Stanley Kubrick‘s Full Metal Jacket is very much a film of two halves: the first focusing on an ensemble of recruits as they’re trained (and remorselessly bullied) by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), in particular the slow-minded Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio); while the second half follows one of the other recruits, Joker (Matthew Modine), during his time in Vietnam writing for Stars and Stripes magazine. There’s little to connect the two halves, but together they both serve as an interesting look at the Vietnam War from a soldiers’ perspective, from harsh military drills to the horrors of combat. The camera lingers on the pain – both internal and external – the characters suffer through, creating a constant sense of discomfort throughout.
The ensemble cast are fantastic, with R. Lee Ermey’s iconic performance as Hartman being an undisputed highlight, but perhaps the real standout of the film is D’Onofrio whose suffering throughout the first half is agonising to watch, and rewarded with arguably the best scene. There’s no happy ending for poor Pyle – or for most of the characters – but his final moments are incredibly tense, aided by D’Onofrio’s incredible performance (he even gets the iconic ‘Kubrick stare’ and Abigail Mead’s eerie score.
Despite its relatively short running-time (the film clocks in at 116 minutes), the pacing is very methodical and precise, often lingering on characters as they react to the horrors around them. In the second half, as each soldier is interviewed in Vietnam, we stay with them and watch their pauses and stammering and the gradual unveiling of their thought processes; who they want to be seen as to everyone watching at home in the USA. While the pacing may often feel a tad too slow, it does allow for these moments of character that would otherwise be lost.
Full Metal Jacket isn’t an easy film to watch – it’s downright unpleasant at points – but there’s no denying the film’s strengths: the terrific performances, the believable dialogue and the staggering production values. There’s no obvious CGI or green-screen work here, with helicopters flying over the heads of actors, large numbers of extras and some terrific set-dressing with the ruined buildings littered around Vietnam. It all feels so tactile, as though you could reach into the screen and touch it all.
For this new 4K Blu-ray release, Warner Bros have remastered the original 35mm print of Full Metal Jacket in Ultra HD, and have presented it in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (although on my screen it looked more like 1.78:1). This new remaster shows off a great level of detail, with clear textures on sets and costumes, but the HDR (High Dynamic Range) grade is a bit of a mixed bag. Some sequences look stunning – like the scene where Joker, ‘Animal Mother’ and the platoon take on a sniper in a ruined building, or the night-time scenes in the barracks, or the colourful hues of the early morning sky – while others can look a little flat, with the occasional highlight (the reflections on Joker’s glasses, fire, etc.) but not too much contrast or definition. The sound quality isn’t amazing either, but both a mono and 5.1 surround-sound mix are included.
Another disappointment for fans is sure to be the lack of special features. While the 4K disc features a commentary (with actors Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey andscreenwriter/critic Jay Cocks), all of the other extras are only available on the standard Blu-ray, and these are limited to a featurette Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil, and the Theatrical Trailer.
Overall, this new 4K Blu-ray release of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket feels slightly lacking due to the aforementioned issues, which aren’t subtle in being missed, especially if you’re hoping for a ‘definitive release of the film – as everything appears to have been imported over from earlier DVD and Blu-ray releases. However, there are two editions on this release, this 4K UHD version and a 4K Ultimate Collector’s Edition with different (and in my opinion, superior) cover artwork, an exclusive 32-page booklet, character art cards, a print of the theatrical poster and a letter from co-writer/director/producer Stanley Kubrick.