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Touching on Touchstone

Good Morning, Vietnam: Special Edition DVD Review

Good Morning, Vietnam movie poster Good Morning, Vietnam

Theatrical Release: December 23, 1987 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Barry Levinson

Cast: Robin Williams (Adrian Cronauer), Forest Whitaker (Edward Garlick), Bruno Kirby (Lt. Steven Hauk), Robert Wuhl (Marty Lee Dreiwitz), Noble Willingham (Gen. Taylor), J.T. Walsh (Sgt. Major Dickerson), Richard Edson (Pvt. Abersold), Juney Smith (Phil McPherson), Tung Thanh Tran (Tuan), Chintara Sukapatana (Trinh), Richard Portnow (Dan "The Man" Levitan), Floyd Vivino (Eddie Kirk), Cu Ba Nguyen (Jimmy Wah), Dan R. Stanton (Censor #1), Don E. Stanton (Censor #2)

Songs: Lawrence Welk - "Around the World in 80 Days", Them - "Baby Please Don't Go", Bob Dylan - "Ballad of a Thin Man", Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello - "Beach Blanket Bingo", The Rivieras - "California Sun", Sounds Orchestral - "Cast Your Fate to the Wind", Marvelettes - "Danger, Heartbreak Ahead", The Beach Boys - "Don't Worry Baby", Perry Como - "Dream On Little Dreamer", The Vogues - "Five O'Clock World", Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders - "Game of Love", Lawrence Welk & Myron Floren - "Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight", The Beach Boys - "I Get Around", James Brown - "I Got You (I Feel Good)", Lawrence Welk - "I'll Never Smile Again", Wilson Pickett - "In the Midnight Hour", Adam Faith - "It's Alright", Lawrence Welk & Myron Floren - "Kit Kat Polka", The Castaways - "Liar Liar", Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass - "Acapulco", Jack Jones - "Lollipops & Roses", Martha Reeves & The Vandellas - "Nowhere to Run", Ray Conniff - "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", The Searchers - "Sugar and Spice", The Beach Boys - "Warmth of the Sun", Louis Armstrong - "What a Wonderful World", Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames - "Yeah Yeah"; Cast - "My Boyfriend's Back", "Puff the Magic Dragon", "Rawhide", "You Keep Me Hangin' On", "Like Tweet", "Get a Job"

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In 1984, the Walt Disney Company launched the Touchstone Pictures banner with Splash, a PG-rated romantic comedy/fantasy that handily became the studio's top-grossing work in an otherwise dormant year (reissues of Pinocchio and The Jungle Book were the only other reels sent theaters' way.) The following year, box office performances seemed to suggest that animation would always be Disney's predominant forte; a trio of dramatically affecting and darker than usual live action productions (Return to Oz, The Journey of Natty Gann and One Magic Christmas) earned no more than $14 million individually, the second and third Touchstone releases (Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend and My Science Project) did not make great dents in the charts, and summer animated release The Black Cauldron, the top-grossing new film with over $21 million, was clearly
outdone by the Christmas reissue of 101 Dalmatians. But in 1986, the Touchstone division produced results that proved Disney could earn a significant percentage of the film market beyond the family demographic; its top three domestic earners (Ruthless People, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and The Color of Money), each R-rated Touchstone works, proved to be nice mid-sized hits ending up in the top dozen performers for the year and combining for a North American gross of nearly $200 million.

If there was any doubt to the validity of Disney's goal to make non-family movies, 1987's numbers removed it as Disney's top four films again hailed under the Touchstone name and included the first and fourth top-grossing films of the year in holiday season releases Three Men and a Baby and Good Morning, Vietnam, each earning well over $100 million and easily deserving classification as a "blockbuster." The latter provided the breakout film hit for Robin Williams, an energetic comedian who spent four seasons headlining ABC's alien-on-Earth sitcom "Mork & Mindy" but found little public recognition in his first seven years of film. Williams did earn acclaim for his performance in 1982's The World According to Garp and a Golden Globe nomination for 1984's Moscow on the Hudson, but it was Good Morning, Vietnam, tailored to Williams' impression-heavy stream-of-consciousness brand of comedy, which really landed him on the map and erased the memory of his previous high-grosser, the critically-thrashed Popeye. Eighteen years and a few weeks from when Good Morning took to theaters, Disney has seen fit to revisit it as well as Williams' subsequent Touchstone hit Dead Poets Society in a pair of low-priced single-disc Special Editions.

