in chapter two from left to right with a seamless ease. In that same hangar, where we would expect to hear a bit more reverberations and echoes, Moore's speech is instead noticeably muted, with little to no rear-channel presence, although a subsequent speech in chapter six heard partially over outdoor loudspeakers has a more apparent rear presence. The first military engagement of the film, found in chapter eight, features a robust, immersive sound experience. You'll feel almost every expended round pound your seat. Every battle scene from there on out is dramatic and intense, a fine sonic experience that is effective and frightening. This is a soundtrack that could have greatly benefitted from a lossless or uncompressed mix. As it is, it is solid and both entertaining and frightening to listen to. Make no mistake, this is one of the finest lossy mixes available on Blu-ray, right up there with Face/Off, but as per my norm, I must subtract a full point for the studio failing to provide a high definition soundtrack on the high definition Blu-ray format.
We Were Soldiers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
We Were Soldiers fights its way onto Blu-ray with a decent offering of supplemental material. A feature-length commentary track with director and writer Randall Wallace starts things off. All things considered, this is a standard-fare track. Wallace proves engaging and offers some fine information and anecdotes, much like one he tells early on about placing his son in the film and seeing him brutally killed on-screen so as to relate better to the horror and loss of war. Wallace also recounts some changes made from real life to film (notably the scene between Gibson and Chris Klein found in chapter four). All in all, despite some dead air, Wallace manages to remain engaging, but never overly profound or offering any earth-shattering information.
Getting it Right: Behind-the-Scenes (480p, 25:33) is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the film, highlighted by some vintage clips of an emotional interview with Hal Moore in Vietnam, as well as a more recent interview with the famed Colonel. This segment also offers interviews with various cast and crew members, some raw footage of the making of the film, and a look at the genuine emotions that define the film, as well as the "honest," documentary feel of the movie as opposed to more traditional, slick Hollywood war films. Rounding out the supplemental materials are ten deleted scenes (480p, 21:20) with optional commentary by director Randall Wallace, the film's theatrical trailer (1080p, 2:54), and a Paramount high definition promotional piece.
We Were Soldiers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
We Were Soldiers, like any War movie worth its salt (and your time), may leave the viewer emotionally drained by film's conclusion, the experience of witnessing the brutality and horrors of combat on-screen is almost as frightening as experiencing it first-hand, or half a world away, as we see depicted through the wives who play an integral role in telling this story. We Were Soldiers may not be the finest war movie, or the most brutal, or the most intense, but it may be the most real, the most emotional, and the most balanced war film in recent memory. Its to-the-point, gut-wrenching approach to war is truly a horrifying experience, one that I have heard described as one of the more authentic films ever created insofar as truly capturing the Vietnam experience. In fact, Hal Moore himself says of the film that it was done "right." One cannot ask for higher praise than that. Paramount has released We Were Soldiers on Blu-ray with a faithful-to-the-source video transfer, an engaging (but not high definition) soundtrack, and some fantastic supplemental materials. Recommended.
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