Blu-ray Review: Heaven & Earth - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Perhaps not prime Oliver Stone, Heaven & Earth (1993) is nonetheless a beautifully-produced film featuring powerful performances by Hiep Thi Le and Tommy Lee Jones. This is part three of Stone’s “Vietnam Trilogy,” following Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). The two earlier films were concerned primarily with U.S. troops, while Heaven & Earth focuses on the harrowing journey of a Vietnamese woman during and after the war. Its narrative sprawl (with a runtime of 142 minutes) has a detrimental effect on its overall impact, but it remains intermittently gripping even if it lacks focus. Specialty label Twilight Time has recently issued the film, based on Le Ly Hayslip’s memoirs When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace, as a limited edition Blu-ray (only 3,000 copies available).

One thing should probably be mentioned right away, anyone coming to Heaven & Earth seeking a Tommy Lee Jones star turn will possibly experience some measure of disappointment. Jones only factors into the third act of the film. We begin with Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le) as a young girl in the midst of the Vietnam War. Her life becomes a series of nightmares dominated by violence and death. Le Ly endures unspeakably horrific treatment at the hands of the Viet Cong, who erroneously consider her a traitor. Le’s performance is graceful and unforced, eliciting deep sympathy (though given what Le Ly goes through, viewers would be hard-pressed not to sympathize regardless of who portrayed her).

Heaven and Earth cover (213x280).jpgWithout unnecessarily divulging plot points, U.S. serviceman Steve Butler (Jones) provides an initially bright light in Le Ly’s life. When the movie finally skips across the Pacific to the U.S. as their relationship blossoms, it’s almost as jarring for viewers as it is for Le Ly. Jones is superb as the troubled Butler. This was the same year as The Fugutive, for which Jones won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. As fine as that performance was for a popcorn thriller, it led to a depressing lack of ambition as Jones’ laconic style dominated many of his future performances (Men In Black furthered this increasingly lazy approach). But in Heaven & Earth, Jones was still a fiery, unpredictable actor. As Steve and Le Ly’s falls into turbulent territory, Jones’ performance turns incredibly powerful.

Robert Richardson’s tremendous cinematography, with gorgeous Vietnamese vistas (and Bangkok apparently serving as the primary stand-in for Vietnam), is one Heaven & Earth’s best attributes. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation is a pleasure to view. There are occasional instances of source print debris that crop up, but for the most part this is a successful high definition presentation that stays true to look of the often-soft focus cinematography. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is also excellent, with Kitaro’s soaring score being the highpoint. This is a pretty quiet film most of the time, with a focus on ambiance and dialogue (all of which is presented flawlessly).

The Blu-ray contains an audio commentary by Oliver Stone, 25 minutes of deleted scenes (with optional Stone commentary), and an alternate opening (the latter two features are in standard definition). The disc also contains the film’s original theatrical trailer. As always with Twilight Time’s releases, film historian Julie Kirgo penned the new essay that’s included in the booklet.

To order the limited Blu-ray edition of Heaven & Earth, while supplies last, visit Twilight Time’s exclusive distributor Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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