Monday, May 15, 2006

Full Metal Jacket: Cropped to Perfection? WTF

So Warner announced that Stanley Kubrick's psychological War Is Hell masterpiece FULL METAL JACKET is coming out on HD-DVD May 16th. Truth be told, this is the very first movie to be released in HD-DVD that has me even remotely interested in buying, and I imagine it'll be a good year before there are any BLU-RAY titles so badass that I NEED to own them at 1080p. Give it time. I'll be owned by the new formats soon enough.

Here are the specs on the new FMJ HD-DVD, stolen shamelessly from
  • 1080P High Definition 16x9 1.78:1
  • Dolby Digital-Plus: English 5.1, French 5.1 and Spanish 5.1
  • English, French and Spanish subtitles
Extras consist of a standard definition trailer... and, that's it. There's plenty of books about Kubrick if you want to learn more, and I'm honestly grateful they don't have somebody else going a commentary or, something. It's also the same price as the current DVD (MSRP, at least) and I'm sure we'd pay more if they'd whipped something useless up. But screw extras... what the fuck is up with those specs?!

Where to begin, where to begin... first off, I don't mind French and Spanish dubs included. I like fucking with language tracks and all that. But the purist in me - and in all of us - should demand the original audio track, at the very least for comparison's sake. It's entirely possible that this new track is 5.1 Mono, in the way that most current DVD's have 2.0 Mono (with the same audio slapping you from both speakers)... but there's no indication of this. Infact, early reviews say the 5.1 mix is "subtle, appropriate". And yet, he requested the film be shown in Mono in theatres, even when Dolby Stereo was the standard of the time.

There's also the aspect ratio. Fullmetal Jacket - along with a few of Kubrick's other later films (including my least favorite Kubrick, EYES WIDE SHUT) - were all shot 1.37:1, basically "fullscreen". FMJ was released in theatres cropped to 1.85:1 ("Normal widescreen" - not "Ultra Wide", that's scope crap) in the US, and is presented slightly less cropped on the HD-DVD. Kubrick knew this would happen. But he shot the film in 1.37:1 regardless... curious why?

What neither Warner nor reviewers will tell you is that Full Metal Jacket, released in 1987, was one of the very last Hollywood films to be mixed in mono, and one of the few to be shot in 1.37:1 before the home video boom. Kubrick demanded mono for a very simple reason: Stanley Kubrick wanted the movie to look and sound like a documentary. It wasn't a war epic: it was a war tragedy inspired by the TV broadcasts America was bombarded with it's original living room war. The look and tone of the film is cinema verite; Full Metal Jacket was meant to be a realistic experience. The most personal and shocking news reel imaginable. Full Metal Jacket was never meant for home theatre, it was meant to play with the viewer's perceptions and emotions... not show off their pretty TV's and speaker setups.

So, what will I be doing for Fullmetal Jacket when I finally bite the bullet and buy a bigazz widescren TV? Hook my DVD player up to it and watch the film window-boxed and in mono, the way that Kubrick and God intented. I'm all for upgrades, but when the upgrade is specifically going against a deceased director's intentions... ugh. Wonder how long it'll be until we have CITIZEN KANE THE ULTIMATE EDITION: not with 30% LESS picture so you can fill your widescreen TV! After 25 years of pan-scanning for square sets, it's only a matter of time. *Shudder*

There are a lot of movies I can't wait to own in High Definition. But if the studios releasing them are going to butcher the look and sound of the film to fit the expectations of the cinemaphile... well, I'll stick to my goddamned DVD's and the occasional Laserdisc, thanks.

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