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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 1/24/01



Born on the Fourth of July

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

The Films of Oliver Stone on DVD


Born on the Fourth of July: SE (Warner Stone Collection)


Born on the Fourth of July
Special Edition - 1989 (2001) - Universal (Warner)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A-/B-

Specs and Features:

145 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:28:54, at the start of chapter 10), Snapper case packaging, audio commentary with director Oliver Stone, production notes, cast and filmmaker filmographies, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish



Born on the Fourth of July: SE (Universal)


Born on the Fourth of July
Special Edition - 1989 (2000) - Universal

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A-/B-

Specs and Features:

145 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:28:54, at the start of chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director Oliver Stone, production notes, cast and filmmaker filmographies, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish



Born on the Fourth of July (original)


Born on the Fourth of July
1989 (1998) - Universal

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/A-/D

Specs and Features:

145 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2:35.1), Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 1:18:45 in chapter 8), film themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish



Born on the Fourth of July (DTS)

Encoded with DTS 5.1 Digital Surround

Born on the Fourth of July (DTS)
1989 (1999) - Universal

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/A/F

Specs and Features:

145 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2:35.1), Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 1:18:45 in chapter 8), film themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DTS 5.1 and DD 2.0), subtitles: none



"I wanted to be a good American. I wanted to serve my county. I couldn't wait to fight my first war."

Born on the Fourth of July is the true story of Ron Kovic, a decorated Vietnam war veteran who came home after serving his tour of duty to a divided country that couldn't make heads or tails of a war that was happening 18,000 miles away. It's based on his novel of the same name, and director Oliver Stone actually attempted to bring Kovic's story to the big screen a full decade before the film was finally made. When it made it to theatres in 1989, critics once again cheered Stone's ability to bring empathy to an often-misunderstood chapter in American history and his talent at crafting remarkable, individual film art.

At the opening of the story, we meet Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise). He's a high school senior in Massapequa, Long Island who is eager to serve his county and to please his strict, Catholic parents. It's in this portion of the story that Stone establishes the mood of the country at the time - optimistic, but somewhat naive to the building political tensions in both Vietnam and the United States. From there, the story spends a brief amount of time in Vietnam - just enough to see Kovic become paralyzed and one of his platoon members mortally wounded. When Kovic leaves Vietnam, he is transferred to a run-down, understaffed, rat-infested VA Hospital in the Bronx, that looks like something out of a third world country. It's amazing that anyone could make it out of there alive... or with their sanity intact.

But the real tension in the story happens when Ron comes home. His family has changed - his younger brother doesn't like the war, his mother (Caroline Kava) is struggling to understand him, and his high school sweetheart (Kyra Sedgwick) is now an anti-war political activist. And Kovic's own war demons are eating him alive. He's sure that he had something to do with the death of his platoon member, and neither he nor his family knows how to deal with him being in a wheelchair. It's a long road out of hell (both for Kovic and the viewer), but every frame of this movie is worth watching. It puts an emotional face to the war (and its consequences on individuals and society) that was not there before this film came out.

Born on the Fourth of July is an admirable follow-up to Platoon. It's not as powerful a film as its predecessor, but they are entirely different pieces of filmmaking. Platoon was told in a straight narrative style, and its scope of time is limited to one tour of duty in Vietnam. Born on the Fourth of July represents twenty years of Ron Kovic's life. It's split up into four or five different segments, that each could have been built into a full-length feature film. Each is compelling in its own right, but couldn't be more different from each other. Contrast the first half-hour of the film (a nostalgic piece of Americana) with its harrowing middle portion (depicting Kovic's adjustment to life in his hometown and his subsequent alcohol abuse) and you'll realize what an incredible piece of directing this is.

As good as the film is, the same praise cannot be given in regard to its video presentation over the years. Since it was first released on disc, Born on the Fourth of July has had problems with image quality. The first DVD release was a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer with abundant artifacting and film grain. The picture was also very edgy looking. But for what it was lacking, it was still watchable. A year later, Universal released the same transfer on DVD with a DTS soundtrack (which I'll go into further below). Then, late last year, a new "special edition" disc of Born was released, with yet another non-anamorphic transfer. The picture looks a tad unkempt, and the biggest problem is heavy edge-enhancement, which produces ringing in some spots and distracting shimmer in others. Grain is still strongly apparent, but black levels are detailed and solid, and flesh tones are muted but accurate. The source print seems free of most age-related defects, so at least you get a picture that's nearly free of nicks and scratches. Still, while it's not a horrible effort, it doesn't hold up to Universal's other recent work. This is definitely a film that deserves a new anamorphic transfer. Unfortunately, this disc is the same one you'll find in Warner's new Oliver Stone Collections, just in new Snapper packaging.

Both the original DVD and this new version feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It's a subtle but potent mix, that's not engineered to grab your attention, but rather to add dimension to the film. The front end of the sound field is robust and detailed, with discreet use of left and right panning. Most of the workout in the mix happens in the fifteen minutes that take place in Vietnam, and you'll hear quite a bit of action in the surround portion of the sound field as well. Throughout the rest of the movie, the rear channels are reserved for John Williams' beautiful score. Noticeable depth is added to the mix in the low-frequency channel, which really comes in full-throttle when it's needed. The DTS 5.1 version of the film is only slightly better than the Dolby Digital mix. The low-frequency channel is a tad more active, and added dimensionality is garnered from slightly more aggressive use of the surround speakers. The DTS mix is a bit more natural sounding, but it's not something worth hunting down unless you're really an audio junky or sound purist.

Extra-wise, the earlier DVD versions give you only production notes and a cast and crew index. The new "special edition" version does throw a few more things in, but it's a mixed bag. I find Oliver Stone's commentary tracks to be some of the more captivating ones on DVD, and this one is no exception. He shares quite a bit about his techniques as a director and a storyteller, as well as information on Ron's story. It's obvious from the start of the track that Stone feels a strong personal connection to this story. This is a rare commentary that's worth listening to from beginning to end. The production notes do provide more details on the making of the film, but they also repeat some of what's said in the commentary. Strangely, the film's theatrical trailer is nowhere to be found on this new DVD. All in all, I would have liked a lot more for such a highly-regarded film.

Born on the Fourth of July is a great film. It's the middle section of Oliver Stone's "Vietnam Trilogy", and it's notable as a turning point in Tom Cruise's career - the role finally gained him respect as both an actor and a bankable star. Cruise carries this movie from beginning to end, and his transformation from gung-ho teenager to outspoken, battle-worn war hero is a real eye-opener. The latest DVD presentation could definitely be stepped up a notch or two on the quality scale, but if you like Oliver Stone and you like the movie, this disc is a decent way to enjoy it.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com

The Films of Oliver Stone on DVD

Born on the Fourth of July: SE (Universal)


Born on the Fourth of July (movie-only)


Born on the Fourth of July (DTS movie-only)


The Oliver Stone Collection (6-film)


The Oliver Stone Collection (10-film)


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