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Blu-ray Reviews: Full Metal Jacket

Originally published in Sound and Image, Oct/Nov 2007, v.21#2
Last updated 28 June 2009

Update (27 December 2008): Warner Bros has released a 'Deluxe Edition' of Full Metal Jacket on Blu-ray, which improves the picture quality and adds some special extras. See here for a comparison between the two versions, including screen shots.

Full Metal Jacket cover Full Metal Jacket
1987 - Warner Bros Entertainment Australia Pty Ltd
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Kevyn Major Howard and Arliss Howard

Movie: 5 Picture: 4 Sound: 4 Extras:

I have always thought of Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam war movie, 'Full Metal Jacket', as two mini-movies rather than one. The first lasts for about 45 minutes, while the second takes us to the end of the piece.

The first depicts the training of a bunch of 1960s Marine recruits and is as startling and original piece of cinema as you are ever likely to see. After a brief opening of the recruits being shorn of their civilian locks, this section opens with a 90 second tracking shot of R. Lee Ermey circumnavigating their confined barracks, delivering as shocking a soliloquy as has ever been seen on screen to introduce them to their new lives. Make sure that the kiddies and other delicate souls are beyond your soundproof walls before you start this disc up. The second half is, basically, your typical tired and cynical 1980s American objection to the nastiness of war. Doesn't matter. The first 45 minutes are what you want this movie for.

The contents of this disc consume 22.2GB of its area, and the movie is only 117 minutes long, and there are no extras to speaker of (just a trailer), yet the MPEG2 video bitrate bobs along around 22Mbps. This is enough, it seems to deliver all the detail, and all the grain, of this film. For there is grain aplenty. In fact, it looks as though the thing were shot on 16mm, although the Internet Movie Database assures me that it was 35mm. I can only assume that the washed out look was Kubrick's intention.

The sound is adequate, in a basic Dolby Digital 5.1 remix from the original mono elements. But this is a movie for the mind, rather than the heart, so it doesn't really matter anyway.

Running time: 117 minutes
Picture: 1.76:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, MPEG2 @ 23.70Mbps
Sound: English, French, Spanish: Dolby Digital 3/2.1, 640kbps
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Features: Trailer (1 min)
Restrictions: Rated R (Australian rating); Region Free

This is the video bitrate graph for this movie, generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

Full Metal Jacket video bitrate graph

A NOTE ON VERSIONS: Reading back on this now (August 2008) I appear to have been too kind. Especially when you look at the comparison shots below. It seems that this Blu-ray is the same as the original US Blu-ray release, to which High-Def Digest gave only two out of five stars for picture quality. Since then a much better version (3.5 stars) has been released. As I write, this has not yet been released in Australia, so if you are planning on buying this movie on Blu-ray, buy the new version from Amazon.com or some such.

Update - 17 November 2008: Warner Bros says that in December 2008 it will be releasing a new version of Full Metal Jacket, at the excellent price of $29.95. This is said to have the following extras:

That suggests it will be like the 'Deluxe Edition' previous released in the US.

Update - 27 December 2008: This new version is indeed labelled the 'Deluxe Edition'. My comparison between the new version and the one reviewed here -- including screen shots -- can be seen here.

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray versions of this movie. This one is a bit tricky because the Blu-ray is presented in a 1.76:1 aspect ratio, whereas the Australian PAL DVD is delivered at 1.33:1. No, it is not a 'pan and scan' presentation, but is the original film frame. The picture was masked off top and bottom for widescreen theatrical presentation, and this is what also appears on the Blu-ray, but apparently Kubrick preferred his original frames to appear on the DVD. Here you can see the difference that the framing makes:

Comparison 1

For the rest of this comparison, at the top of each is the full Blu-ray frame (suitable shrunk down), with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD from the Stanley Kubrick Colection -- which the box says was 'Digitally Restored and Remastered'.

The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For those visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

Despite the fairly low quality of this Blu-ray, it still delivers more detail and slightly more sharpness than the DVD:

Comparison 2

More detail, more sharpness, and a lot more film grain:

Comparison 3

I grabbed some more screen shots but, fact is, I couldn't be bothered editing together any more comparisons. Each shows more of the same: more grain, a touch more sharpness and detail. In short, I suggest that if you already have the PAL DVD of this movie, don't bother upgrading to Blu-ray until the new Blu-ray version is released in Australia.

© 2002-2008, Stephen Dawson