In Good Morning, Vietnam, Williams plays Adrian Cronauer, a U.S. serviceman who is transferred from Crete to Saigon in 1965 during the early stages of America's military presence there. Cronauer is renowned for his skills as a radio disc jockey; General Taylor (Noble Willingham) is a big fan of his work and the other GIs stationed in Saigon are excited to know Cronauer by more than reputation. Not everyone believes in Cronauer's style of comedy or musical tastes, however. His two immediate supervisors, Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh) assume the positions of antagonists of the comic and severe varieties, respectively. In broad strokes, Hauk is painted as someone who doesn't know a thing about what is funny despite his self-proclaimed interest in the subject; he also heartily objects to Cronauer's reliance on rock 'n roll over tried-and-true favorites like Lawrence Welk, Perry Como and polka. Seen less frequently, Dickerson (like many of the late Walsh's characters) is a tough-talking, easy-to-dislike man; his days of combat behind him, Dickerson is relegated to exerting authority in the docile setting of military radio.

Grossing more than $100 million in the United States alone, "Good Morning, Vietnam" put Robin Williams on Hollywood's map of comedic actors who can draw crowds. No-nonsense Sgt. Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh) takes an immediate disliking to Cronauer.

The most enduring images from the film are those of Cronauer on the air, where he churns out bizarre impressions, off-the-wall jokes, and popular songs that have aged better than the quieter types of music that military radio preferred to play. Undoubtedly, these moments play like "Robin Williams Meets the Vietnam War." Those around Cronauer immediately take a liking to him and his early morning radio program brings in unusual amounts of fan mail, but the powers that be don't appreciate his trailblazing, envelope-pushing ways. On the side, Cronauer takes an interest in a young Vietnamese woman and pays his way to become the teacher of her Army-offered English class. In this role, Cronauer also breaks from tradition, instructing his diverse class of Vietnamese people some practical uses of the English language, like how to properly employ profanity. He fraternizes with Trinh (the object of his unlikely affections), her more articulate brother Tuan, and to a lesser degree, their family and his other classmates too.

If you chart the character and plot arcs of Good Morning, Vietnam on a subsequent viewing, you notice they do seem a little contrived and should be shorter on surprises than they initially were. There is no question that the movie still makes for an entertaining and interesting two hours much different from what one considers the typical Vietnam War movie (the class for which Apocalypse Now and Platoon seemed to set the standard). But in this case, it's good that the first impression is a lasting one, since the movie's greatest potency comes when you haven't before seen it.

Good Morning, Vietnam hasn't held up as well as other films which may supplement comedy with another genre or a more captivating story. That seems inevitable since the portions of Williams (or Cronauer, though as supplements reveal, there seems to be more of Williams than the real life Cronauer to the character) in the radio booth rely heavily on pure punchlines. Giving Williams significant chunks of time solely to provide rapid riffs likely seemed wise at the time (and the solid box office returns would vouch for), but years later, it leaves the film as merely amusing not laugh-out-loud hilarious as its structure clearly expects. Revisiting the film is not unlike returning to a stand-up comedy act; even the funniest routines won't deliver the laughs they first did unless many years have passed and the bits have been utterly forgotten. The curious result is that the parts that were likely deemed the most riotous upon its release are now among the less affecting.

This still illustrates the different reactions Cronauer's program is met with: discontent befuddlement (Bruno Kirby as Lt. Steven Hauk) and heavy laughter (Richard Edson as Private Abersold). Adrian teaches the Vietnamese people the finer points of cursing.

