Foreword to Platoon Script by Oliver Stone

28 08 2008

So I bought the book edition of Platoon’s and Salvador’s scripts for a good price, the first edition costs up to $100. 😯

The book looks slightly used and someone obviously worked with the Platoon script, comparing it to the movie, as the scenes are numbered and changes marked. There are also one or two small notes scribbled on the pages, but I haven’t deciphered them yet. 

I think I somehow hoped to find the initial version of the script, but it’s still the same version as the one that can be found online. Some new information can be found in the foreword written by Stone.


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Still there was nothing about Break, or THE Platoon, or the development of the script as I hoped. 😦 Nor any details about the first run of scouting and casting… But there is more about the real sergeants than I expected.

Some of the lines were quoted in different reviews, now I can read them inside the right context, and from OS himself, so indeed I saw what Barnes was meant to be — a wounded human being, not a “cardboard satan” as many saw him. 

Tom Berenger is Sergeant Barnes, the Captain Ahab of the platoon. (…) Here I want him to play someone with evil in his heart, but play him with an understanding that will shed light on Melville’s line, ‘O this lovely light that shineth not on me…’ (read the whole piece) and from watching his coiled performance, I think many people at the end of the film will think he has been wronged by Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and destiny.

This sadly didn’t come true, maybe it’s some flaw to the story that makes it visible only to few viewers as it seems. Or maybe it is hard to accept the humanity of the ultimate means, the humanity within a murderer…  

Sergeant Barnes was (…) Achilles, a warrior king in his own time. And I – this modern New York City boy who’d never really believed all that Homer stuff in school – was actually hauling his radio, the equivalent, I suppose, of driving his chariot. (…)

He never yelled at me but his cold, quiet stare withered and terrified me as no man has ever done since. He was the best soldier I ever saw, except, possibly, for Elias. One day he snuck up on two ‘gooks’ having breakfast and killed them, quick, before the fish heads hit their lips: they died surprised. But, unlike Elias, there was a sickness in him, he wanted to kill too much. (…)

The gooks had shot him right above his left eye in ’66, and the bullet somehow lodged in there and he spent a year in a hospital in Japan. The resulting scar ran the whole left side of his face in a large, sickle-shaped pattern, layered with grafted skin from the indentation above his eye to his lower jaw. It was a massive job, indicative of equally massive damage to the nerves and possibly the brain. 

Does it mean they ruined Barnes’ face in the hospital trying to extract the bullet? Jesus….
But why the grafted skin then? And I wonder why they decided to change the side in the movie, in script the scar is still on the left. Then there is that discrepance between the book and the script: in the book it was 1964 (which actually must have been a goof as the war hadn’t really started until 1965)

I like the way the tidbits appear “out of nowhere” once we’ve had discussed them. Like the possible Barnes’ brain damage, that stayed below my radar for 20 years, until recently.

When Barnes looked you in the eye, you felt it all the way down to your balls. But there was a tenderness and sensuality in the man’s quietude that made him fascinating, equally handsome in a snub-nosed way as Elias, and I found out in time he was married to a Japanese girl he’d met in the hospital. He’d been wounded some six or seven times, though he never talked about it, or the woman, or himself. He’d get drunk at poker and occasionally crack a country smile, but never let you in. The only vulnerability in the man was the scar, and such a massive thing it was that it provoked the deepest empathy. 

It sounds so much like the quotation from Moby Dick posted yesterday, doesn’t it? “And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy and a sorrow for him, but for I don’t know what(…)”

About Elias

The real Elias was about twenty-three In 1968 when I met him during a brief stint in the First Cavalry’s Long Range Reconnaissance patrol (…) Dashingly handsome, with thick black hair, a flashing white smile, and Apache blood, Elias was everything we were later going to recognize in Jim Morrison and Joplin and Hendrix, he was a rock star but played it out as a soldier; real danger turned him on. Everybody seemed to love him except the ‘lifers’ and the juicers, with their six and seven stripes(…)

I heard Elias died on some hill in the Ashau when one of our grenades went off and killed him. It was unlike Elias; he was too smart to get wasted like that, yet how symbolic of this frustrating war – many of our best troops killed by our own side in accidents. There was even the whispered thought that Elias had been done in by one of our lifers.

Stone uses the names Barnes and Elias, not the Barnes/Elias character as he often does in the commentary — does this indicate Barnes was the man’s real name?

There is also a nice piece about Charlie Sheen, unluckily Stone’s prediction about him becoming a big star didn’t really came true.

[Sheen] arrived a bit of a nerd from the teen films he’d done – Malibu in his soul, hot wings at Hamburger Hamlet, tightly cut hair, with a hundred pounds of provisions his mother sent that he would never use. Over the weeks, he’s become tougher, sharper, a jungle vet who can hump sixty pounds and walk right up on a deer in the bush without being heard. The changes exactly mirror those in his character in the script

An interesting behind-the-scenes tidbit: they actually built the church ruins, which later were used for For the Boys in 1990 or 1991, so it was a solid construction. And I wonder if Stone, more or less consciously copies the church from Apocalypse Now from the scene where Willard meets Kilgore for the first time.

The other thing we’ve discussed already is that the movie is a result of…

…just plain luck and the coming together of so many live elements in the proper framework.

There are some words about editing that I liked:

Editing always seems to me like a calculated rout from my grand plan of attack, but in the end the essence seems to survive in a reduced form, like amoebae in a dish ready to grow again with the audience.

And those lines that are filled with a certain sadness about the impossibility of putting the vision on screen completely.

I know that although I finished the film, a part of it will never be there, any more than the faces of the gawky boys we left behind in the dust. As close as I came to Charlie Sheen, he would never be me and Platoon would never be what I saw in my mind when I wrote it and which was just a fragment, really, of what happened years ago.

I wonder how Platoon would look like if Stone had more time and money, how his vision actually looked like. Reading the script now one automatically see the movie and the actors… Although since reading Break, I started to see Elias in a different light, as if the image of a rebellious Indian kid blended into the final form of Dafoe’s performance.

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