Tonight's second HD DVD bout: all-out war.
With Full Metal Jacket (Warner; Movie •••½, Picture/Sound ••), the studio has decided to go one step beyond remixing Stanley Kubrick's mono sound into 5.1 channels (which had already been done for the last DVD release) by changing the 4:3 aspect ratio - intended by Kubrick for video release - into a 16:9 picture. A quick comparison with the standard-def DVD reveals that to make the picture a better fit for HDTV, Warner just zoomed in on it, chopping off the top and bottom. Kubrick made the film look like grainy, wartime newsreel footage, achieving its detached feeling in part by shooting actors from a distance, with lots of space around them. This is all lost as the HD DVD pushes us up close and personal. The grain is greatly enlarged, too, so that it looks like there's lots of noise floating around.
The colors, originally damped down by purposely overlighting, are now pumped up, with the overall picture becoming darker in the process. In comparison, the standard-def DVD has much smoother, brighter images and retains the film's drained look. And far from Kubrick's original lean mono sound, the HD DVD highlights the 5.1 mix that has separate explosions and gunfire coming from different areas and boomy Japanese drumbeats pounding from between the left and right channels.
The overall effect of these changes is, to be sure, a greater involvement - but that's the goal of many other war films, not Kubrick's. It's ironic, then, that these "improvements" have been made to a film whose subject is the destruction of individuality for the sake of creating more powerful standardized units.
Jarhead (Universal; Movie •••½, Picture/Sound ••••) begins with a tribute scene to Jacket's opening, as a drill sergeant walks up and down, screaming at Marine recruits. The picture is overlit, overexposed, and leeched of most color except for the gray/sepia that matches the fatigues. Hell, it looks more like Jacket than Jacket does now. Jarhead's stylized photography comes into its own in the desert, showing the brightness of the bleaching sun. Flashback scenes, filled with popping colors, suggest real-world lives left behind, and the brief desert sunsets provide stunningly rich relief. Dried-out flatlands that had looked so undifferentiated on the standard-def DVD now reveal a web of cracks and tracks.
Music is very loud but very clear, and it never drowns out the words - or the quiet rain heard over deeply rumbling thunder. In another movie quotation, Jarhead echoes one of the most celebrated home theater moments: the circling helicopter during the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. In Chapter 17, a jet flies across and off the screen at left. The roar travels down the left side of the room and then crosses behind you - and the jet reappears as a reflection in a window as it dumps its bombs, spreading a giant wave of fire across the screen. The burning oil-rigs sequence in Chapter 16 (another nod to Jacket) is a demonstration moment, too. Beautiful in-depth compositions of spread-out troops are lit by the diabolical flames. The fires rumble on all sides, and the oil patters down onto silhouetted figures.
Second fight: a decisive victory for Jarhead and Universal.
Which makes for a 1-1 draw - so far.
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