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Good Morning, Vietnam: Special Edition

Robin Williams had it all wrong. According to the real Adrian Cronauer — the irreverent U.S. Army disc jockey Williams plays in Barry Levinson's Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) — the right way to do the movie's signature sign-on is to extend the "good" as long as humanly possible, then tack on the "morning" and the "Vietnam" quickly at the end. That method gives a morning DJ who has overslept a few precious extra seconds to grab his headphones, pop in his contacts, and pull some records so he can get his show going. But it's hard not to like Williams' interpretation, which he howls like a primal scream throughout the film, proclaiming his unity with the soldiers he has been sent to Vietnam to entertain. (Besides, considering that the rest of the movie takes some serious dramatic license with the facts of Cronauer's time in Vietnam, quibbling over something as minor as the sign-on seems petty.) And entertain he does. Williams is in rare form as Cronauer, putting his rapid-fire riffing skills to work in the radio show monologues, cracking wise when he gets grief from his by-the-book superiors (Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh, both turning in excellent supporting performances), finding humor amid the pathos of Vietnam, and generally proving that he absolutely deserved the Oscar nomination he earned for his performance. Good Morning, Vietnam follows Cronauer as he shakes up the staid Saigon Army radio station, winning legions of fans in the field but earning serious enmity from some of the higher-ups. He also gets an eyeful of what life in Saigon is really like when he and his partner in crime, Pfc. Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker), venture outside the station. In between jokes about Nixon and the pope and "visits" from soldier Roosevelt E. Roosevelt, Cronauer pursues a pretty local girl (Chintara Sukapatana), teaches the locals to speak English and play baseball, and discovers that the situation with the Viet Cong might not be as black-and-white as he'd imagined, accompanied all the while by foot-tapping Motown hits from the likes of The Vandellas, the Marvelettes, and James Brown. The great soundtrack and hilarious radio bits may be what Good Morning, Vietnam is most often remembered for, but Williams' work in the movie's more dramatic scenes is as heartfelt and humane as his monologues are rib-tickling. Just as Cronauer is irrevocably transformed by his experiences in Vietnam, so were audiences' expectations of Williams forever changed by this performance. Buena Vista's Special Edition DVD presents the film in a strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (a French audio track and English closed captions are also available). The disc's extras include two trailers, 13 minutes of funny-but-rough raw monologue footage that makes you appreciate the film's final versions all the more, and a 34-minute "production diary" featurette (broken down into six chapters) that combines old and new footage in a retrospective on making the movie. Williams is nowhere to be seen, but having the real Cronauer on hand is almost as entertaining. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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