Fortunately, Good Morning, Vietnam provides more than a showcase for Williams' zany humor. It depicts a well-documented period in time from an unusual perspective. Though the chief element of war (the fighting) is almost entirely absent -- an unsettling bombing is a central act and a jeep-derailing road figures significantly later on, but that's about all that's seen -- one certainly gets the sense that Cronauer is a figure who is able to lift spirits at a time when that is deeply
needed. The military's interest in covering up the discouraging facts of the war and the very necessity of the conflict itself are both called into question, but the politics of the setting is never as important or satisfactorily covered as the human drama in the foreground. The movie also succeeds most heartily as a music video - montages set to the period's enduring contributions to American music (like The Beach Boys' "I Get Around" and the mildly anachronistic "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong) are as effective without dialogue as anything else to convey the look and feel of the depicted time. Even someone with only a casual familiarity with early '60s pop must admit that the soundtrack goes quite a distance to liven up the film.

The cast of Good Morning, Vietnam is divided into two clear groups. There's Robin Williams, who is in full form here, and there's everyone else. Williams may have one of the most compelling and yet inconsistent filmographies of the past twenty-five years. He's capably pulled off award-worthy work in smaller dramas (Awakenings, Good Will Hunting), filled multiplexes with his flashy, high-energy comedy performances (Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire), found mixed responses when trying to blend the two (Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man), and shown a surprising ability to creep out in unsavory roles (One Hour Photo, Insomnia). Good Morning, Vietnam may not be his most praiseworthy film credit, but it is one of his more commendable turns. In this movie-carrying act, the comedian unleashes his unique talent to spurt off-the-wall ad-libs at lightning speed but he also fares quite well in the film's quieter, more dramatic demands. This Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-awarded performance won't convert those unimpressed of his charm, but it does underscore his versatility and charisma.

The supporting cast is populated with a number of familiar faces who have narrowly avoided stardom in their lengthy careers but were mostly at the height of their recognition in the late 1980s. Names like Bruno Kirby, Robert Wuhl, Richard Edson, Richard Portnow, and J.T. Walsh may not trigger memories for casual movie fans, but their appearances do. These folks all perform fine in their roles, which are unquestionably less memorable than some of their other work. As Cronauer's best military friend Edward Garlick, Forest Whitaker does well too, but his character is the type which requires a second personality trait to be transparently worked into the final moments of the film. Though handicapped with an incomplete grasp of the English language, the Thai actors who portray the film's Vietnamese characters hold the screen better than you'd suspect, even if only three make a distinct impression: Tung Thanh Tran as the dual-natured Tuanh, Chintara Sukapatana as the pretty but quiet Trinh, and the not-sufficiently-credited softball stickler with a contagious smile and polite demeanor.

Adrian and the Vietnamese object of his affection struggle to communicate on their first date, which is of course chaperoned. Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker) and Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) share a laugh.

Overall, Good Morning, Vietnam makes for a pleasant two hours which caters to the skills of its star Robin Williams and the sensibilities of its director Barry Levinson. Far from perfect and with less replayability than many comedies and Vietnam War dramas, the film nonetheless entertains and engages as well as most films.

Good Morning, Vietnam is rated R and though it is possibly the least violent war movie filmed in color, it merits its 17-and-up classification with plenty of off-color comments from Cronauer and company. F-troop profanity is scattered throughout as are more suggestive remarks, which even if they wouldn't be understood, shouldn't be heard until high school, when worse things will be heard anyway.

Buy Good Morning, Vietnam: Special Edition on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English (Enhanced for the Hearing Impaired)
Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 10, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Black Keepcase


Like its previous DVD incarnation released in the fall of 1998, Good Morning, Vietnam is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. The difference is that this Special Edition is enhanced for 16x9 televisions whereas the old disc was not. A close side-by-side comparison reveals that the framing is slightly different among the two versions; though both measure to roughly the same dimensions, the new transfer is framed tighter on all four sides. The loss of picture at the top and bottom might be accountable to a more accurate matting job, but then the tiny portions missing on the side are simply puzzling. Nonetheless, it rarely amounts to more than about 5% in both the horizontal or vertical directions, which is less than what's lost in the standard process of overscan and though it's worth pondering briefly, it's clearly not a great problem.

