People are lining up all over America to hurt themselves. They’re standing in lines that run around the block, often in sub-zero temperatures, waiting for the opportunity to pay from $4 to $6 for a ticket to a movie that may be more violent, more frightening and more depressing than anything they have ever seen before.

For some, a fragile minority who view the movie as a personal flashback, it is a return ticket to the abyss.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Feb. 01, 1987 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 1, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Page 33 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
David Weitzner was the head of marketing for Universal Pictures when “On Golden Pond” was released in 1981, not Charles Glenn, as reported in last Sunday’s Calendar. Glenn, now executive vice president for Orion Pictures, held the Universal marketing post after Weitzner, who is now with the Weintraub Entertainment Group.

The movie is “Platoon,” combat veteran and Oscar winning screenwriter Oliver Stone’s grunt’s-eye view of the war in Vietnam, and it--not “Crocodile Dundee"--is the most surprising box-office smash to grace a studio’s ledger in this decade.

With a mighty push from the media, whose critics have formed a national chorus to sing its praises and whose editors have given over massive amounts of time and space to assessing it, “Platoon” has become the movie of the moment.


Orion Pictures, whose marketing people conceived a crafty campaign to establish “Platoon” as the “first real movie about the Vietnam War,” have been rewarded with a breakthrough hit that also figures as the 1986 movie to beat in the coming Academy Awards contest.

Orion, ignoring the conventional Hollywood wisdom that says you don’t release downbeat movies during the holidays, opened “Platoon” Dec. 19 in six theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. The opening was scheduled to qualify the movie for Oscars and to give the nation’s most prominent critics, winding down from a year of high-calorie comedies and action-adventures, something nutritious to chew on.

Not only did the critics bite happily on “Platoon,” so did editors in other departments.

The movie’s appeal crossed over into news, editorials and features. It is that perfect media movie, a mass entertainment with both artistic and social pretensions, with a premise based on the one of the century’s most controversial events. Political pundits could see it and discourse from the grandstands. Reporters who were also Vietnam combat veterans could see it and reflect from their own experiences. Editors on the smallest papers could send their youngest reporters to the movie with a handful of vets, sure in the knowledge that they’ll come back with a compelling human-interest story.


Radio talk-show hosts in cities where the movie was playing had merely to toss it out as a subject to get their phones ringing. In Los Angeles, KABC’s Gary Franklin invited listeners of his two-hour Saturday talk show to call in and discuss “Platoon,” or any other movie on their mind. “Platoon” is all they wanted to talk about. In Chicago, WGN radio personality and film critic Roy Leonard had taken so many “Platoon” calls, he said he decided to ration the number he would take each day, concerned that the subject was shutting out listeners who hadn’t seen the film.

"(I) get calls on the movie just about every day,” Leonard said. “It started when a woman called to say she and her husband, who was a former Marine, didn’t find it (“Platoon”) realistic. The phones rang off the hook after that from people defending it.”

“Platoon” worked as well as a news topic for the national media as the local. The movie’s principals, with writer-director Stone on point, were gathered for featured looks on ABC’s “Nightline” and the “NBC Nightly News.” CBS hunted down three of Stone’s actual Vietnam platoon-mates and reunited them for a taped two-hour bull session in its New York studio, with highlights to run on the new “The Morning Program” Feb. 9-13, during the week of the Academy Award nominations.

Last week, Orion’s marketing executives got their own equivalent of the Oscar when Time magazine put the movie on its cover with the headline billing, “Platoon, Viet Nam as It Really Was.”

The critical word, as positive a consensus as any movie is apt to get, combined with the news urgency accorded it by the media, filled theaters. Though the six original theaters overflowed mostly with Vietnam vets, many of whom were showing up in combat jackets with their years of service sewn on the sleeves, “Platoon” was seen instantly as a commercial hit and Orion moved quickly to book it in more theaters.

