War comedies are not exactly the easiest thing to pull off. There is the obvious example of Dr. Strangelove, which is a hilarious parody, but for the most part war is not exactly something to laugh about. Well, real war anyway, of we are talking about a fake war created for the purpose of a movie, that is something different, like Tropic Thunder, or dealt with in an over the top fashion like the Rambo movies. Good Morning, Vietnam is not like any of those movies in that it is an at times uproariously funny comedy that also deals with a very real war situation.
This is a movie that was a very questionable production. The Vietnam War is not really fertile ground for comedy, but an inkling was found thanks to veteran Airman Adrian Cronauer, portrayed in this film by Ronin Williams. Now, this is not exactly a biography and much of the story has been factionalized, but the seed of reality is there and the tone has a realistic feel to it. Cronauer has been quoted as saying this movie is about 45% accurate.
The story centers on a military DJ, Cronauer, transferred from Crete to South Korea to help raise morale. Before long he finds himself at odds with his commanding officer as he has a different idea of what music people want to hear and how the comedy and news should be presented. His show came complete with over the top comedy, rock and roll music and a desire to give the people real news, not necessarily that which has been sanitized. Then things take a turn and the reality of the situation comes crashing down on him. I am getting ahead of myself.
It is hilarious watching Robin, err, Adrian do his thing on the radio. It is almost like they wound him up, pointed him at the microphone and just let him go. The monologues almost feel like we are front row at one of Williams' stand up shows. The irreverent attitude, the crazy voices, and the fact that all the soldiers loved him and the brass hated him. Then things take a turn and that reality steps in change the path of his radio career.
Besides his irreverent radio show, we get to watch him try to met a young Korean woman, make friends with a young Korean boy, and teach a class in English. It is during these off times when Adrian barely escapes a bombing of a GI bar. This changes Adrian's outlook and pushes him into the reality of the conflict around him and the very real dangers that threaten him and everyone everyday.
It is interesting to see these dramatic moments interspersed with the big comedic bits. In particular the changes in Adrian's outlook. Sure, he continues to be at odds with the officers, but he realizes something else about himself and what he means to the soldiers who listen to him.
Good Morning, Vietnam is a really good film. It is really funny yet never loses focus on the drama. It is a delicate balance that director Barry Levinson keeps in place. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Robin Williams delivers what is among his best performances.
Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 ratio and looks good, if unspectacular. The transfer has decent color levels, but it seems to have been scrubbed a bit. It seems to have lost a bit of that filmic quality along the way. Still, it is not a bad transfer, the colors are well represented, see the explosion sequence and those greens when Adrian crashes in the jungle.
Audio is delivered in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. It is not the best track I have ever heard, but I suspect some of my problems lies with the original design. The sound is very front heavy, which is probably the way it should be, considering how big a part Robin Williams plays. It is not a bad track, it does the job well.
Extras. This disk has a few extras hidden away. First up is a production diary that runs just about 35-minutes. This video is pretty good, it features interview clips with cast and crew and even with the real Adrian Cronauer. The other feature is an unedited clip of Robin Williams doing his monologue, interesting watching him work.
Bottomline. This is a funny movie that is actually more effective than I remember it being. I mean, it has been a long time since I have seen it. In any case, the real star of the show here is, of course, Robin Williams and he really gives a performance of surprising depth. Definitely spend some time with this.
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Good Morning, Vietnam on Blogcritics.