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"This movie is billed as the most realistic war movie to come out of our experience in Vietnam. From the ping of mortar rounds leaving their tubes to the crump of their impact, I agree. Its heroes are Vietnam grunts who only want to survive, but who give it their all because their sense of responsibility to each other and to themselves demands it. There are no masterful generals, no crusading journalists, no anti-hero politicians -- just a group of young men caught up in events they didn't control, probably didn't understand, and certainly didn't want.There is no shortage of combat scenes. Hamburger Hill depicts in gory detail the action that spanned 11 days (May 10-21, 1969) during which the 3rd Battalion of the 187th Airborne (3/187th, the "Rakkasans" of Korean fame) tried and finally succeeded in taking what was labeled on their maps as Hill 937 (meaning it was 937 meters high). Hill 937 was actually one of several ridges that comprised Dong Ap Bia on the Laotian border in the A Shau Valley.A series of coordinated operations was planned with the intended purpose to clear the valley, deny its use, and disrupt the enemy's plans. These operations would comprise ten battalions of US and ARVN troops that would move into various parts of the valley in a coordinated scheme of maneuver. The Rakkasans of the 3/187th and an ARVN battalion drew the prize: Dong Ap Bia (Ap Bia Mountain), occupied by two battalions of NVA -- some 600 to 900 strong and probably reinforced during the battle.The movie follows a fictitious infantry squad, along with the supporting medic, and their platoon sergeant and platoon leader. Focusing on a single squad subtly points out how combat in dense terrain becomes very localized. Their link to the outside world is through the platoon leader's radio and the disembodied voice emanating from it that keeps urging them on and asking for SITREPs (situation reports). You quickly understand that despite the frustrations of the war, the growing hostility at home, and the growing racism within the military, they understand that their individual and collective survival depends on each other. This binds them in a way that few other situations can.The movie's real strength is its attention to detail. Everything has the right look, sound, and feel. From the crack of M-16 rifle rounds, the hollow resonance of the M-79 grenade launchers, and the crump of impacting mortar rounds, to the radio traffic, the banter, jargon, and slang, the locales and locals, the sandbags on the floors of the trucks, the mud, wooden ammo boxes and artillery shell containers littering the base areas, the red filters on the flashlights, etc. I was particularly thankful to be spared the hand grenades and mortar rounds that explode like giant balls of fire so typical of war movies.The mistakes were few and minor. The biggest error was that there were not 11 assaults up the hill as the movie leads you to believe. May 10 saw the first contact. On each of the next three days (May 11, 12, and 13) the 3/187th conducted a "reconnaissance in force" (RIF) to find the enemy, probing for weak points. Deliberate assaults occurred on May 14, 15, 18, and 20. The days in between were either stand-downs for resupply or aborted assaults due to the inability of supporting ground units to get into position. No company, thus no squad, was committed to each RIF and deliberate assault. The squad in the movie is a composite of all the squads engaged. The various incidents -- the squad members' deaths, the NVA virtually rolling their grenades downhill on the attacking Rakkasans, the friendly fire, the torrential downpour on May 18 that stopped that day's assault, and so on -- all happened. They just didn't all happen to the same squad.Other than the platoon leader, the officer chain of command is never seen; rather, they are depicted as disembodied voices over the radio. This is misleading. The command structure at company and below would be on the ground with the troops; battalion command would be either on the ground or in the air, depending on where the battalion commander thought he could best control the battle. The movie's anti-war message is apparent from the opening credits, which are interspersed with views of the Capitol and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. The symbolism of our seat of government juxtaposed with the memorial to the fallen is heightened by the wintry sunset reflecting off the Vietnam Memorial.Rather than a history lesson, the movie is a metaphor for the war in Vietnam: the relentless push to achieve ground of questionable importance despite the high cost in blood. Good men fought and died. Was it worth it? As the fatalistic mantra among the grunts in the movie said, "It don't mean nothin'." That's a sad, angering attitude until you recall that shortly after the battle was over, we left the hill, as we did with so many other hills, and another NVA regiment moved in and retook possession.Hamburger Hill doesn't glorify war, but it does show the best attributes of men caught up in war. In so doing it rightfully praises the American soldier. However, one has to conclude that the lives of the men who fought at Hamburger Hill -- the deaths, the anguish, the exhaustion, the physical and emotional wounds -- didn't matter if the capture of the hill didn't ultimately contribute somehow to victory. In the same way, the lives of the men and women who fought in Southeast Asia didn't matter since we didn't prevail in the war. Private Beletsky (Tim Quill) said it all with his silent tear as he surveyed the body-strewn, devastated slope from the summit of Hamburger Hill at the end of the movie.So, the message is fight to win or don't fight. Make it mean something. That's what some came away from Vietnam with, and that's what makes this a movie worth seeing."
