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Good Morning Vietnam (Special Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Good Morning Vietnam
Touchstone Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, J.T. Walsh, Robert Wuhl
film release year: 1987
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture rating: Two-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Paul Lingas
“Good Morning Vietnam” is interesting in that it is a movie about Vietnam that tackles the subject with both humor and honesty. This is why it was perfect for Robin Williams to showcase both his comedic talent and his at that point burgeoning dramatic acting abilities. We find ourselves in Saigon, 1965, when airman Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) arrives from Crete to take over the morning show on U.S. Armed Forces Radio Saigon. Cronauer immediately makes friends with his aide Ed Garlick (Forest Whitaker), but makes enemies of his superiors, the uptight Lt. Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickerson (J. T. Walsh).

Cronauer is in the Air Force but not a military type, something that annoys the utterly strict Dickerson, a tough former Special Forces man who has been shunted into radio. While Cronauer was brought in to boost troop morale, no one is prepared for just how funny he is. He begins his 6 AM show with the sign-on shout “Good morning, Vietnam!” and continues to make fun of everything from the weather and the state of the conflict to the President and the Pope. Not only does Cronauer display an irreverent attitude over the airwaves, he only plays rock and roll, something that annoys Hauk, who is not comfortable allowing the men in the field to listen to “wild stuff.” Cronauer shrugs these things off and continues to do radio the way he wants, much to the delight of his coworkers and the G.I.s he serves.

All of Cronauer’s time is not spent at the station, however, and he inculcates himself into life in Saigon. Trying to win his way into a Vietnamese girl’s heart, he takes over an English class that she and her brother Tuan are taking. Cronauer shucks aside the boring lectures and instead teaches his students how real people speak on the streets of America, introducing them to slang and other fun stuff (another opportunity for Williams to freestyle). Cronauer soon befriends Tuan, who teaches him subtle things about the local culture, all the while keeping Cronauer at bay from his sister.

Director Barry Levinson does a great job of blending and juxtaposing the elements of comedy and wartime drama in the film. This really serves two important purposes: it helps to provide a more realistic war setting to what was a horrible situation, even at that early stage of the conflict, and it also shows just how much of an impact Cronauer and his style of deejaying had on the morale of the troops and the persnickety nature of the U.S. Army. Robin Williams is quite good in the moments when he is allowed to improvise and also at the other dramatic times. Though he had done other dramatic roles at this point, this film was considered the first true indication of his abilities as a purely dramatic actor. The supporting cast does a fantastic job, owing in no small part to Levinson’s ability to work well with actors. The soundtrack also became quite famous and, as producer Larry Brezner points out, many of the songs became more famous after the release of the movie and its soundtrack than they were at the time of their original release in the 1960s. In short, “Good Morning Vietnam” combines humor and the seriousness of war in a way that helps to amplify the importance of a morale booster like Cronauer and others who work tirelessly to alleviate the intense stress and hardships that occurred in Vietnam and happen in any combat zone.

For a special edition that came out 18 years after the film’s release, this is a mixed bag in terms of the DVD itself. The production diary is lengthy without being boring. There is no way to tell for sure when the interviews were taken, but they seem to have been done sometime in the late 1990s. The interviews are cobbled together, but it is interesting to note just how much each of the actors, director and producers remember about the details of the production. Even Bruno Kirby mentions that, apart from “The Godfather Part II,” “Good Morning Vietnam” is the film he enjoyed making the most. The best bonus is the interview with the real Adrian Cronauer, on whose life the film is loosely based. Cronauer provides insight into what in the movie is accurate and what was changed or amped up. He bears no ill will toward the filmmakers, understanding that his life was simply the template for the script, something that writer Mitch Markowitz and director Levinson both comment on. The only other bonus feature of note is the “Raw Monologues,” which are raw takes of Robin Williams doing his routines as a deejay. These are hyped as being “hilarious,” but they feel a bit flat and repetitive, especially if you’ve already seen the film. Combined with the fact that it doesn’t last very long, the monologues are disappointing.

This is a technically sound though less than thrilling DVD. The sound has been remixed into 5.1 channels, but only in English. Having owned the original VHS version of this film, the new mix is a big step up and they did a good job converting it. Sometimes when stereo mixes are put into 5.1, they flub it a bit, essentially changing the dynamics of various sounds, but this is not the case here. The transfer itself is about as clean as one could hope for in a 1987 release that doesn’t have a ton of money behind a super-duper clean up of the original film negative(see “Star Wars”). The film is crisp and clear, resembling its original self in tone, clarity and contrast, and the only blemishes are the occasional motes and specks of dust that crop up now and again at the reel changes.

For those who enjoy good dramas, good comedies, war movies and the comedic genius of Robin Williams, “Good Morning Vietnam” is a must-see. This special edition is special mostly because it provides a clean transfer and a crisp new 5.1 channel sound mix. This is all that’s really needed from a movie that holds up so well and that is widely regarded as one of the finest wartime comedies ever.
more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound; French Digital Stereo
aspect ratio(s):
1.85:1, Enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
special features: Production Diary: How the Movie Came to Be; Actor Improv; Music of the Movie; Origin of the “Good Morning America” Sign-On; Shooting in Thailand; Overview of the Film a Year Later; Raw Monologues; Original Theatrical Trailer; Original Teaser Trailer
comments: email us here...
reference system
TV: 43" Sony KP-43HT20
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
main speakers: Venturi V820
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Tannoy PBM 6.5

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