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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 1/24/01

Heaven & Earth

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Films of Oliver Stone on DVD

Heaven & Earth

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Heaven & Earth
1993 (2001) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A/A

Specs and Features:

140 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:13:43 in chapter 24), Snapper case packaging, audio commentary by director Oliver Stone, 9 deleted scenes with optional Stone commentary, cast filmographies, Oliver Stone biography and filmography, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (46 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 3.0), subtitles: Portuguese, Spanish, English and French, Closed Captioned

Phung Thi Le Ly Hayslip (Le Ly for the rest of this review) is a young girl growing up in a small village in Vietnam. Life is the same for her as it was for her parents and her parent's parents, and all is good in the world. The gods are in their heaven and on Earth, people coexist in quiet tranquilly. But that's all about to change. War is coming to Vietnam, and with war comes death and the end of childhood innocence. Le Ly is about to become a new person. Some of the things she'll do will be great and some will be awful, but all will be proof that she's still alive. And for her, that's all that matters. Based on two biographies by the real Le Ly, Heaven & Earth is an incredible story of how people live through adversity and make a name for themselves. On the road of her life, Le Ly will go from peasant girl, to Viet Cong, to street hustler, to housewife and eventually a triumphant success in America. Bad things come with the good, but Le Ly never lets any of it get her down.

Oliver Stone has written strong male characters throughout his career, so it's nice to see that his voice is just as powerful when expressed through a woman. Stone's also mostly written from an American perspective, which makes it all the more interesting to see how he tackles the native point of view of the Vietnam war. He depicts the Vietnamese people - including the Viet Cong - with a surprising degree of compassion. This is really a film seen from their perspective, and it just goes to show you that often, the only real difference between good and evil is which side of the fence you're sitting on. Here, Le Ly experiences things no women should ever experience, and the pain of these moments rushes over you like a crimson wave. It's hard to shake... and yet, Americans supposedly did these things to these people for the sake of honor, duty and patriotism. We imposed our own worldview on farmers, children and innocent villagers, and then couldn't understand why they had the audacity to fight back. It's really stomach turning when you think about it.

Of course, Heaven & Earth is still a Stone film through and through. That means it's long, windy and could have ended in about three spots before the actual ending. But to be fair, Stone pulls so much from these characters that you can't help but want to keep watching. This is a haunting film, filled with hope, redemption and (in a wacky way) patriotism. Is Le Ly a born again American in the end, or does she still cling to her Vietnamese roots? Neither, I think. She clings to her spirit and her role as a human - something a lot more of us could probably stand to do.

Warner's new DVD version of this film is nothing short of stellar. The anamorphic transfer is beautiful, if not flawless. The colors are bright and rich, blacks are solid and the picture detail throughout is dead on. I really don't have anything critical to say, especially since this movie has more than three hours of information crammed onto one side of a dual-layered disc. It just looks great. The audio is also very good - as rich as the video in many ways, with nice ambient surround work and thrilling bass. It's not quite DTS quality, but it's damn good for Dolby Digital 5.1.

What really helps this disc shine is the extras. First up is the commentary track. Stone is always intelligent, informative and gracious on these tracks, and this one is no exception. Here, he talks about his experiences in Vietnam, the filming process and the real Le Ly. Next up are a collection of deleted scenes from the film, with optional commentary from Stone. The major part of this is an alternate opening sequence. I like the actual film version better, but here you get to see Stone's early concept. Some of this was shuffled into the film, but seeing how it was conceived in script form, and then changed during the editing process, is really neat. The Stone commentary on the deleted scenes is just as good as in the film - it's pretty much scene specific, with a little run-off here and there. The DVD also includes a cast filmography section, a bio of Stone and the film's original theatrical trailer.

Hey... you can't go wrong with Oliver Stone on DVD it seems, and Heaven & Earth is no exception. As much as I love Warner's Oliver Stone Collection, I can't help but wish that their Kubrick Collection titles had gotten the same quality treatment. We've heard that oversight will be rectified in the future (we hope, fingers crossed). But in the mean time, having this library of Stone films on disc is pretty spectacular. Do yourself a favor and pick up Heaven & Earth, or any of these discs. Most of them will probably filter out for purchase as single discs soon, so you won't have to spring for the whole box. But believe me, for fans of film, DVD and Oliver Stone, the Oliver Stone Collection may just be worth the price.

Todd Doogan
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The Films of Oliver Stone on DVD

Heaven & Earth

The Oliver Stone Collection (6-film)

The Oliver Stone Collection (10-film)

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