Charles A. Cooper | Jacksonville, Florida USA | 09/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a combat medic who served in the 101st Airborne Division just three months after the events depicted in this film took place, I can tell you that it is absolutely the most realistic Vietnam war film to date. I cannot address the issue of the absolute truth of the way specific events are depicted in the film because I wasn't involved in this particular action, but I can say with no equivocation that the characters and combat shown in this film are absolutely realistic based on my experience. The fictional soldiers shown in the film talk like we talked, and all aspects of combat shown are much like my own experience. Some aspects of this film may seem cliched to some viewers (see below), but that is just the common reality of war and reveals the simplistic views of the times. Soldiers in combat were young and not especially astute in their views. We really did say "it don't mean nothin'." I cried on the way home after I first saw this film in the theatre, and finally achieved the catharsis I needed to leave Vietnam behind me. I am grateful to the director and producers for providing that. Someone finally got it right. "Doc" Cooper, B company, 2/502, 101st airborne division"
It's All Here
Alex McGrady | North Florida | 10/31/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I served three combat infantry tours in Vietnam, and this is the movie that best captures the realities of the U.S. military field experience there (the other movie that's worth seeing is the more recent "We Were Soldiers"). "Hamburger Hill" has the right music -- the soundtrack is full of songs I never knew the names of, but tunes that I remember hearing in Vietnam and that help to bring back the world as it was then.
You see the ubiquitous helicopters, although no movie, including this one, has ever used anywhere near the number of choppers that were actually used in Vietnam. I've seen as many as 100 around a major operation, but it's rare to see more than a dozen at a time in a movie. I would guess that the cost is prohibitive for movie makers. War is an expensive proposition.
No movie can convey the smells of a place, but "Hamburger Hill" comes close with its images of field conditions, and it catches everything else -- the sights, the sounds, the language, the cliches, the basic training knowledge common to all grunts, the attitudes toward those outside your unit -- including higher command, Vietnamese, media people, and politicians -- and even the social revolution that was rocking America while the troops, who fought for ground that would not be held, knew they would never be allowed to chase the enemy back to his lair, so next week, or next month, or next year you'd be fighting for the same hill again.
For those who were there, this movie takes you back. For those who weren't, this movie, better than any other, tells it like it was. There's a special place in heaven for writers and directors who make truthful art like this.
A Second Helping of "Hamburger" Anyone?
David Baltazar | SAN JOSE, CA United States | 05/30/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This review is from;Hamburger Hill (20th Anniversary Edition)
"Hamburger Hill" is a Vietnam War movie that deserves to be a classic in its own right, but unfortunately it will always be not as highly recognized as the more popular movies of its genre including the highly regarded "Apocalypse Now", "Full Metal Jacket" and "Platoon" (all made by very revered directors Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick & Oliver Stone, respectively). Director John Irvin's "Hamburger Hill" is gritty, action packed and straight to the point film about the 3rd battalion of the 101st Airborne Division's assault on hill 937 in Vietnam from May 10 to 20, 1969. A bloody battle that had nearly a 70% casualty rate. Although underappreciated I personally liked this movie, but rather than review this movie as many others already have under the original Artisan DVD release link, I just wanted to point out the features for the new "20th Anniversary" release. I owned the prior DVD by Artisan (from 2001) and I decided to splurge on the new, 2008 release by Lions Gate.
The 20th Anniversary release of "Hamburger Hill" was given a new, anamorphic widescreen transfer by Lions Gate. Although I thought the old Artisan DVD contained a decent transfer, there were some imperfections or spots on the film. Not much, but some. The colors on the old transfer also looked slightly faded and fuzzy. The new transfer on the otherhand, looks slightly sharper and more focused. The imperfections I saw on the old transfer are gone on the new one. Great clean up job! I'm not really an expert on sound, but the new DVD contains a digital 5.1 sound track which for the most part sounds almost identical to the Artisan DVD. Although this is not really a complaint, the scene selection in the old transfer had 36 chapter stops while the new transfer has only 16. This is probably irrelevant to most people, but I just thought I would take note of it.