By Jan. 16, it was playing on 174 screens in 25 cities and last weekend, with 100 new prints and 12 virgin markets added, its receipts averaged an astonishing $21,440 per screen. (An average of $8,000 would be considered good.) After 17 days, “Platoon” has earned $11.1 million, probably enough--measured against its $6-million budget and Orion’s marketing costs--to have already put it in the black.

The demographics of audiences for “Platoon” have begun to shift. Critics and commentators, fired up by the thought that “Platoon’s” inherent anti-war message may neutralize some of the romanticized notions of Rambomania, have been touting this graphically violent, drug-laced R-rated feature as a family movie--at least for families with teen-age children--and families are beginning to go.

In talking with theater operators around the country, it is clear that the movie is too hard to handle for many people. Rick Randolph, manager of the Lefonte Tara theater in Atlanta, himself a Vietnam vet, said a lot of women end up in the lobby long before the movie is over, and on one occasion he saw a woman helping her husband, who was shaking uncontrollably, out of the theater.


“Some people just can’t take it,” Randolph said. “It brings back memories. . . . I don’t think vets should see it.”

Theater owners said audiences are usually quiet throughout the show, and leave in a state of numbed silence. But there have been sporadic outbursts of cheering during scenes when American soldiers cold-bloodedly kill a couple of Vietnamese villagers.

During a screening in a San Francisco theater, laughter during one of those scenes stirred a vet to yell out, “That’s not funny, you weren’t there!”

Considering that Stone, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter (“Midnight Express”), had been unable to find a buyer for his “Platoon” script for 10 years, a period that parallels Hollywood’s obsession with cartoon adventures, sequels and happy endings, the success of “Platoon” comes as a shock to everyone, including its creator.

“I can’t believe it, I am honestly stunned,” said the 40-year-old Stone, talking around telephone interruptions that occurred at about 20-second intervals. “I thought vets and their families would be the base audience. I was just hoping for it to do good business.”

“We were confident it would get very positive critical acclaim and we felt that it would be embraced (by the news media) in other ways that would make it special,” said Charles Glenn, head of Orion’s marketing division. “But I don’t think anyone could look into a crystal ball and see the kind of fantastic business that it is doing.”

Orion’s and Stone’s contention that “Platoon” is the first real movie about the Vietnam War hasn’t gone unchallenged. Many Vietnam combat veterans are critical of the movie, saying it looks nothing like the war they fought. Some are offended by what they regard as exaggerated drug use, or by the impression left that innocent villagers were routinely terrorized by soldiers run amok.

“As far as I’m concerned, it is just a movie,” said Al Santoli, a New York combat veteran and author of the Vietnam books “Everything We Had” and “To Bear Any Burden.” “I was insulted by it. In my division, we didn’t burn down villages, we didn’t slaughter villagers. It says no more about the war than ‘The Deer Hunter’ or any of the others. It’s just one person’s view of it.”


More than 2.7 million Americans served in Vietnam and “Platoon” may inspire about that many reactions. Whether vets identify with the events that Stone created depends on how close they came to having the same experiences. Stone maintains that the events and characters in “Platoon” are all based on events and characters he encountered while connected with three different combat units in Vietnam in 1966-67.

Certainly, many veterans are being shaken by what they see. In virtually every story where reporters have sat down with vets following a screening, there were descriptions of men breaking down and sobbing while talking about the film. More graphically, we’ve seen the cameras move in for tight close-ups when the same thing occurred during sessions conducted for television.

The questions are raised, though: How much of “Platoon’s” impact on vets is real and how much of it has been generated by news coverage focusing on the hard cases? And for those vets still wrestling their demons, is the movie more apt to help or hurt?

Organizations geared to working with stressed Vietnam veterans say the movie has “brought in” some vets, but nothing approaching the stampede one would assume from the fuss being made about it.

