25 years may have passed since Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket first debuted, but it’s deep-seated message about soldiers and war still has value today. In its anniversary year, Full Metal Jacket is a reminder that peace and war do share a tumultuous dichotomy. And, while many may debate the merit and/or propaganda of the film, it’s clear that Kubrick’s war tale is still one of the best war movies ever produced. Dark humor mixed with startling dialogue and images of death come home in a new Blu-ray release, fitted with Warner Bros’ stylish book packaging.
The first half of Full Metal Jacket is the key reason why this movie is so remembered. New Marine recruits are trained to be killing machines by Gny. Sgt. Hartman, a drill sergeant played masterfully by R. Lee Ermey. Each command and drill chant barked by Ermey feels authentic and is delivered with absolute seriousness – even when it’s the most ridiculous thing. For instance, in one chant the privates much march around their quarters, holding their rifles and their crouch while chanting: “This is my rifle. This is my gun. One is for killing. The others for fun.” Not only does Ermey strike fear in the hearts of the bravest wannabe soldier, he also did a fair bit of improvisation, which was incorporated into the final movie script.
Throughout the first half of the movie, it’s unclear if there is a real lead character. Kubrick smartly chose to show the Marine trainees as a singular unit. When one trainee, Pvt. Leonard ‘Gomer Pyle’ Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), fails to match the standards of his squad, the other members are punished for his inadequacies. It leads to one of the most powerful scenes in the movie and clearly situates Pvt. J.T. ‘Joker’ Davis (Matthew Modine) into the leading role.
The second half of the movie, which takes place in Vietnam, doesn’t have quite the same poignancy as the first half. Some scenes tend to drag on and the dark humor established in the first half gets lost to combat – except for in a few sporadic moments.
The movie’s underlying theme centers on the transformation of boys into killing machines when they lose their innocence by going to war. Although it is a Vietnam film, the theme presented in the opening half of the movie is powerful enough to speak true to any war. Perhaps the funniest – and darkest – joke is the closing march, where the Marines march to the Mickey Mouse clubhouse song. It’s a little disturbing, but is a perfect button to this movie.
The 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release is more a cosmetic release. The HD transfer is the same as the previous version. The core difference is the Warner Bros book packaging and a second disc, which is a new DVD documentary called Kubrick’s Boxes. The documentary was done after Kubrick’s passing. It explores Kubrick’s vast archives and touches on the gaps between films in the auteur’s career. The documentary is a little bland in its presentation and it’s easy to lose interest.