The 20th Anniversary DVD now contains commentary tracks from the film's writer/Producer Jim Carabatsos and actors Anthony Barrile, Harry O'Reilly and Daniel O'Shea. Most of the commentary is from Carabastos. Some of the commentary is screen specific, but most of it is about the films' origin and production. The actors mostly talk about their auditions and boot camp experiences at Subic Bay, Philippines in addition to their own experiences on the film.
The new release now contains a couple of new featurettes. One is called "The Appearance of Reality" (16 minutes, 50 seconds). This is your standard behind the scenes, film crew & cast interviews with some film footage. We also hear from director John Irvin and writer/Producer Jim Carabatsos. The feature also covers the difficulties encountered while making the film in the Philippines. Watching this reminded me of some the difficulties encountered when "Apocalypse Now" was made which was well covered in the documentary "Hearts of Darkness". Some of the troubled moments during the filming of "Hamburger Hill" included an electrician that was electrocuted (and died) during filming, a typhoon, some local fighting during the Aquino revolution against the Marcos Regime and some sniper fire towards the actors' van at night (the van had to drive with the lights off and the passengers had to crouch down for safety to avoid the sniper fire!).
The other featurette is called "Medics in Vietnam" which is about medics (about 6 minutes). Although very short in length, I still think it's great that some well, deserved recognition is given to the medics in the battlefield and some basic, understanding about how vital they are as supporting units in the battlefield. We hear excerpts from actor Courtney Vance who played medic Doc Johnson in the film as well as a military historian Colonel Robert Tomlinson, book author Artur Wiknik Jr. and former medic Bob Rogers. I found it interesting that some of the medics that went to Vietnam had such distinct backrounds. Some were ex-infantry men and some were conscientious objectors that didn't want to fight in the war, but wanted to help in the effort nevertheless.
The DVD also has an interactive "Vietnam War Timeline" filled with interesting key dates and facts. The timeline has a sixteen different date menus in chronological order from 1867 (the French Colonization) to 1975 (the American withdrawal). When you select each date with your DVD player's remote, some text notes, map locations and/or pictures appear to explain what happened in that specific time period you selected. Neat!
The last features on the DVD are trailers for other Lions Gate films including "Reservoir Dogs 15th Anniversary" (and video game preview), American Psycho, 3:10 to Yuma and Rambo (the new 2008 DVD and the Rambo "Ultimate Edition" set). Note there is NO trailer for "Hamburger Hill" on the 20th Anniversary DVD, but if you have purchased the new 2008 "Rambo" two-disc DVD set, the trailer for "Hamburger Hill" (20th Anniversary DVD) is there.
My only, minor complaint about the new DVD is the absence of actor Don Chealde from the featurette and the commentary. Chealde became famous later for his many roles in other films such as "Hotel Rwanda" & "Ocean's Eleven". Although his role in "Hamburger Hill" is somewhat minor (a stepping stone for him at the time), I appreciated all of his work and I still would of liked to hear any of his insights about "Hamburger Hill" despite the fact that he has become a much, more acclaimed actor now than he was back then. Otherwise, I think this is a worthy upgrade for fans of the film who owned the prior DVD and a worthy purchase for new viewers. Improved picture and some interesting features made the "20th Anniversary" a good purchase for me and possibly for you?
RVN VET: Best Vietnam War Movie ever made
Jim McCannell | Fernandina Beach, Florida | 10/10/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"From a reality standpoint, this film hits the mark. It is not at all atypical like "Apocalypse Now" (USO Show at night in unsecure area? Give me a break!) or "Platoon" (obsessed with potheads and war lovers). I speak as a veteran of the Vietnam War (May '67 to May '68). The guy who calls this film booring was either in another room or expecting a cartoon. At any rate, he misses the boat or has no experience. The main idea that drove these young soldiers was how to stay alive. The sounds of mortar and artillery explosions used in this picture were the most realistic I have ever heard in any war film. It instantly took me back to 1968 and the nightly mortar attacks we lived through in the central highlands of Vietnam. The characters were entirely believable and diverse. There was conflict between characters as well as conflict on the battlefield. Unfortunately, the film's dipiction of "friendly fire" though tragic was a fact of life at times. And to the guy who says there was no plot: What does he call the all out effort to take that miserable hill day after stinking day? For a typical and realistic rendition of what the war in Vietnam was like, I offer "Hamburger Hill" as the answer."