What is more worth noting is the improvement in picture quality. It is evident that the gained resolution contributes to things looking consistently better compared to the old DVD. The non-anamorphic disc was never terrible, so the difference isn't quite night and day, but on a large screen display (and especially one that can take advantage of 16x9-enhancement), the new transfer unmistakably betters its 1998 counterpart. Colors seem more vibrant and accurate (fleshtones are the most notable indicator), needless grain seems toned down, motion is more fluid. What appeared as ringing edges on the previous DVD now looks sharper and not artificially or excessively so. And despite the increase in bonus features and decrease in audio compression, the average bitrate is still 1.1 Mb/s more than what it was before. In short, the new transfer improves upon the old in every way with the aforementioned exception being the hardly-mentionable framing differences.

A still from the 1998 "Good Morning, Vietnam" DVD. The same frame as it appears on the 2006 Special Edition DVD of "Good Morning Vietnam."
A side-by-side comparison of identical frames from the 1998 and 2006 DVDs reveals that the Special Edition loses a tiny amount of image on each side but more noticeably offers improvements in picture quality.

Sound comes via a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which was remixed from a simpler stereo presentation that accompanied the film's theatrical exhibitions. It seems about the same as the previous DVD (which was encoded as 4.1), meaning the soundtrack is more front-heavy than many might care for. The soundfield is never fully utilized, as music and ambient noises rarely take to the rears or engulf you, but the rock recordings are crisp and the dialogue is entirely understandable (with the exception of the Vietnamese characters' broken lines, which you may be apt to utilize the abbreviated English subtitles on). All in all, this is far from a remarkable audio presentation, but it's entirely satisfactory for a late-'80s low-on-action movie.

Nitpickers might notice the odd fact that the Touchstone Pictures logo at the end has been lost. Foreign nitpickers might notice the fact that the opening credits are no longer offered in French when that language is selected.

Director Barry Levinson is a little forgetful, but he still has some good stories in the "Production Diary" shorts. Meet the real Adrian Cronauer. Is this what Robin Williams will look like in 22 years? This is what Robin Williams looked like 18 years ago. What happened when his improvsational urges were set free? You can see at length in "Raw Monologues."


Bonus features are divided into four listings, the first of which is most significant and is further broken down in a menu of its own. That is "Production Diary", which is a series of newly-filmed shorts dealing with six unique aspects of the production. Quite similar in design, they are perfectly suitable to view with the "Play All" option, with which they run 35 minutes in total. Two cast and four crew members appear in these vignettes:
actors Bruno Kirby and Robert Wuhl, producers Mark Johnson and Larry Brezner, writer Mitch Markowitz, and director Barry Levinson. Excitingly enough, so does the real Adrian Cronauer to help dispel Hollywood fiction from his true Vietnam record.

"How the Movie Came to Be" (6:20) seems to rationalize the artistic liberties taken with Cronauer's life and recalls how the project moved from studio to studio before then-Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg green-lit it (oddly the mention of his name abruptly ends this portion). "Actor Improv" (9:49) discusses Robin Williams' abilities to ad-lib, the British/Thai crew's stone-faced reaction to his comic rants, the balance found between working from Markowitz's script and the cast inserting its own spin, and the challenges and rewards posed by scenes with the Vietnamese class. "Music of the Movie" (6:00), remarkably enough, covers the music of the movie, with the real Cronauer sounding off on his preferred selections and director Levinson explaining how the mild cheat "What a Wonderful World" montage came together. "Origin of the 'Good Morning Vietnam' Sign-On" (3:03) allows Cronauer to take to task Williams' rendition of the title line, with the real DJ illustrating how it was really done (with a surreally-held "Good"). "Shooting in Thailand" (7:38) enables everyone to share their variously amusing anecdotes about the taxing heat the location offered. Markowitz tells of how he managed to get a quiet hotel room, Kirby recalls discovering wet places he didn't know he could sweat in, and Levinson and Johnson (in a mix of new footage and with the section's sole use of on-the-set interviews) remember how a series of spaced-out royal processions derailed an elaborate setup for a little road traffic insert shot. Finally, "Overview of the Film A Year Later" (1:35) would seem to take place much more than a year later (unless all of these seemingly-new clips are really from 1988). In this, final reflections come out, including, most amusingly, Kirby's distinction between Good Morning, Vietnam and The Godfather, Part II. In each segment, relevant clips of the movie appear in fullscreen from time to time, with a just-right frequency which happens to be fairly irregular.

