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The beauty of Oliver Stone's HEAVEN & EARTH ($25) lies in the fact that it is unlike most other movies that deal with the Vietnam War experience. Instead of showing the war from the vantage point of American soldiers, HEAVEN & EARTH details the brutality of this war through the eyes of a Vietnamese peasant girl named Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le). Growing up, Le Ly feels the opposing political forces in Vietnam pulling at her, despite living in a remote village. As the situation intensifies, Le Ly finds herself tortured, raped and forced to flee her tiny village. Unfortunately, Le Ly finds life in the city little better, and after having an illegitimate child, she succumbs to the temptation of prostitution for the quick and easy money.

The turning point in the film comes when Le Ly meets a U.S. serviceman named Steve Butler (Tommy Lee Jones), who marries her and takes her to America. Although, Le Ly makes a new life for herself in the U.S., she discovers that there is no such thing as "living happily ever after," even though she has left the war thousands of miles behind her. HEAVEN & EARTH is a powerful and involving movie, but it is also dark and disturbing in its dealings with the realities of war. The lead performances in the film are truly compelling, especially Hiep Thi Le, who has the awesome task of carrying the film on her shoulders. In addition, director Stone creates images of compelling beauty and savage horror during the course of the movie. The cast of HEAVEN & EARTH also includes Haing S. Ngor, Joan Chen, Dustin Nguyen, Michael Paul Chan, Conchata Ferrell and Debbie Reynolds.

Warner Home Video offers HEAVEN & EARTH on DVD in a wide screen presentation that restores the film's 2.35:1 theatrical framing and the disc features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. The sharp and well-defined image truly shows off the beauty Robert Richardson's cinematography with all of its subtle lighting variations. Colors are strongly rendered, although the flesh tones remain perfectly natural. None of the film's vibrant hues show even the barest hint of chroma noise or smearing. Blacks are dead on, plus the picture offers a superb level of shadow detail. The film element utilized for the transfer if free from distracting blemishes or overt signs of grain. Competent dual layer authoring minimizes digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack features an aggressive mix that utilizes the format's capabilities quite well. All of the discrete channels are fairly active throughout, creating an enveloping sonic environment. Directional sound effects are convincingly placed in the both the forward and rear soundstages, plus the surround channels provide plenty of ambient and musical fill. The mix can explode into battle mode and then effortlessly slide back into a more understated sound. Dialogue reproduction is clean and crisp, plus there is a very good level of intelligibility despite some heavy accents. The bass channel is full bodied and powerful when it has to be, but it usually just adds a nice, tight bottom end to the music and sound effects. A French Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some nice supplements. Director Oliver Stone provides a running commentary for the film in which he talks in detail about the production, in addition what he did to translate Le Ly Hayslip's real life story to the screen. Also included on the DVD are nine deleted/extended scenes from the film that total about fifty minutes. Since HEAVEN & EARTH is a fairly lengthy film, it is obvious that all of the deletions were made to bring the running time to a more commercially feasible level. The scenes can be viewed with or without director's commentary. A theatrical trailer and cast/crew filmographies fill out the supplements.

HEAVEN & EARTH is a complex and unforgettable movie about the Vietnam experience that should be seen. Warner's DVD looks and sounds great, making it the best way to see the movie outside of a theater.


Heaven & Earth - Oliver Stone Collection



DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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