Hamburger Hill

John Irvin’s “Hamburger Hill” arrived on the heels of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” and somehow got lost in the rush of imitators. Unlike the endless stream of Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff Vietnam action films, “Hamburger Hill” had something more serious on it’s mind.


Unlike Stone’s “Platoon” and the others, “Hamburger Hill” was based on an actual battle.

hamburgerhillThat alone lends the film a resonance the others lacked. Like Stone’s “Platoon,” Irvin’s film was filled with graphic war images that are hard to take. It’s not pretty, but then that’s the point. Irvin and screenwriter Jim Carabatsos didn’t set out to make another user friendly war film. They wanted to show what it was like for the average grunt who had to endure the hardships of war. Featuring an outstanding cast of actors just making their mark, the film takes no prisoners. Even though you try to warm up to the characters, the film maker’s make it instantly clear from the beginning that this is war, and in war, people die. That makes it harder to warm up to the characters, knowing that any moment they could get killed. Yet, thanks to the wonderful cast and excellent direction, you can’t help but close to the men of Bravo Company, who have been assigned to take Hill 937. It was the bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War. 10 days of uphill carnage that took 70% casualties. The death toll was so high that the survivors named the hill “Hamburger Hill.” Shot in the Philippines, “Hamburger Hill” looks and feels authentic. Carabatsos wisely avoids the first act, get-to-know-the-platoon cliches. Instead, he dispenses them throughout the film, giving the down time between attacks some relevance. Indeed Carabatsos does pull out the usual Kit Bag of cliches, but they are attacked with such conviction by the cast that they seem fresh. Irvin knows action, and delivers the good during the film’s horrific battle scenes. These incredible scenes are a ballet of explosions and stunt work that are both unnerving and realistic. Soldier’s get ripped apart. As one soldier desperately tries to reach command on the field phone, he’s so in shock that he doesn’t notice his arm has been blown off. While their faces are more than familiar now, audiences back in 1987 were just discovering the likes of Dylan McDermott, Steve Weber, Don Cheadle, Courtney B. Vance, Michael Boatman and Tim Quill. They’re a likeable group who make the most of their screen time. While “Hamburger Hill” isn’t the definitive Vietnam movie, it does stand above the pale imitations that say nothing about the human condition. This movie is smarter than that.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ X ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

While some scenes look flat and lack depth, the rest of the digital transfer of “Hamburger Hill” is a stunning collection of vivid images and outstanding color saturation. Some scenes by nature lack definition, but others are excellent in their contrast and quality. The jungle greens look natural, while the flesh tones are uncannily realistic. There’s lots of carnage in “Hamburger Hill,” all perfectly captured in the haunting reds. Transferred in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, there’s very little compression artifacts. There are some flaws on the original negative, but nothing tragic. One little note: In scene 30, about 45 seconds into the scene, you can see the out-of-focus outline of an ant crawling across the camera lens. The DVD has been enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Explosive, thundering remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track puts the war right in the middle of your living room. The basses shake the rafters, while the high ends capture the chaos of war with perfection. Ambient noise is sensitive but not definitive, while the stereo separation lends an eerie honesty to the flying bullets and mortars. The dialogue mix is superb. Even during the most chaotic moments you can still hear every word. The real treat is Philip Glass’ haunting musical score that sounds absolutely stunning. No noticeable hiss or distortion.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Poor

No closed captions or subtitles. Live with it.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Excellent fully animated main and scene access menus that capture the gritty reality of the film. The scene access menus feature clips from each scene, a major plus in my book. You also get the film’s original theatrical trailer.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

The soldiers in the film may take a beating, but this DVD is alive and well.

VITALS: $24.95/Rated R/110 Minutes/Color/36 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#60495DVD

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: HAMBURGER HILL

BIRTH DATE: 1987

HMO: Artisan Entertainment



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