"Raw Monologues" (13:07) provides, as Barry Levinson explains in the introductory remarks, a collection of extended takes of Robin Williams doing his rapid-fire shtick "on the air" for an unmoving camera. Offering a candid look at his creative process, it illustrates the actor's aptitude for improvising, as he runs through a number of gags, voices, and jokes at an amazing speed, some of which didn't at all make it into the film, with only the occasional flub. By its end, you'll probably have your fill of the Williams comic rants, and Jimmy Fallon will have more than enough mannerisms to use for his Williams impression.

Robin Williams gives an exclusive broadcast in uniform in the Theatrical Teaser Trailer. The animated Main Menu for "Good Morning, Vietnam": Special Edition: in about a second, you'll see Robin Williams moving about in the background.

The final two extras are not groundbreaking, but their inclusion is very much welcome since one was the lone extra included on the film's previous disc (which makes holding onto it unnecessary for those who are upgrading) and both belong to the class of bonus features that Disney no longer includes on the DVDs for its new films: trailers! First, ported over from the old DVD, is the original theatrical trailer (2:30), which offers a fairly standard late-'80s movie preview, with the catchy soundtrack selections and amusing one-liners that this film perfectly caters to. The second, the original theatrical teaser trailer (1:30), merely showcases a single scene of Williams playing Cronauer in a dark studio as the voices, impressions, and jokes flow at the speed of light. What makes it especially interesting is that it's not at all in the actual film. Some of the lines make it in, but most do not, nor do the two well-known songs it features.

The 16x9 menus are easily more exciting than the static screens of the old disc, though not especially eye-catching. The main screen opens with a brief montage of typical Vietnam war movie imagery (which happen to be scattered throughout this film) leading into an even briefer cycle of busy footage of Cronauer doing his antics in the booth once the selections load. Each menu is accompanied by dramatic selections of Alex North's score, which seems to reside almost exclusively in the end credits.

The disc opens with trailers for the military drama Annapolis, love triangle dramedy Shopgirl, and solid box office performer Flightplan plus an anti-pirated DVDs spot which aims for hipness but hits lameness squarely on the face instead. All of these (with the exception of the piracy promo) can be found in the dedicated Sneak Peeks menu, where you'll also find previews for The Greatest Game Ever Played, Chicken Little, Touchstone Television's six best-selling shows on DVD, and Pixar's Cars.

If Trinh never knew him... Good night, UD review reader!


With an anamorphic transfer and nearly an hour of new bonus features, this Special Edition of Good Morning, Vietnam undoubtedly merits an upgrade for owners of the movie's previous disc who want the best DVD version of the film. The video quality leaves little room for improvement on this format and though some shortcomings can be noted (the absence of a commentary and any participation by Robin Williams), the supplements do contribute worth to this disc. The film itself may never be as fresh or funny as it is the first time you've seen it, but if that has yet to happen, it should. It is not your typical Vietnam War movie and it does offer more than Robin Williams' fast, streaming brand of comedy (if that has put you off). This should keep most (older teens and up) entertained for a solid two hours, warranting a rental at the very least. Many may wish to give the film a spot in their collections too, whether if it's as one of the 1980s' biggest blockbusters, as one of the Walt Disney Company's earliest and most successful Touchstone films, or more likely, as an amusing human drama which provides a unique and compelling take on a cinematically well-tread period of history.

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Reviewed January 9, 2006.