Good Morning, Vietnam just got released in its own 25th Anniversary Blu-ray edition. Allegedly based on the life of Adrian Cronauer, the disc jockey who gets credit for being the first guy to play rock and roll on Armed Forces Radio, Barry Levinson’s movie is really a just a framework that allows Robin Williams to go wild with his improv without interfering with the plot.
The big surprise here is how good this transfer looks. Maybe it’s because we all saw popular 80s movies on VHS tapes or fuzzy late-night cable first, but that decade’s movies have a reputation as sloppy and visually unattractive. Top Gun showed some seams on Blu-ray but that was mostly because the computer technology was quite a few years away from actually being able to pull off what the filmmakers wanted to do. Good Morning, Vietnam has very little in the way of special effects and the outdoor scenes are mostly shot in daylight.
Thailand looks great in the movie even though it makes a poor stand-in for Vietnam. There’s not much plot here and the included documentaries feature Barry Levinson talking about how much of the movie was improvised on the set, both Robin’s radio monologues and the scenes featuring the Vietnamese locals.
The movie’s still funny but the drama is pretty thin. Anyone looking for a remotely realistic portrayal of one man’s struggles to change inflexible military culture needs to start somewhere else: Cronauer’s commanding officers can’t even agree whether he’s breaking the rules. Robin Williams got his first Oscar nomination for this movie and his first scene in the DJ booth is one of his best movie moments.
If you watch this movie once every couple of years and consider it a favorite, definitely upgrade to this version. If you haven’t seen it before and wonder why everyone thought Robin Williams was so funny back in the days when he was still wired all the time, this is probably the best place to start.
The real-life Adrian Cronauer has a reputation for disagreeing with his movie namesake’s anti-war liberal politics, but this 2008 American Veterans Center video makes it seem like he’s made his peace with whatever fame the movie brought: