Full Metal Jacket's Vietnam setting is mostly incidental.
Director Stanley Kubrick, notorious for not wanting to work much further than a short drive from his English home for his later projects, filmed Full Metal Jacket in and around London, with an abandoned gasworks outside the city doubling for a crumbling and bombed out Hue City, including imported palm trees planted all around. But the Vietnam setting is intentionally amorphous so that the burned-out buildings and rubble-strewn streets could be doubles for World War II or even the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
And it works because Kubrick didn't set out to make a good Vietnam War movie; he wanted to make the definitive war film.
Full Metal Jacket was just released in a deluxe Blu-ray 25th anniversary edition, which includes a half-hour retrospective by cast and crew and others, audio commentary, and the fascinating and illuminating hour-long documentary Stanley Kubrick's Boxes, which sheds light on the increasingly reclusive director, who died in 1999, at the age of 70, through personal notes, photos, and mail from fans and haters.
Full Metal Jacket is two separate films unified by a common theme of war, in much the same way as Private Joker (Matthew Modine), the closest thing we have to a protagonist in Full Metal Jacket, speaks of his own duality as both killer soldier and peace-loving civilian.
There is the harrowing marine indoctrination on Parris Island, with star-making turns by Vincent D'Onofrio as the simpleminded Private Pyle-turned crazed killer, and R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine drill sergeant who steals the film with his profanity-laced tirades as the taskmaster assigned to make soldiers out of teenagers. The first of the three acts deals with creating the perfect killing machine.
The second and third acts are about war, where the killing machine is loosed. More than just an hour of tense bloody combat, though, Full Metal Jacket dispassionately examines modern warfare through young marines, through innocence lost, and casualties on both sides of the war, and through the media machine that tells and sells war while avoiding the truth of its brutality. There is commentary sprinkled throughout Full Metal Jacket, but it's subtle -- unlike the majority of Vietnam War films.
Full Metal Jacket was released in June, 1987 -- nearly a year after Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning Platoon, thus creating unnecessary comparison between these critically applauded but significantly different Vietnam films. There really is no artistic comparison.
Eyes Wide Shut may have been Kubrick's final film, but Full Metal Jacket is his last extraordinary work. And this special box set gives the film its proper due.