Heaven & Earth

This review is sponsored by


Details At A Glance

Category Drama Cast & Crew Listing
Audio Commentary - Oliver Stone (Director)
Deleted Scenes (with Director's Commentary)
Theatrical Trailer
Rating m.gif (1166 bytes)
Year Released 1993
Running Time 135:40 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (70:46)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Oliver Stone
WarnerBros.gif (2960 bytes)
Warner Home Video
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Hiep Thi Le
Joan Chen
Haing S. Ngor
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $36.95 Music Kitaro
Randy Miller
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 dolbysurround.gif (1982 bytes), 192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    The short story is that Heaven & Earth is a film written and directed by Oliver Stone, based upon two books. The first is When Heaven And Earth Changed Places, by Le Ly Hayslip and Jay Wurts. The other is Child Of War, Woman Of Peace, by Le Ly Hayslip and James Hayslip. You know that when you get a film about the American "police action" in Vietnam that is directed by Oliver Stone, there are no half-measures or pleasantries involved. The other two films Stone has made on the subject, Platoon and Born On The Fourth Of July, have told the story of American soldiers fighting for a cause they weren't fully informed about. This film concentrates on the life of a woman from Vietnam and the American soldier she eventually marries, before, during, and after the war.

    The film begins with the childhood of Le Ly Hayslip (played as a five-year-old by Bussaro Sanruck) in the Southern half of Vietnam. After we hear some explanation of how life worked in the villages and their rice plantations, we are shown the horrors that the French colonialists inflicted upon the people, with Le Ly's village burned down. As she grows up, the adult Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le) witnesses the Viet Cong marching into her village, with her two brothers joining to fight in their cause. As brutality is displayed by both sides in the conflict between the Communist liberation forces and the French colonial government, Le Ly's younger brother, Sau (Dustin Nguyen) is killed by the American soldiers. As Le Ly progressively involves herself more and more in the war, the South Vietnamese soldiers eventually come after her. After Le Ly is brutally tortured by loyalist South Vietnamese soldiers, her mother (Joan Chen) bribes one of the guards into releasing her. Unfortunately, this draws the suspicions of their fellow villagers, and the Viet Cong come to make an example of her.

    After leaving the village, Le Ly and her mother go to work as servants in the house of a rich man by the name of Anh (Long Nguyen) in Saigon. After Anh sleeps with Le Ly, however, Madame Lien (Vivian Wu) has them thrown out, with Le Ly working on the streets of Da Nang while her mother returns to the village. After a while of roughing it on the streets and making her money any way she can, Le Ly returns to her village to see her dying father, only to find him in worse shape than she imagined. He dies shortly after her visit, and Le Ly travels to Saigon, where she meets Steve Butler (Tommy Lee Jones), an American soldier who is much different to all the American soldiers she has met thus far. At first, she just wants him to leave her the hell alone, as she expects him to be just like the others, but his kind, polite demeanour eventually wins her over.

    This is where I will stop the plot summary for those who haven't seen the film already, so you can have a look and judge for yourselves whether the film was successful in telling the other side of the story behind the only war in the last century where the losers got to write the history. The film is worthy of looking at for its beautiful photography, and the story told is a remarkable one, so I have no qualms about awarding the plot a four-star rating.

Transfer Quality


    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

    The transfer is extremely sharp at almost all times, with plenty of fine detail and life in the picture. Occasionally, close-ups of swaying grass would become somewhat blurry, but this appears to be a perfectly natural feature of the photography. The shadow detail is very good, with plenty of subtle levels of detail in the darker sections of the image. There is no low-level noise.

    The colour saturation in this transfer is rich and vibrant, with numerous shades of green in particular being displayed with great depth and clarity. Even the scenes in America have great depth and contrast in their colours, although the colour scheme used to simulate suburban environments of the late 1970s is positively revolting. There are no problems with bleeding, oversaturation, or composite artefacts.

