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Blu-ray Review: The Green Berets

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As a wise old nobody probably once said, “War is an all-you-can-eat buffet of hell.” Such a crappy analogy can almost be perceived as true, too — unless John Wayne’s about, of course, in which case the buffet opts to bring out the salad bar and dessert trays as well. And the main course? Ham. Lots and lots of ham. Just look at any old John Wayne war film for confirmation. Bombs go “boom,” guns go “rat-a-tat-tat,” and atrocities are committed all around. In the midst of it all is The Duke running about, making semi-poetic speeches about freedom. Or something along those lines.

And then there’s The Green Berets, another in a long line of routine John Wayne vehicles that takes our hero to the Vietnam War.

OK, off the top of your head, how many pro-Vietnam War films can you think of? Most people would probably be hard-pressed to even think of one, so I guess it’s a good thing that The Green Berets was a John Wayne film — otherwise it would have surely wound up on the Obscure Pro-Vietnam War Film list, right alongside A Yank In Viet-Nam. Controversial in its own day, John Wayne’s 1968 war flick was made at a time in which American citizens were torn about war — and, instead of offering us up with the nightmarish visuals that later films like Apocalypse Now would do, The Green Berets gives us a positively “sunny” (in every sense) look at Vietnam.

The film begins with a group of international journalists witnessing a display put on by the army, to which the members of the press are allowed to ask questions of the soldiers (what sort of strange foreign universe is this?). One reporter in particular, played by The Fugitive’s David Janssen, is not so keen on the war — in fact, he is downright pessimistic about it. Fortunately, the great Aldo Ray is there to explain to him (and the other reporters as well as the audience) that the war is necessary — otherwise, the Communists (remember them?) will surely kill us all in our sleep. It’s really-terribly-awfully-kind-of silly, but it pretty much gives you an idea on how to take the film the rest of the way through.

During the remainder of the 2-hour-and-21-minute epic, we are treated to a rather cordial look at ‘Nam — which looks suspiciously like Georgia and whose Vietcong villains look surprisingly occidental at times. The war is on, and Charlie is close — alas, no one has developed a finely-tuned sense of smell yet in which to sniff him out, so our heroes just have to wait to be attacked. The writing gives us an ample serving of humor (some of the characters would be right at home in a M*A*S*H spin-off), but has no problem switching over to horror when it comes to the battle scenes (which are tame by today’s standards, but still interesting to behold, especially seeing this was a “G” Rated movie and all). And, as always, The Duke marches on, reiterating once again to us (as well as his doomed companions) that what you are bearing witness to is all in the name of freedom. Or something like that.

Oh, well, at least it’s a better film than The Conqueror.

With Blu-ray still a “new” format, it’s always interesting to see what studios will release next. I must confess that I really wasn’t expecting The Green Berets to come marching into the town of High Def so soon. And, perhaps Warner should’ve waited longer on this one — at least long enough to manufacture some new special features. The Blu-ray only houses two vintage pieces in the way of extras here: one is a retro Warner promotional featurette entitled “The Moviemakers,” while the other is the original theatrical trailer. But, in spite of its tawdry bonus features, The Green Berets receives a rather nice 1080p/VC-1 HD transfer. Presenting the film in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, The Green Berets is greener than ever. The colors in particular are as alive as the film’s patriotic message, and does not disappoint when it comes to fiery orange-and-black explosions, lush forests, or that bright red blood Hollywood make-up men were so fond of using back then. The contrast is also nicely done, considering this is a catalogue title.

Are you ready to hear The Green Berets in an all-new 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless mix? Well, too bad — you’re not going to get it with this release. Instead, Warner provides us with just a Mono Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Personally, though, I didn’t find the audio to be all that bad. On one hand, mono is how the film was supposed to sound when it was first released to theaters (minus the “Dolby TrueHD,” of course). The dialogue comes through admirably, as do all of the film’s fight sequences. On the flip side of the coin, though, the mono track offers very little in the way of bass — so the movie can sound rather “tinny” at times. It didn’t affect me one way or the other, though. Additional (original) mono soundtracks are available in English, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.

Admittedly, The Green Berets suffers. It seems to wrestle with its own ego throughout — and gives out under its own weight continuously. The all-too-cheery story, lengthy runtime, and on-screen death of Star Trek’s George Takei don’t help any (no one kills Sulu, dammit!).

But hey, there are two sides to every story, right? Sure, Wayne may have lost a portion of his ass (not to mention credibility) when The Green Berets hit cinemas, but you do have to give the man a little credit here. For one thing, the Conservative Republican actor was able to obtain full military cooperation from Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson during the making of the film. He also managed to make one of the few pro-Vietnam films while the Vietnam War was still going strong. And, no matter what your opinion may be of The Green Berets itself, you cannot deny Wayne a little praise when you stop to think that the film is still being talked about today.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.