Like many 17-year old kids in the late 80’s, I went into Full Metal Jacket expecting some kind of action war movie. I got some kind of action war film, alright, the kind only Stanley Kubrick could direct. Here’s a film that grabs you by the balls and locks in your attention until the movie fades to black over a chorus of “The Mickey Mouse Club” theme song. The first time I saw it I don’t think I moved once in my squeaky movie theater seat. Each time the film pops up on cable, I’m sucked in, whether it’s during the opening frames, twenty minutes in, or the harrowing conclusion. Full Metal Jacket is mesmerizing, even in it’s slow methodical moments. You can’t look away. Frankly, I never want to.
The new 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of the film is the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing the film the same way I did when I was a teen. The picture quality of the remastered film, starring Matthew Modine, Arliss Howard, Adam Baldwin and then newcomers, Vincent D’Onofrio and R. Lee Ermey, is the best it’s been since the initial release, and the Dolby Sound shoves you into the barracks on the opening sequences and places you between the sniper fire of the film’s conclusion.
Much has been made about the two halves of the movie. Part one centers on the basic training of a group of young recruits, introducing us to Modine’s Joker, Howard’s Cowboy, D’Onofrio’s Pyle and Ermey’s ruthless drill sergeant, Hartman. Throughout the initial hour, Hartman grinds those recruits down, dehumanizing them until they’re killing machines. Do his tactics work? That’s open to debate. Joker does his best to retain his humanity by cracking jokes and applying for the news corp. Pyle, on the other hand, loses his mind. The film’s second half follows Joker during his tour of duty. He retains his smartass ways, but is bored and longs to be in the shit. He gets what he asked for and in the end, perhaps he regrets it.
It seems that Kubrick was studying how man is capable of violent and unspeakable acts if pushed to his limit. The literature included in the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray backs that up. Although the two halves pieced together to make Full Metal Jacket don’t seem to connect (aside from the inclusions of Joker and Cowboy), when looked at thematically, the whole film makes sense. I can recall how jarring it was when I originally saw Full Metal Jacket and the second half of the film began. To go from the horrific final moments of Pyle and Hartman to the sound of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking” felt like a joke. But Kubrick was smart in adding a moment of levity after such an intense finale to the first part of his film. It let’s his audience catch their breath before the movie begins its build to the final moments. Just as it did to me back in the 80’s, Full Metal Jacket makes me really ponder war and violence. And unlike many of Kubrick’s other films, I have always felt more emotional connection to the characters of this film. I attribute this to Modine and the everyman quality he brings to his role. He could be any one of us, and his decent into violence is one we all are capable of traveling.
As I said, the picture qaulity and sound of this Blu-ray are impeccable. Bonus features include commentary by Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey and critic/screenwriter Jay Cocks, the featurette Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil and the fascinating documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes. The Full Metal Jacket 25th Anniversary Edition is available through Amazon.