Some things are great forever…some have an expiration date. For this fact alone, some “All-Time Greats” need a serious reality check to see if they still stand up or can still be considered great at this present time. Enter “The Wiz Retro Rewind,” where The Wiz re-examines some important and beloved films to see if it’s still good, still relevant or if could be expanded upon or updated.
On this entry, we discuss a movie that has been called a classic and one of the most harrowing accounts of war depicted on film, specifically of the Vietnam War. It was the first movie Oliver Stone directed and won an Oscar for directing and the movie itself. It currently is #174 on IMDb’s Top 250 films of all time list, it’s #86 on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list and was not only Roger Ebert’s Best Film of 1986, it was his 9th Best Film of the 80’s.
Before Oliver Stone became the overly opinionated and political director as we know him, he earned heaps of praise for the Vietnam war movie Platoon, which are loosely based on personal encounters he experienced in the Vietnam War. When people talk about war movies, this movie becomes part of the conversation, almost automatically, of the best war films ever made. It’s up there with Saving Private Ryan, Bridge on the River Kwai, All Quiet on the Western Front.
Yet Platoon came out at a rather strange time: 80’s films aren’t known for their racial sensitivity or their deftness in somber tones and thought-provoking dramas. On top of that, the 80’s were a time when visual effects were only incrementally rising, before computers made more films feel more life-like.
It also stars what are considered to be a rounded list of B-List Actors, such as Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Kevin Dillon, Keith David, just to name a few.
When I set out with this idea of rewatching classic movies to see if they are still relevant, movies like Platoon stuck out in my head, just because of how films now tend to be more grisly and dark.
Truth be told, Platoon might just be a movie that, if you loved watching it way back when, you may want to keep those feelings there and never look back.
A Casualty of War
One problem becomes evidently clear as soon as Platoon starts: the overwhelming feeling of “wait, haven’t I seen this before?” And yes, the old mantra “War is Hell” is something that has been beaten down to us in most military/war movies. But Platoon wears everything on its sleeve with its one-dimensional characters.
Crazy war general who plays by his own rules? Check. Sympathetic person caught in the crossfire? Bingo. Soliloquy of how the poor get shafted? Oh boy is there! This film goes through every single trope when it comes to war and battling that anyone whose seen a good war movie have already seen.
And it’s done with the kind of overacting that only bad 80’s movies can give you. Seriously. Even Willem Dafoe, who is a very good actor, gives one of the worst performances I’ve seen from a great actor (but we’ll get to him later). Every character has the emotional breadth of receipt paper; and there are all just as fascinating too!
Is this necessary for a war movie? Not exactly, but when you’re trying to make it a personal movie about someone’s accounts of war…shouldn’t they, I don’t know, have character? Besides “Naive white boy” and “Crazy talking black man” or “incredibly creepy and homoerotic Jesus Christ figure”?
(Hey guess what, I just did some foreshadowing, which is only half as obvious as how Platoon does it!)
Que the Pyro!
And then there are the action scenes. War, military, hell even standard action movies can still be great decades after when the action is good and sets up a good pace and excitement. The French Connection, Bullitt, Lawrence of Arabia: all older movies, all have action, all still work and are fun to watch.
Platoon‘s action seems so dated that it’s almost laughably bad. Some scenes are hard to follow, others just seem way too choreographed. The blood in the gory scenes are laughably fake (you can also catch some scenes where you can see the packs of blood inside the vests of the actors), but what’s even more laughably bad are the death scenes. Whether you have people just fall down or take long drawn out deaths that feels like it’s going on for minutes on end, there is little believability or emotion that draws you in.
What is the most hilarious thing about the action? The obvious pyrotechnics and dated effects. Explosions feel really over the top, especially during a certain scene that we’ll go over in a minute (foreshadowing again!). Couple that with the laser like bullets that fly in every action scene and you have something that feels more like 80’s action kitsch than a personal, draining and harrowing piece of wartime filmmaking.
And now, let’s get to the biggest issue the film has: Sgt. Elias, played by Willem Dafoe. Do yourself a favor: watch this scene.
Let’s go through some of the things I started thinking about when watching this scene:
“Whoa, I wouldn’t want a dude smiling at me like that”
“You’re getting really close to me Elias…”
“Put my mouth where?”
“Was he coming on to Charlie Sheen?”
This character is so completely out of sync with the film, feels so out of left field from the rest of the movie that it is horribly distracting to watch him in this movie. Before I hear it, yes, I get that Elias is supposed to be the Yin to Barnes (Berenger) Yang, that they are to represent a duality of war. But, seriously, does it have to be THIS obvious?
Finally, the obvious references to Elias being Jesus Christ is so glaringly obvious (it’s not even subtle, people actually say it in the movie!) that it feels like I’m watching an After school Special about religious symbolism.
And his death scene (oops Spoilers!)! Hilariously bad. Who gets shot three times in the chest, then ten minutes later runs through a forest outrunning the entire Vietnam Army, only pretending to get shot with no blood and throwing his hands in the air for 30 seconds before he finally falls down.
I get it Sgt. Jesus, I get it!
Is It Still Good? Is It Still Relevant?
Who Should See It:
Fans of 80’s film and kitsch
Fans of bad movies
Want a Newfound Appreciation of Tropic Thunder
Who Shouldn’t See It:
If your first war films are from the late 90’s and above
If You Don’t Like Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger
If You Liked The Film Before
It’s hard to even remember a movie that has had a harder fall from grace than Platoon. Some movies you can get past themes or elements that just are unsavory or just seem dated. Platoon just feels melodramatic and lacking in subtlety to deal with the subject at hand.
A funny thing happened though after the end of this movie: I appreciated the film Tropic Thunder a lot more now that I’ve seen this movie.
The Wiz Retro Rewind #4