Thursday, January 10, 2013

Good Morning Vietnam Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
For the first time in Blu-ray High Definition, Academy Award winner Robin Williams (Best Supporting Actor, Good Will Hunting, 1997) delivers a tour-de-force performance in the 25th Anniversary Edition of the hit comedy Good Morning, Vietnam!  Enjoy the improved digital sound quality of Blu-ray High Definition as Army deejay Adrian Cronauer (Williams) spins a red-hot soundtrack of ‘60s hits.  His sidesplitting comedy and rapid fire wit make him a hero to the troops, but quickly get him in hot water with his by-the-book superiors.  Featuring a behind-the-scenes look at Williams’ hilarious radio monologues, Good Morning, Vietnam remains the quintessential Robin Williams comedy.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

The film opens in 1965 with Airman Adrian Cranauer (Robin Williams) arrives in Saigon to work as a DJ for the Armed Forces Radio.  He’s met by his new assistant Private Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker) to meet his new superiors including Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sergeant Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh).  It isn’t long before they let Adrian know how unhappy they are with his behavior on the air.  They resent his irreverent comedy and his choice of rock and roll music for the troops which goes against their wishes.  The only thing that keeps Adrian on the air is the fact that his show is enjoyed by Brigadier General Taylor (Noble Willingham) who has final say.
Adrian quickly notices the pretty Vietnamese girls around and follows one of them to an English class where she along with some others are learning English from one of the American officer.  After bribing the teacher to allow him to take over the class, Adrian puts his plan into action to learn as much as he can about the girl.  He learns that her name is Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana) and that she has a brother named Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran). Instead of teaching them the normal English curriculum, Adrian starts to teach the class American slang to much humorous effect.  After being warned by Tuan to stay away from his sister, Adrian tries to befriend Tuan by taking him to Jimmy Wah’s, a local bar that’s frequented by the American soldiers.  When two soldiers try to kick Tuan out of the bar, a bar-fight starts which gets Adrian in even more hot water with Dickerson.
Adrian’s show continues as does his teaching and things are going well overall and even Tuan finally agrees to set up a date for Adrian with his sister that includes the whole family.  The friendship between Tuan and Adrian has grown over time and Adrian finally starts to get to know Trinh who remains somewhat remote.  Between his unrequited attraction to Trinh and the stress of dealing with his superiors, Adrian goes for a drink in Jimmy Wah’s but is urgently enticed outside by Tuan who tells him that his sister wants to see him.  Moments later, the bar explodes from what is later determined to be from a bomb that was planted within it.
Shaken and shocked at the devastation the bomb caused, Adrian runs back to the radio station to report on it, only to be told that he can’t report it since the whole incident has been censored.  Infuriated, Adrian locks himself in the studio and reports the bombing until Dickerson cuts off the broadcast and suspends him.  Hauk, who always thought himself to be funnier than everyone else around him (including Adrian), takes over the show but his lame attempts at comedy and his choice of polka music drive the listening soldiers crazy.  Soon, a ton of letters from servicemen arrive demanding that Hauk be removed from the air and for Adrian to be re-instated.  General Taylor (who always liked the show) orders that Adrian be put back on the air much to Dickerson and Hauk’s anger.
When Garlick finds a despondent Adrian in a bar drinking, he tells him the good news only to find that Adrian doesn’t want to return to do the show. He’s had enough of being censored and always having to worry about Dickerson and Hauk.  Garlick reminds him how much the servicement fought for him to return to his job, but it’s only during a traffic jam that Adrian starts to understand how much he means to the GIs once they discover who he is.  Adrian does an impromptu live show for the men before they are sent off to fight and is touched by how much laughter seems to help them on their way.  Knowing that many of those men won’t return, Adrian is re-energized and returns to the air to do what he does best – making people laugh and forget their troubles for awhile.
Soon, Adrian will learn that in wartime, everyone has their own agenda and that danger lurks around every corner, even in forms that one may not expect.  Friends may not be all they seem and enemies may be more ruthless than anticipated.  We see just how far Dickerson is willing to go to remove Adrian from the air and also learn the truth about others as well.  By the end of the movie, Adrian is more than happy to leave Saigon and its surreal and frightening atmosphere.  The war continues along without Adrian, but he knows he did his best to make things better for the men while he was there.
Good Morning Vietnam is a perfect showcase for Robin Williams’ talents.  As a world famous comedian, it allowed him to do the improvisations that he’s famous for, but it also gave him a chance to show his dramatic range as well. Unlike a completely dramatic movie like Good Will Hunting, (that he won an Oscar for) this movie was a perfect blend of comedy and drama.  Williams is surrounded by some of the best character actors in this which only makes the movie even better.  When you’ve got Forest Whitaker, J.T. Walsh, and Bruno Kirby in supporting roles, that’s a powerhouse group that raises the quality to a new level.  I especially like Walsh’s vindictive Dickerson and Kirby’s clueless Hauk who were on a completely different but entirely realistic wavelength than Adrian.  The last half of the movie comes as something of a shock where the tone of the movie shifts into a darker place when we learn how far some people will go to achieve their goals.  This is one of Robin Williams best roles (if not the best) and his best collaboration with director Barry Levinson.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.85:1) transfer isn't perfect but it’s a lot better than the previous DVD release.  DNR has obviously been used but not entirely abused with closeups looking pretty good and not overly waxy.  Colors fare better and the lush green jungle looks especially good when Adrian is sent outside of the studio.  Black levels are decent but not as deeply solid as I would have preferred.  I think most people will be happy with this picture quality as it is an improvement over the earlier releases but it could have been better.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Good Morning Vietnam’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also decent but nothing special.  This is a front heavy mix that almost entirely uses the front channels with only a token effort to use the rear channels.  During scenes in the bustling city of Saigon, there’s some atmosphere captured along with some directionality, but not as good as it could have been.  The only aspect of this mix that comes off well is the fantastic songs from artists like The Beach Boys and James Brown that are peppered throughout the movie.  When the songs are on the mix comes to life and they sound great and I wish the rest of the mix matched that presentation.  The mix is acceptable but should have been a lot better especially since Disney usually provides incredible sound on their discs.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)  

