When the original DVD was first announced it was initially conceived as a 2-disc edition featuring over 2-hoursí worth of deleted scenes. Just before it was released this footage was dropped from the edition (I canít find the original reasons but if I recall it had to do with rights of some sort) and it was released as a single disc edition with only a commentary as the special feature. With this new version Criterion finally includes those outtakes, about 147-minutesí worth out of the supposed 200-hours of footage that was shot. A text introduction explains why this footage ultimately wasnít used, in a few instances it was because a few of the participants here objected to the war from the get-go and in most cases Davis wanted people who were originally for it but changed their tune over the years.
All of the footage is presented in its raw form in a ratio of about 1.33:1. There are a few moments throughout where the visual will drop (I assume because Davis ran out of film and was changing reels) but the audio remains. The footage has been divided into 8 sections and each one receives their own text notes explaining the footage or giving a brief bio for the participant.
Four of the subjects donít appear in the film, and they all objected to the war from the beginning. These participants are French journalist Philippe Devillers (11-min), former Undersecretary of State George Ball (20-min), Tony Russo (34-min), and broadcast journalist David Brinkley (26-min). Devillersí provides a bit of background to how The U.S. came to be involved in the conflict while Ball talks about his opposition to the war and how he tried as best as he could to minimize damage and casualties when going over bombing strategies. Here he would go over plans and indicate whether civilian casualties would be too high or the target wasnít worthwhile, hoping that would possibly stop the mission, though the final decision was with the president.
Russo had worked for the RAND Corporation, a government contractor, and he, along with Daniel Ellsberg, released the documents that came to be known as ďThe Pentagon PapersĒ to the media, which exposed the Statesí true role in the war. Russo talks about first working with RAND and then coming across the documents. Brinkleyís segment offers a wonderful analysis of televisionís role in reporting on the war, offering for the first time the true horrors of war to the audience. He also talks about the mediaís responsibility in delivering the news, such as how the news should not provide ďopinionĒ on subjects: despite his distaste in the war he should never indicate that while reporting the news. His segment is especially illuminating, managing to, 40-years earlier, point out everything wrong with the mediaís role in the news today.
Both General William Westmoreland and economist Walt Roston appear in the film, but more interview footage has been included here for both, running 26-minutes and 24-minutes respectively, with Rostonís appearing as audio-only footage over a still of him from the film. The two are both on the pro-war camp, with Roston being especially supportive. Westmoreland talks about how he perceived the enemy and also talks about, if briefly, why things like the My Lai massacre (where around 500 civilians were murdered at the hands of U.S. soldiers) occurred, though I donít think he really wants to get into the topic (unsurprisingly) and ultimately says it was because the ďchain of command broke down.Ē From the outside it appears Westmoreland doesnít question the war, but certain comments (like where he questions the intelligence of his higher-ups at the time) make it obvious he doesnít think many knew what they were doing.
There is then some location footage included here. First is over 5-minutes worth of footage from a funeral in Quang Nam. The reason it wasnít used was because another funeral was used in the film, but itís no less upsetting (the notes mention is especially upset the crew.) And then finally 3-minutes of footage from the Cong Hoa hospital, showing injured South Vietnamese soldiers. The footage can be fairly graphic, particularly that of a soldier with burns all over his body. Itís disturbing footage, though it was not used because Davis couldnít find a proper context for it.
What we get ultimately represents only a small fraction of the footage shot, but Davis and Criterion have gathered together some excellent material that expands on and adds to the subjects covered in the film. Itís nice to finally have it here.
Criterion then carries over the same audio commentary recorded by Davis in 2001. Itís more of a technical track but no less fetching as Davis talks about filming on location, gathering together subjects, and then the huge undertaking in editing all of the filmed footage together and finding the ďstoryĒ so to speak. He talks a bit about the controversies around the film and also gets into his thoughts on the war here and there and shares other stories and anecdotes about filming. I hadnít listened to it since the DVD was released in 2002 and I enjoyed listening to it again. Davis keeps the track engaging and informative with very little dead space, providing some wonderful details on constructing this film. Well worth the listen.
All supplements are available on the Blu-ray. The first DVD only presents the audio commentary, while the second dual-layer DVD hosts all of the outtakes.
Criterionís booklet is more-or-less the same as the previous DVDís. This booklet now begins with Davisí essay ďVietnam and MemoryĒ, which concluded the previous booklet, and here it has been modified quite a bit, either clarifying some things or bringing up more about the conflict in the Middle East, talking about the effect the war had on everyone, including the general public.
The same essay on the film and its construction by the late Judith Crist also appears, followed by Robert K. Brighamís essay on the film being the first real one to humanize the Vietnamese people to the American public. Both appear to be the same as the previous ones when I did a quick compare. Also carried over is George C. Herringís short essay on the conflict also gets carried over, offering some contextualization for those still confused by the war and its intent. The essay has been tweaked with some sentence restructuring and updates around dates (instead of ď25 years agoĒ we get ď40 years agoĒ) but it is otherwise the same. The booklet then concludes with the same article by Ngo Vinh Long about the war from the point of view of the Vietnamese people. Bobby Mullerís quote about the film is also presented on the back of the booklet.
Similar to before the booklet is an excellent inclusion, providing more context and a generally decent summary of the conflict for those still confused by it.
Itís nice to finally get the edition Criterion originally conceived and as it is now itís a very solid edition, with a few hoursí worth of material thatís worth going through. 9/10