“There has not been that much increase per se,” said Jerry Melnyk, a counselor at the West L.A. Veterans Center, adding that he has spent more time helping the media find vets for screenings and interviews than he has on stressed-out vets coming to the center for help. “There has been a sprinkling of new people showing up, but it’s hard to say if it’s because they’ve seen the flick or because of the media coverage. The movie’s playing right down the street from us and we don’t have vets running down the street screaming for help.”

Thomas Williams, a Denver psychologist and Vietnam combat vet who specializes in traumatic stress, said that anytime there is intense media coverage of a Vietnam theme, there is more activity at the vet centers. The first big wave came after “The Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home” were released in 1978, about the time the government was beginning to fund outreach programs for vets suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Other waves followed the media attention given to the 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Williams said, and to a 13-part documentary series on Vietnam that appeared on PBS.

There is no question that these events have changed lives, Williams said. Case in point: himself.

“If it weren’t for ‘The Deer Hunter,’ I wouldn’t be treating vets,” said Williams, an Annapolis graduate whose 11 years as a Marine officer included two tours of combat duty in Vietnam. “That metaphor of Russian roulette had a profound impact on me. It was my men walking through the rice paddies and being killed indiscriminately by booby traps and mines. It was pure chance, it had nothing to do with skill or anything else.”

Williams, a graduate psychology student at the University of Denver at the time, said he and his girlfriend only went to see “The Deer Hunter” because a camping trip had been snowed out. He said he threw his Marine uniforms “into the dumpster” upon his discharge five years earlier and had had no contact with other veterans before seeing the movie.

“I came out crying and angry, I was hoping someone would jostle me so I could hit them,” Williams said. “I just had all these emotions and feelings that I didn’t know existed.”

Ten days later, Williams started his career as a counselor at the Denver Vet Center. Now in private practice, he still counsels vets, as well as crime and accident victims. His girlfriend, later his wife, also became a professional counselor working with the families of Vietnam vets. Then the strain of Williams’ constant traveling as he helped set up other vet centers around the country ended his marriage. Sometimes, Williams said, laughing, he thinks he should have gone skiing.

Williams said “Platoon” hasn’t generated much new activity yet in Denver, where the film opened last weekend, but he expects that it will, and he said veterans groups are far better prepared to deal with it than they were a few years ago. In Denver and other cities, pamphlets explaining delayed stress syndrome and providing information on where to go for help are being handed out in theater lobbies where “Platoon” is playing. In some areas, veterans are organizing post-screening rap sessions conducted by counselors experienced in dealing with delayed stress reactions.

A counselor in Boston said he intended to ask Orion to include a line in its advertising for “Platoon,” advising vets not to see the movie alone. Orion’s Glenn said the company would not do that because it would appear to be exploiting the issues and because it would set a bad precedent that would haunt them on future ad campaigns for other movies.

Some counselors are concerned that vets may go to see “Platoon” thinking it will be the catharsis they have been looking for, when without proper counseling, they may be further traumatized.

“I don’t want to tell people to go see the movie, that it might help,” said Keith Gustin, assistant director of the Disabled American Veteran’s National Service Office in Detroit. “A lot of anger can come to the surface very quickly. It needs to be dissipated in a very professional manner or it can be very harmful.”

For the vast majority of vets, “Platoon” is not seen as a threat. Politicized veterans are lining up accordingly. Those who believe it was a noble war ignobly led tend to view it as Stone’s personal propaganda. After all, this is the same person who just wrote and directed “Salvador,” a little-seen 1986 film that was perceived as a scathing indictment of U.S. involvement in Central America. Vets who returned to become activists in anti-war groups either support “Platoon” or condemn it for not taking a more overt political stand against the war. The most common reaction, from vets motivated enough to have seen it already, is that while “Platoon” may compress events they have all seen or heard about into a conveniently tight time-frame, it is the most useful aid yet in explaining to relatives and friends what that war was for them, and what it did to them.

