We Were Soldiers (2002)

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Released 1-Nov-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Deleted Scenes-10 +/- commentary
Audio Commentary
Featurette-Getting It Right
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Radio Spots
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 132:50
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (46:14) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Randall Wallace
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Mel Gibson
Sam Elliott
Chris Klein
Barry Pepper
Madeleine Stowe
Keri Russell
Greg Kinnear
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Nick Glennie-Smith


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Based on the book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young written by the real Lt. Col. Hal Moore and photographer Joe Galloway, this is a moving account of the 1965 battle of Ia Drang Valley during the Vietnam War. Directed by Braveheart writer Randall Wallace, it stars Mel Gibson as Lt Col. Moore, though he is by no means the focus of the story. He's a charismatic and inspiring leader and is firm in his belief that no man, dead or alive, will be left behind on the battlefield. He is also the first to set foot on it and the last to leave. In the early days of the Vietnam War, his commanders want him to lead a group of only 395 soldiers from an elite division into battle against a number of North Vietnamese that is at a minimum estimated at 2000, but could be many more. This was one of the first major battles of the Vietnam War. An intense fire fight ensued in the Ia Drang Valley and many lives were lost on both sides.

    The story follows not only the battle but the lives of the fighting men back in their homes before they were shipped off to 'Nam. We see Moore, the family man with his brood of children and his steely resolved wife, Julie (Madeleine Stowe). Moore dispenses all manner of advice and kindly words to his children and also to a new father in his command, Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein of American Pie fame) whose wife Barbara (Keri Russell - TVs Felicity) has just delivered a baby girl. Once the men have left for battle, the story cuts back regularly to the base to see the wives supporting each other. Later, as the bad news of casualties filters back home, we see the delivery of the dreaded telegrams. The telegrams are delivered by taxi, and the appearance of the yellow car at certain moments does lead to a certain number of contrived scenes, but it is a device that does work quite well to convey the sense of loss.

    The supporting cast do a fine job. Sam Elliot is as gruff as ever as Moore's right-hand-man Sergeant Major Plumley. Greg Kinnear is chopper pilot Major Bruce Crandall, and though he doesn't get much dialogue, his role is pivotal to the story and he carries it superbly. Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan) plays Joe Galloway, the photographer who finds he gets a little more than just pictures to shoot. Chris Klein is solid in his role as the young and wide-eyed officer.

    I enjoyed We Were Soldiers for a couple of reasons. In addition to the excellent action scenes and rip-roaring soundtrack, one of the strengths of the film is that it relates the story of those family members left behind at home as well as the soldiers in the battle. We see not only the professional fighting men shipping off to war and the reality that they may not return, but the effects that this has on their loved ones. We also see more of the enemy than just the usual faceless hoard. We see glimpses of them in their tunnels, and come to the realisation that they too have loved ones at home and are also human. It is also a Vietnam war film without a political agenda underlying the plot. There are no demonstrators or politicians posturing for mileage out of the battle, and the soldiers get the job done with a minimum of fuss. It is still an anti-war war movie, but according to the real Hal Moore, if there is a  lesson to be learnt from this story, it is simply to "Hate war, but love the American warrior".

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I was quite disappointed with the early scenes of this transfer as they are dominated by excessive grain. From the making-of featurette, it sounds like an artistic choice from cinematographer Dean Semler, but I still found it quite distracting, most especially during the family scenes on the base. Once the action moved to Vietnam and the battle intensified, the grain was still present though was not as big an issue as it was not as noticeable

    The transfer is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It is also 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is sharp enough to be considered better than average, though is not the absolute best I have seen, with some scenes exhibiting a certain softness, while others are very sharp indeed. Shadow detail is well formed and consistent. Given that there are many dim and near pitch black scenes in the highlands, shadow detail in these scenes is handled very well. As mentioned earlier, there is significant grain present which is quite annoying at times. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are excellent, though not as saturated as they could be - they lean to a washed-out, muted style of palette. Again this is most likely an artistic choice, in a similar vein to Saving Private Ryan where most of the colour was removed. Skin tones are perfectly natural and the blacks of the highlands at night are solid and true. There are no problems associated with the colours.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts. There are a few minor traces of aliasing, most notably at 17:42 on a soldier's uniform. There is a significant moiré effect at 26:54 on a television screen. Film artefacts are few and far between which given the youth of the material is not surprising.

    Only two subtitle options are available,  these being the standard English variety and the additional bits featured for Hearing Impaired viewers. I had a quick look at both and found them mostly accurate and nicely presented.

    This is a dual layered disc featuring RSDL formatting. The layer change occurs quite early at 46:14 just before the main battle commences, which is just as well, as after this point the action doesn't let up for around forty minutes.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Despite some reservations with the video, there are no such problems with the audio soundtrack. This is so good it has become my new reference quality demo soundtrack. During the major battle scene there is an absolute cacophony of sounds. There are bullets and mortars of varied calibre, bombs and napalm shells, and choppers and fighters buzzing overhead. It is a truly superb enveloping and aggressive soundtrack and a credit to those who worked on it.

   There are two audio soundtracks on this disc. An English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at the higher bitrate of 448 Kb/s is joined by an English Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary track. I listened to both tracks in their entirety.

    Dialogue is occasionally a little softer than I would like, but it is still understandable. There are no audio sync problems.

    The musical score is by Nick Glennie-Smith. During the lead-up to the battle of Ia Drang it is rousing and stirring. When the battle is over it is both poignant and touching.