There’s not a lot here but what is here is pretty good.  The production diary is the highlight of the extras with a comprehensive look at the production of the movie and it’s path to the big screen.
  • Production Diary - This is a fairly extensive look behind the scenes of the movie, with a running time of 35 minutes that covers just about every aspect of the making of the movie.  We primarily hear from director Barry Levinson, producer Larry Brezner, the real Adrian Cronauer), and a lot from screenwriter Mitch Markowitz. There’s also some interviews with some of the cast and crew who talk about making the movie.  This diary is broken into the following segments including: “How the Movie Came to Be,” “Actor Improv,” “Music of the Movie,” “Origin of the Good Morning Vietnam Sign-On,” “Shooting in Thailand” and “Overview of the Film a Year Later.”  This is a great behind the scenes look at the movie and it was interesting to learn how the movie and what really happened were different.
  • Raw Monologue – A thirteen minute look at one of Robin Williams uncut monologues where he improvised his radio address and tried different approaches.  As a fan of Williams, I liked this look at his process where we see him trying out jokes and impressions and seeing what worked and what didn’t and refining it.
  • Teaser  Trailer
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is a fun movie and it’s one that Robin Williams fans will enjoy but I wish Disney had put out a better Blu-ray and had spent time restoring the video and remastering the audio.  The extras are pretty good but it would have been nice to have a commentary with the cast and director and it seems like a no-brainer to offer a Williams commentary which would have been hilarious.  Despite its limitations, I still recommend this disc since this is still the best way to see and hear the movie at this time, at least until the next big anniversary edition is released.
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