“Platoon” obviously is having an impact on more than vets. There is a post-traumatic stress syndrome for civilians, too, and though we all saw the horror of that war through news cameras while it was occurring, the cameras never got this close, nor told this much. It was still a war on the other side of the planet.

For those of us who were home trying to comprehend the Pentagon’s daily body counts, “Platoon” is like being grabbed by the scruff of the neck and lowered into the humid stink, to join Stone’s innocent alter-ego (played by Charlie Sheen) as another raw recruit with a year to dodge a body bag.

For some, the film is reopening old wounds and readdressing old issues. Actress Jane Fonda, who alienated much of a nation by going to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, said she wept in the lobby of the UA Coronet Theater in Westwood after seeing “Platoon” and now has second thoughts about having made that trip to North Vietnam. Chuck Norris, who is second only to Sylvester Stallone as a hero in Hollywood’s rewriting of the Vietnam War, said he doesn’t believe “Platoon” gives an accurate account of grunt-work in the jungles of Vietnam, and worries that it will exploited as anti-American propaganda in communist countries.

Norris is about to begin production on the third episode of “Missing in Action,” a series about a former POW who blows away scores of Viet Cong and Russian soldiers in attempts to liberate Americans from POW camps.

The “revisionist” Vietnam War movies--Ted Kotcheff’s “Uncommon Valor,” Norris’ two pictures and the two “Rambo” movies, with Sylvester Stallone as the ultimate comic strip warrior--have gotten almost equal time for condemnation by film critics and vets as “Platoon” has gotten for praise. Some veterans resent the simplistic--and historically wrong--themes of these movies and critics tend to resent the financial rewards Hollywood is reaping by exploiting a war it is loath to examine on a realistic level.

As ironic as it is to see a hard-hitting movie about Vietnam become a major commercial hit in 1987, it seems even odder that it didn’t get made several years ago. Before “The Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home” in 1978, and “Apocalypse Now” in 1979, Vietnam was regarded as a uncommercial war in Hollywood.

But between them, the movies had 25 Academy Award nominations and returned more than $80 million to the studios. “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter” are, in terms of box-office receipts, the two most successful war films ever made. (Unless you count “Star Wars” and the “Rambo” movies; we aren’t.)

Usually, hits start trends, but just as Michael Cimino (“The Deer Hunter”), Hal Ashby (“Coming Home”) and Francis Coppola (“Apocalypse Now”) were proving there was an audience--and a big one--for serious films dealing with Vietnam, other factors were turning Hollywood in another direction. It was the success of films like “Star Wars,” “Superman” and “Rocky” that caught the studios’ fancy. There were not only sequels to be mined like mother lodes, but the discovery of an affluent, seemingly insatiable youth audience willing to see the same films over and over.

That audience, which is only beginning to lose its luster after dominating studio-think for nearly 10 years, didn’t look like a very good target for more dramatic huffing and puffing about a war that, to teen-agers, must have seemed more distant than that galaxy far, far away.

There were other factors. The studios were being taken over by conglomerates, generating a period of administrative frenzy, with studio heads being pressured to either turn quick profits with big hits, or feel the nudge of a door hitting them in the rear end. Even though the occasional “Ordinary People,” “Chariots of Fire” and “On Golden Pond” slipped through the system to generate huge business, the safest bets were those with big budgets and commercial pedigrees that came out of places like Lucasfilm and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

“Platoon” could have been made anytime from the late ‘70s on for relative pennies, but Stone and his various allies (producer Martin Bregman tried to get the project under way for two years, with no success) got nothing but rejection. Meanwhile, Stone wrote other screenplays (“Midnight Express,” “Scarface”) and directed a failed horror film (“The Hand”) while remaining convinced he would never get a chance at “Platoon.”

“I had given up on the whole idea of making the movie,” Stone said. “It was in the morgue. . . . I thought nobody cared about Vietnam anymore.”

