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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rewatching Platoon

Spoilers (but if you ain't seen the film in the last 19 years, it ain't my problem!)

I just rewatched Platoon, which I hadn't seen in a number of years. The main thing that spurred me to watch it was that it was one of the screenplays I referenced in my "Verbalizing the Visual" seminar at the Expo.

First, a brief note about the seminar. Essentially, I took well-written excerpts of memorable visual sequences from various screenplays, and examined/highlighted the specific techniques the different writers used to turn the images into words on the written page. The scene I used from the Platoon script (by Oliver Stone) was the plot-significant scene in which Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) murders Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe).

I pointed out how the script did a wonderful job of delivering character through this action scene. But I was actually mildly disappointed when I watched the film now. Two of the details I picked up on in the screenplay as evocative and/or significant were actually dropped from the final production. One was a subtle bit of description, actually split between two "scenes" (since it is all continuous and in the jungle, it is hard to call them "scenes," but they do have separate sluglines). Barnes is described as "moving through the jungle... resetting his course. Like a hunter stalking a deer." Then later, when Elias comes face-to-face with the rifle-wielding Barnes, things click and he knows what is about to happen. "Quick as a deer, he makes his move, trying to plunge back into the bush."

I really liked the way they were tied together with the animalistic/deer reference, and clearly on opposite sides. It was subtle, and simply meant for the reader. Obviously, there was no way we'd make a connection between hunter and deer while watching the sequence. Still, I glommed onto it, and appreciated the description. But then, during the scene, Elias never makes that move. He just stands there, and Barnes shoots him before he even makes a move. Not really a big deal, but disappointing nonetheless.

Also, immediately after that point, in the script we see the following lines: "Elias jerking backwards into the bush, mortally wounded. Bird cries. A crime against nature." I loved that piece about the bird cries as punctuation to the scene. Except, you guessed it -- no bird cries in the final film. Again, not a major thing, but disappointing nonetheless.

Finally, I realized another thing that bothered me about the film this time around. Mind you, I really love the film, and think it is one of the better Vietnam movies, if not one of the better war films overall. Still, through the film, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) is the humanizing voice. He fights against Barnes' murderous and barbaric impulses. He yells at the soldiers for raping the Vietnamese woman. And overall he is a voice of reason, or at least commentary on the insanity of the war. Then, at the end, he is pushed to the edge, and murders Barnes in cold blood, getting his revenge for both the murder on Elias and his attempted murder of Taylor himself. I have no problem with this shift in character, and in fact think it is one of the major points of the film.

What I do have a problem with is the aftermath of this event. As Chris leaves, and is airlifted away, he is perfectly calm, and even lighthearted and happy. Just a few minutes after going against his very nature to murder his nemesis in cold blood. It left me feeling empty, after a film of emotionally powerful scenes. Anyone else ever notice this? Or am I just overanalyzing?

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Blogger Matt Waggoner said...

I watched Platoon years ago, so I don't recall the scene exactly, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a deliberate choice by Stone, to show that the madness of war has even affected Taylor to the point where he's no longer haunted by his actions, or some such.

I bet it's the kind of question he'd love to answer, though, if you could get it to him. :)

11:31 PM  
Blogger Star Effer said...

interesting to read your points. though I too was attached to the moments you referred to in the script, these examples illustrate to me very clearly the challenges filmmakers face when translating a script to screen: nothing ever turns out exactly the way it's written. production is controlled chaos. actors, weather, budget and so many other factors can change the outcome of a scene. too bad it's not like claymation - total control over environment and performance.

in the movie, when Barnes shoots Elias, it comes after Elias smiles, dropping his guard - an "Oh.. it's just you" moment. I like this much better than the way it's written (as a deer sprinting into the forest). for some reason they chose to use this performance over the one that was scripted (and most likely shot). in this case, i'm glad they did.

i always try to remember when I write that if I'm lucky enough to have a screenplay produced it would be impossible to shoot the script as written word-for-word. it must be translated into the visual realm (with all its limitations and advantages), and things will always get lost in the translation.

forgive me for saying this, but i don't believe that the script is the "bible" of the movie. it is merely a blueprint. and the old maxim that a screenplay gets written 3 times (once at the script phase, once in the production phase, and lastly in the post-production phase) is sad, but true.

sorry for the obnoxiously long comment and thanks for the thought-provoking post!

10:03 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

No Fabe, no need to be sorry. I liek the post. But it's kind of funny. Even though it wasn't written in there, I kind of "saw" Elias' smile in there anyway. Maybe it's because I saw the film before i read the script. But in the way that the script has Barnes lower his rifle for a moment, then reraise it, it sort of implies a changed reaction, where Elias would feel safe at first. It does mention that after Barnes reraises and sights his rifle, that "In that moment, Elias understands." Still, you're right.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

There has been a scene of this movie that has sort stuck to my conscience. After he kills Elias.

When Barnes goes in and picks a fight and he's surrounded by those guys, as he walks out he says "I shit on all of you" That whole scene from start to finish is great.

I wish I had the dialog from that scene. (it's more like a monologue)

11:40 AM  
Anonymous alveni said...

I'm awfully late with this comment, and maybe it was mentioned before (it's my first comment to a blog at all) -- but have you noticed that in the script the motif of a deer is somehow attached to Elias? As if it was his totem animal (in the script Elias was described as an Indian). In the script Elias is talking about coming back in his next life as a deer, and after the final battle the first thing Chris sees after waking up is a deer. As if Elias really came back.

I was always wondering what the heck the deer is doing in that movie. As I finally read the script, my reaction was like: "I KNEW there was something special about the animal", but to be honest I'm not sure if leaving it in the movie would make it better.

10:18 PM  

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