Released at the start of the Iraq war in 2005, Jarhead was labeled as an un-patriotic film as it portrayed the Marines as they sat around and questioned the need for war. Culled from the memoirs of sniper Anthony Swofford, Jarhead fits into the same category as other classic war films like Platoon or Born on the Fourth of July, although considering it’s initial reception I doubt it will stick out in movie goers memories as strongly as the aforementioned classics. Which is really a shame, as Jarhead is a fascinating movie…even if it’s something we’ve technically seen before.
Jarhead (the self-imposed moniker of the Marines) follows Swoff (Gyllenhaal) from a sobering stint in boot camp to active duty, where he sports a sniper rifle through Middle East deserts that provide no cover from the heat or Iraqi soldiers. Swoff and his fellow Marines sustain themselves with sardonic humanity and wicked comedy on blazing desert fields in a country they don’t understand against an enemy they can’t see for a cause they don’t fully grasp.
Although a war movie, Jarhead is nowhere near as active of a film as the deluge of World War II efforts we’ve seen over the years. Instead, the film focuses on a group of marines during Desert Storm that…well, really didn’t do much of anything. It’s not necessarily a tale about the right or wrongs of war, so much as just a recounting of one soldiers time during Desert Storm. Because it doesn’t cram down any kind of morals down our throats or even really serve a purpose other than to tell a story, Jarhead is a highly entertaining piece based on pure history alone.
Of course you can’t assume everything in this film is verbatim as it happened; even though it’s based off of the real life Swofford’s memoirs, I doubt every detail is pitch perfect. Despite that I find myself wrapped up in these types of films more than I would had this just been a purely fictional account; knowing that at least some of it is true makes all the difference in the world. Of course there are others who may dismiss the film as purely too talkative or boring, but during the entire duration of the film I really was just enthralled with this world of the marines.
No doubt there are some issues to be had with the film in that, as mentioned previously, it really isn’t a new tale. We are deluged with stories of soldiers coming back shells of what they once were, but often those stories are followed by some string of physical trauma sustained by battle. In the case of Jarhead, these boys simply didn’t see any combat and the only time any of them fired their rifle was during a celebration that the war had ended. Yet they still came back, distressed and torn about their time in that desert; not that it’s terribly surprising, mind you, but its’ still interesting to see how the conditions and not just the actual combat experiences can mess with one’s head.
Overall the film is an impressive at just how flat out boring being a Marine can be at times. Although they were trained to go at a moment’s notice, an air strike inevitably took out their target before ground troops mobilized fast enough. There are some “shocking” elements in the film that may offend viewers who aren’t prepared for things a bunch of twenty year old men do around one another, but all in all this is great film if only for its historical elements. I was engaged from beginning to end, which a mild surprise is considering true story war films can sometimes drag in the middle. I guess I was just surprised at how entertaining it was to watch bored marines. Recommended.
Jarhead arrives on Blu-ray alongside The Kingdom in another “action” pack from Universal. The film arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with the usual Universal Blu-ray insert advertising their line of titles available, as well as a small tutorial on U-Control extras. Menus are the usual Universal “blade” system and disc art mimics the cover art.
Video comes in the form an VC-1 encoded video transfer that brings the brilliantly saturated and sometimes blinding white cinematography of this film to life. The grain level remains high and intact throughout and every grain of sand that flies into the face of the soldiers is clearly defined. The night time sequences are nice and dark and once the oil wells go up the burning red glows against the dark sky. It’s quite a brilliant bit of film, as Jamie Foxx character remarks, you don’t often see burning oil wells in the middle of the desert. Sadly that bit is rather lacking in detail, with an overly soft appearance given to the film; but other than that, the film looks terrific.
Audio for this film comes in the Universal favored DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 variety and, as one expect, it sounds fantastic. Although it’s true there is a lot of “sitting around” in the film, there are moments of gunfire and explosions, and each one is fully felt courtesy of the LFE channel. Surrounds kick up occasionally but not as often as one would hope, but between the music that is played during the marines celebrations and the helicopters and jets that fly overhead, this is an active mix…just don’t expect a ton of ceiling dust to fall from this one. Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks are available, as are English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
Sadly with the inclusion of a DTS-HD MA mix (a first for this film, as the HD-DVD release had a standard DD+ 5.1 track), it seems we lost the rest of the extras that came from the two-disc and HD-DVD releases and instead were given only the two commentary tracks as our extras. First is the Audio Commentary with director Sam Mendes track which has Mendes talking about his reasons for doing the film as well as the difficulties of making such a film. The second track is an Audio Commentary with screenwriter William Broyles Jr. and author Anthony Swofford, which is decidedly more focused on the writing and military life that Swofford himself experienced. Of the two I found the Broyles Jr. and Swofford track to be the most enlightening, if only because I find it invaluable to have commentary from the soldier whose life this film is based on.
Overall Jarhead is a great looking and sounding Blu-ray release, but it isn’t the type of film that begs to be seen in high-definition, especially when there are so many more extras available on the two-disc DVD or single disc HD-DVD edition (although both are now out of print, but oh well). If you don’t already own the film and don’t care about the extras, then this one is Recommended.
Jarhead arrives on Blu-ray on November 25th.