Ironically, it was Cimino, whose Academy Award winning “The Deer Hunter” reminded Stone of nothing he had experienced in Vietnam, who talked Stone into resurrecting “Platoon.”

“He said the issue was not dead and that the climate (for a Vietnam war movie) was right,” Stone said. “Michael has a nose about it. He says movies are like drilling for oil. There are a lot of dry wells out there, but he said this wasn’t one of them.”

Cimino had offered to produce “Platoon” for De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, with which he had a production deal, if Stone would write the script for “The Year of the Dragon,” Cimino’s comeback movie after the disastrous “Heaven’s Gate.” Stone wrote “Year of the Dragon,” but he said Cimino had legal problems over other issues with De Laurentiis and couldn’t follow through with his promise to make “Platoon.”

Enter Arnold Kopelson, a producer whose biggest financial gain in Hollywood came from the $20,000 seed money he provided director Bob Clark to work on the script for “Porky’s.” That $20,000 investment, Kopelson said, has so far returned $1.2 million in cash. Kopelson read the script for “Platoon” 18 months ago and said he knew when he put it down that he would produce it.

“I thought the timing was right for it,” Kopelson said. “I have three teen-age children who were telling me that Vietnam was getting to be an interesting subject in schools. It’s the No. 1 elective in most colleges. There was all that interest over the Vietnam Memorial. And it was the best script I had ever read in my life.” The budget on “Platoon” was projected at $6 million, about $10 million less than the current average cost of major studio movies. Kopelson, whose Inter-Ocean Film Sales specializes in pre-licensing (selling various rights and territories up front to cover production costs), said he was confident he could come up with the money. But there were more obstacles than he thought.

“I had problems selling Oliver Stone,” Kopelson said. “He had only done ‘The Hand’ and a small film in Canada (the 1974 “Seizure”) and most of the people I talked to--even buyers abroad--had no faith in Oliver’s ability to direct.”

Kopelson said he convinced himself of Stone’s ability by spending three weeks on the set of “Salvador,” a $3.5 million movie that Stone was then directing in Central America for the English production company, Hemdale. Hemdale’s John Daly apparently liked what he saw on that set, too. Kopelson said that before “Salvador” was finished, Daly offered to commit Hemdale to “Platoon” if Kopelson would give up the foreign rights to Orion Pictures. Kopelson did and between them, Orion and Hemdale came up with the $6 million.

Stone began shooting “Platoon” in the Philippines, almost on the day the Marcos regime fell. Despite those iffy early moments, the film came in on time and on budget. The Orion/Hemdale gamble is beginning to look like the best one since Universal’s decision to make “On Golden Pond,” a film that was released with the same pattern, and with the same kind of success, as “Platoon.”

“On Golden Pond,” which had been skeptically awaited as a down movie about old people, was opened in a few theaters at Christmas in 1981. With mostly good reviews and an enormous amount of publicity over the parallel emotional detente that Jane Fonda and her seriously ill father had come to off the screen, it was an immediate hit. “On Golden Pond” was opened as quickly as Universal could find theaters, and it was a major contender in most of the Oscar categories. Time magazine put it on the cover, too.

Ultimately, the film--it cost about the same as “Platoon” to make--grossed more than $100 million. That did not stop industry pundits from criticizing Universal for gingerly sitting on a movie that might have earned even more money, and the same pattern isn’t stopping critics now with “Platoon.”

“We took what appeared to be a conservative approach (with “Platoon”),” said Orion’s Charles Glenn, who was the head of marketing at Universal when “On Golden Pond” was released. “But this is not the kind of movie you can open in 1,500 theaters. It needed that exposure. We had to give it a chance for what is now happening to happen.”

On another level, what is now happening is a rethinking of Vietnam by Hollywood. Four other Vietnam-theme movies are already on the way, and Walt Disney Productions, through its Touchstone division, is about to go into production on Barry Levinson’s “Good Morning, Vietnam,” a comedy drama that will star Robin Williams as an irreverent military disc jockey pricking the airwaves above Vietnam in the mid-'60s.