    The surrounds barely get a minute without something flying out of them. The battle scene between 48:15 and 58:35 is the early highlight with just about constant surround use for bullets, napalm and mortar shells, bangs, crashes, screams, and anything else you are likely to encounter on a battlefield.

    There's plenty of subwoofer use too, as one would expect from a war film featuring plenty of rather large explosions, bombs, napalm, and the like. Seamless and well defined, it adds plenty to the listening experience.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

    Leading in to the main menu is a full Dolby Digital 5.1 introduction with Mel Gibson's character Lt Col. Hal Moore reciting his speech to his troops that no man will be left behind on the battlefield.

Menu Animation & Audio

    I haven't come across too many menus that you could use to demonstrate a 5.1 speaker setup, but this is a darn good effort. This is a full Dolby Digital 5.1 animated menu screen that shows off a sort of montage of the film. It starts out with choppers flying straight overhead and whizzing around the room - great stuff.

Scene Selection Animation & Audio

    Fully animated scene selection windows with the sounds of helicopters buzzing around in addition to some film score.

Deleted Scenes

    There are a total of ten deleted scenes, running from 58 seconds to 3:23 minutes each, with most running for at least 2:00 minutes. They come with or without commentary from director Randall Wallace. I've always found deleted scenes much more interesting with the commentary track on, as you get a real feel for why they were deleted in the first place, and here Wallace provides full length commentaries on each scene and his reasons for their removal. They bit the dust mostly for pacing reasons or because they were inappropriate for the context of the plot. They are presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and are not 16x9 enhanced. Audio is provided by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. There are no subtitles available for either the normal scene or the commentary track.

Audio Commentary - Director Randall Wallace

    Screenwriter, Director, and Co-Producer, Randall Wallace wore many hats for the making of this film. Here he shares his thoughts in a screen-specific commentary track. He comments on the technical and production techniques and some of the problems that had to be solved. He discusses his thoughts on the story and his desire to make sure he got it right. He also discusses and offers some critical assessment of the actors. A worthy commentary track that added some real value to the package from a director destined for big things.

Featurette - Getting It Right

    Running for 25:35 minutes, this is a documentary style featurette that highlights the pains the director, cinematographer, production designer, and actors went to to ensure that the film was authentic as possible. Lt. Col. Hal Moore wrote in his book We Were Soldiers Once...and Young that Hollywood had never got the Vietnam war experience correct. Director Randall Wallace was adamant that this film would be as faithful as possible to that experience. It has interviews with director Randall Wallace, Mel Gibson, other cast and crew members, and most importantly the real Hal Moore. It features stacks of behind-the-scenes footage that show how all manner of scenes were constructed.

    This documentary is presented in a full screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with excerpts from the film shown at 1.78:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced. Audio is provided by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. There are no subtitles available.

Theatrical Trailers

    Two trailers are shown sequentially. The first, running for 1:09, is more of a teaser trailer, while the second is far more detailed at 2:36. They are both presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and are 16x9 enhanced. Audio is provided by a Dolby Digital Surround 2.0 soundtrack. Both trailers are rather good in that they show the themes of the film without needing to spoil the actual plot.

TV Spots

    Four TV spots running sequentially. The first two run for 30 seconds each and the latter two for 15 seconds each. Presented at 1.78:1, they are all 16x9 enhanced.

Radio Spots

    A 30 second and a 12 second radio grab that are really just rapid-fire advertisements announcing the film is coming soon to cinemas.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The menu introduction on the Region 1 disc is significantly different to the Region 4 as is the actual menus themselves. The other major differences are with soundtracks and extras.
   

The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on;

The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on;

The same concerns over the amount of grain are raised in the couple of reviews I found. Unless you have EX decoding capablities, I don't see any benefit in obtaining the Region 1 version. If you do, then you may consider that enough of an advantage to import. I don't feel that the extra extras (!) on the Region 4 are enough to sway favour for it over Region 1. From all this information I can say that both discs have their respective merits and I'll willingly call it a draw.

Summary

    We Were Soldiers is a moving account of a significant battle of the Vietnam War, and while displaying plenty of good old-fashioned chest-beating and American jingoism, it is superbly crafted and acted. Most importantly it offers a slightly different perspective on war that is usually missing from films of this genre, with scenes showing that the enemy soldiers are also human with family and loved ones of their own. Seeing the effect of the war on the family members left behind makes for a more profound impact than the normal gung-ho battle film.

    The video has its flaws, most notably excessive grain that while maybe an artistic choice, does deter from the viewing experience. To be fair, it is most notable in the first thirty minutes and does not become as bothersome once the action moves to Vietnam. There are few other problems with the video transfer.

    The audio is of reference quality. I cannot remember a soundtrack that offers so much surround activity for such extended periods, coupled with deep rich bass response for the many and varied explosions. I loved every minute of this.

    The extras are substantial and of decent quality. The making-of featurette in particular is excellently conceived and a notch above the standard puff piece.

    Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Sunday, September 01, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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Comments (Add)
r1 we were soldiers - DarkEye (This bio says: Death to DNR!) REPLY POSTED
re: r1 we were soldiers - Roger T. Ward (Some say he's afraid of the Dutch, and that he's stumped by clouds. All we know, this is his bio.) REPLY POSTED
Cheers to the overseas edition,including SINGAPORE's R3 release -
R4 is Dolby Digital Surround EX -
Audio Dropout..... - Alex H (My biography...in 500 words or less!)