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?
Tags: screenwriting, Platoon, Oliver+Stone