Meanwhile, Sally Field and Columbia Pictures have a development deal for “Home Before Morning,” based on the experiences of an Army nurse in Vietnam. Field would produce the film and star in it, but no production date has been set.

Whatever the type or style, the distributors and producers of the upcoming Vietnam features must be looking at the market as if it were a clear path--courtesy of “Platoon"--through the Red Sea. Warner Bros. will release Stanley Kubrick’s two-years-in-the-making “Full Metal Jacket” this May. Cannon Films plans to release Lionel Chetwynd’s “Hanoi Hilton” about the same time, and Tri-Star Pictures could release Francis Coppola’s “Gardens of Stone” even earlier.

“Gardens of Stone,” a drama set in Washington during the Vietnam War, has had audience preview screenings and Coppola has been fine-tuning it for several weeks. Steven Randall, head of Tri-Star’s marketing division, said he believes “Platoon’s” success answers a big question for a lot of people.

“People in the country seem to be ready to look at it (the Vietnam War) from a realistic standpoint,” Randall said. “Its success has surprised everyone. We have a very different movie. It’s about relationships affected by the war, but it does take a realistic look at some of the issues then.”

A major beneficiary of “Platoon” is RKO Pictures. The independent New York-based production company thought it had a distribution deal for its “Hamburger Hill,” writer-director John Irvin’s personal vision of the Vietnam War. But the deal fell through when the Producers Sales Organization went out of business. Sad faces at RKO turned to happy faces when “Platoon” opened.

“There isn’t a major (studio) who hasn’t contacted us about wanting to see ‘Hamburger Hill’ as soon as possible,” said Barbara Boyle, executive vice president at RKO. “ ‘Platoon’ has absolutely made a path for ‘Hamburger Hill’ to jump into.”

Boyle described “Hamburger Hill” as the Vietnam War told from the view of a world-weary 20-year-old combat sergeant. Irvin, a BBC photographer during the war, shopped his script around about as long as Stone did. The war has gone from the freezer into the fire, and it is taking its storytellers with it.

“I am especially pleased that it is Oliver’s ‘Platoon’ which has demolished the notion that Vietnam is no longer a viable subject matter for American films,” said Michael Cimino, who declined to be interviewed but gave this prepared statement. “It will surely take decades to fully assess the profound and lasting impact of that shattering experience. And the search for answers will continue to generate plays, films and novels at least for the rest of our lifetimes.”

“Platoon” is bound to get a few dog-eared novels and coffee-stained scripts back on the boards for further consideration. Executives of both ABC and NBC networks report a surge of Vietnam-related projects being pitched for movies and miniseries.

“Mostly, they are things that have come in before and been rejected,” said Susan Baerwald, vice president of miniseries for NBC. “Now they’re being resubmitted with a comment like, ‘Gee, with the success of ‘Platoon,’ you may be interested in taking another look at this.’ ”

Baerwald said a proposed dramatization of Joe Klein’s book, “Payback,” is being reconsidered, after an earlier rejection, but she said she doubts she will change her mind.

“Generally, when things have been passed on, there’s a good reason,” she said. “Those reasons don’t change just because ‘Platoon’ works.”

A host of other Vietnam projects are in development or in production for all three networks, including ABC’s two miniseries, “Black Rainbow” and “The Last Days of Saigon,” and NBC’s “In Love and War,” based on the true story of Adm. James Stockdale, America’s highest-ranking POW in Vietnam.

There is even the strong chance that “Platoon” will take on a TV life, in a series that would track the lives of the grunts in the movie back to their pre-war domestic roles. “Platoon” producer Arnold Kopelson said if a deal is made, Stone will write and direct the pilot.