    MPEG artefacts were not a problem in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of aliasing, most notably in the opening credits, with the superimposed texts shimmering quite annoyingly. The aliasing was quite noticeable during the first half-hour of the film, but it managed to settle down to a more acceptable level for the rest of the film. The only problem was the consistency of the aliasing, with wooden slats and tiled roofs being affected whenever they featured in panning shots. Film artefacts consisted of a few black and white marks on the picture here and there, but these were perfectly acceptable within the limits of a seven year old film.

    This disc uses the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 70:46. This is as the doors to Le Ly's home in Saigon are closed, and it is noticeable on my Toshiba SD-2109, but it is placed well enough to minimize the disruption.


    There are three soundtracks presented on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 384 kilobits per second, an Italian dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 384 kilobits per second, and an English commentary track in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. I listened to the English dialogue and the commentary.

    The dialogue is difficult to understand a lot of the time, mainly because of the very thick accents with which most of the actors speak. Indeed, the rapid and accented speech of the Vietnamese characters at some points had me turning on the English subtitles within a matter of minutes, more out of frustration than any great desire to understand what was being said. This made it all the more obvious when the subtitles and the spoken words weren't even close to being a perfect match, which was about ten percent of the time. Thankfully, the dialogue delivered by the American characters was a lot clearer and easier to understand, with no real problems to speak of. Audio sync wasn't a problem at any point, either, although the rapid speech of some characters often made it seem otherwise.

    The score music is credited to two sources: Kitaro and Randy Miller, although the latter wasn't originally credited, an oversight that has been rectified on this DVD. Much use is made of oriental-style themes during the majority of the film, and a perfect balance is struck between a credible Asian style and the usual clichés associated with this style of film scoring. During the scenes in America, much use is made of contemporary music from the 1970s in order to give the locations the appropriately alien feel that the story demands.

    If you want a disc with which to demonstrate your Dolby Digital setup without relying on huge action sequences, then this is a good choice. The surround channels are used throughout the film to support the sounds of passing aircraft, passing cars, burning villages, the music, and just about any other ambient sound you can imagine the film's setting throwing at them. They were all used to create an immersive, frightening, and truly enjoyable sound field that only stops for a few brief occasions when the film focusses more upon the dialogue. The subwoofer was used constantly to support explosions, aircraft, gunshots, and other such bass-heavy effects, which it did without ever becoming conspicuous. All in all, this is an excellent audio transfer that draws the viewer straight into the film and never lets them go until it is all over.



    The menu is static, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. The frightfully small font made navigation a little more difficult than usual, even for me.

Audio Commentary - Oliver Stone (Director)

    This audio commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. Oliver Stone speaks quite frankly about his reasons for making the film the way he did, the amount of time he spent with Ly Le Hayslip and learning about his subject, and other revealing facets of the production. The commentary is littered with pauses that get longer as the film progresses, as if he is running out of steam. In spite of this, Oliver Stone's commentary is really quite fascinating, with a lot of time devoted to the aspects of the book that he deviated from in his film, although it is very difficult to get through it all in one sitting. Oliver Stone's denunciations of political correctness, however, make all the effort worthwhile by themselves.

Deleted Scenes (with Director's Commentary)

    A collection of several deleted scenes and alternate edits presented in a singular featurette with a choice between commentary by Oliver Stone in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, or Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo production sound. The video is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio, this 186 second trailer is rather misleading in its representation of the film as part of a trilogy. The trailer is of excellent audio and video quality.


    As far as we have been able to determine, there are no specific censorship problems with this title.

R4 vs R1

    The two versions of this disc are fundamentally identical, making the local disc the version of choice due to PAL formatting.


    Heaven & Earth is a very different film about the Vietnam war, one that will make you think differently about the history of the conflict and how it affected the people who fought in it.

    The video quality is very good except for a slight problem with aliasing.

    The audio quality is excellent, offering a subtle demonstration tool.

    The extras are limited, but very good.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)
Audio sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)
Extras sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sgh.gif (874 bytes)
Plot sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)
Overall sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)sg.gif (100 bytes)

© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
April 11, 2001 

Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer