The Green Berets on Blu-ray Disc
Consider The Green Berets a bit of balance for all the anti-Vietnam war films that have been made.
John Wayne stars and co-directs this look at the elite Special Forces personnel, experts in unconventional warfare who took the fight to the enemy in the war that divided the American people so much during the late 1960's and early 1970's until the U.S. bugged out and left the south Vietnamese people to the mercy (if such a word can describe it!) of the communists.
It's a film that honors those who fought and died at a time when veterans were being spat upon and called baby killers back home.
Wayne plays Colonel Mike Kirby, a tough as nails Green Beret commander who's sent to Vietnam in this unapologetically pro-American film that portrays the enemy as being the communists, not the U.S. military and politicians.
David Janssen plays reporter George Beckworth whose left wing publication seems to share his attitude that the American involvement in southeast Asia was a bad thing. Challenged by the military to put up or shut up, he puts up - arriving in Vietnam and attaching himself to Kirby's unit, following them into action and even lending a hand later on.
There are actually two main storylines here, one in which the Green Berets must defend a camp from vicious assault by enemy forces, and one in which Wayne and a group of his men embark on a mission to kidnap and bring back an enemy general, aided by the sister in law of a Vietnamese soldiers who uses her sexuality to lull the man into a false sense of security until the Green Berets can arrive.
The movie explains, rather than shows graphically (in most cases) the tactics used by the communist forces – which include extreme brutality meant to intimidate civilians into knuckling under to the communist ways - as well as some of their more disturbing guerilla tactics - and it does a reasonable job of laying out the stakes involved at the time.
Lefties will hate this movie on principle, but fair-minded people may find it an interesting counterpoint to such flicks as Apocalypse Now (as great as it was in its own way).
The supporting cast includes Jim Hutton as Sergeant Petersen, a scrounger extraordinaire who befriends a young Vietnamese boy, Aldo Ray, Bruce Cabot, George Takei (the original Sulu from Star Trek), and Jack Soo, who later achieved fame on the sitcom Barney Miller.
Production values are very good. Military hardware fans are sure to enjoy the Hueys, Chinooks, Hercules et at and there's enough of the stuff on parade here to choke a horse. And, in this age before digital effects, it was all real stuff, or so it appears for the vast majority of shots. Some of the special effects aren't up to that standard, but mostly the stuff looks good.
The Blu-ray has been released in 1080p widescreen (2.4:1) and for the most part it looks very, very good. Colors are rich, there's plenty of contrast and even pretty good depth. Not all scenes and shots reach the same high standard as many of them, but overall this is a very satisfying presentation.
The audio, Dolby TrueHD, isn't nearly as satisfying, however. It's basically mono and quite thin. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially with a movie of this vintage, but all during the military action scenes we wished the film had been made since the introduction of digital surround sound. The battle scenes and the shots where military hardware are featured would sound fabulous and undoubtedly envelop the audience beautifully in a good 5.1 system but, alas, 'twas not to be. Oh well.
Another victim of the thin soundtrack is the great Miklos Rosza's score, a soaring musical achievement that reminds us of his masterful work on Ben-Hur.
Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer and a vintage "Making Of" featurette that, at about eight minutes long, is pretty interesting, but which cried out for more.
The Green Berets isn't for everyone, but it's worth your while if your only memories or opinions of the Vietnam war were gleaned from media, academe, or Hollywood. It's far from perfect, but at least it offers some balance to the left-wing perspective we get usually.
The Green Berets, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.