“It is time to set the record straight and counter . . . those movies that glorify war,” Kopelson said. “I think ‘Rambo’ is the greatest action film I have ever seen, but it is a different kind of movie. . . . We need to explain to the young generation what war is really like. When people get shot, they die or lose an arm or a leg. Real people are lost.”

Ted Kotcheff, who directed the first Rambo movie (“First Blood”), which was the story of a troubled vet returning to a disinterested America, and “Uncommon Valor,” about a father’s attempt to find his missing son in Vietnam, called “Platoon” “absolutely brilliant” and compared the emotional sting of watching it to swallowing raw whiskey. The kind of straight drama that burns and makes your eyes water as it goes down.

“Obviously, it is the fist-hand account by a film maker who is artistically capable of making one feel the terror and horror of that war,” Kotcheff said. “I was not in the war. Oliver Stone was there. With ‘Platoon,’ you are getting great reportage from the front.”

Kotcheff is not apologetic about either of his Vietnam-theme films.

“I certainly never saw (“First Blood”) as any kind of celebration of jingoism,” Kotcheff said. “I saw it as a cry from the veteran. . . . John Rambo was like a machine that couldn’t stop its engine. He was this Frankenstein monster we had created in Vietnam and then brought home.”

He described “Uncommon Valor,” which culminated in a combat assault by civilian-led vets of a POW camp, as a simple “what if” picture, not a rewriting of history, which many critics accused it of being.

“I thought the MIA’s were part of that general amnesia (of Americans regarding the war). I wanted to explore the pain that a lot of the loved ones were experiencing. . . . I never intended it as a fantasy victory over the Vietnamese.”

“Platoon” also won the endorsement of Joe Zito, who directed both of Chuck Norris’ “Missing in Action” movies.

“Without question, it is the best war movie ever made,” said Zito, adding that “Platoon” is like a horror film. "(It) offers up this black, horrific vision of Vietnam. . . . The evil seems to come out of nowhere. You can sense it, but you never know when or where it will strike. . . . We did the opposite with our pictures. You always knew who the bad guys were--and that Chuck would save the day. I tried to make video games out of them, and audiences had to know that we weren’t playing realistically. . . . It’s not as if we set out to make a realistic war picture and failed.”

Ted Post, who directed “Go Tell the Spartans,” a film that many critics brought up as the previous high-water mark for Vietnam War movies, said his movie had been about the “conflict of conscience,” but that “Platoon” takes it a step further, cutting through the insecurity and uncertainty over the war to show that the enemy really was us.

“It is a highly intense study of what G.I. life--infantry life--was all about,” Post said. “What he has done has give us documentary insight into that set of horrible circumstances that he experienced first hand.”

Not everyone thinks it is a good idea to deglorify war, or to celebrate the agony of it. Reed Irvine, chairman of the conservative Accuracy in the Media in Washington, said he has no intentions of even seeing “Platoon,” so certain is he that it distorts the larger issues of why America fought that war. Detroit-based vet counselor Keith Gustin said he isn’t going to see it either, even though his vet friends have told him it is accurate.

“I went to see ‘The Deer Hunter’ and felt my rucksack hitting me in the back,” Gustin said. “I don’t need to do that to myself again. I can watch the Rambo movies because that’s Hollywood. I even liked it when he killed all those Russians. It was a catharsis.

“Ten years ago, I would have loved the argument that war is bad, that you have to prepare kids for the anguish of war. I’m not sure the next war is going to be just like mine. Combat is never fun, but it’s sometimes necessary. I don’t think we want Americans to stay away from conflict just because it’s morally bad.”

As for Stallone, after thinking it over for a couple of days, he declined to comment on “Platoon” or the criticism being leveled against his Rambo movies. Said one of his assistants: “He is busy getting into his character for ‘Rambo III.’ ”

Additional reporting for this article was done by John M. Wilson, Pat H. Broeske, Jon Brain, Jay Sharbutt, Lee Margulies, Herman Wong, Ross Yosnow, Charles A. Johnson and Barbara Miller.