Heaven & Earth (1993) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Oliver Stone made three factual films about the Vietnam war and its aftermath.

Born on the Fourth of July was the story told from the point of view of a radicalized disabled veteran. It was a true story based on an eponymous book by Ron Kovic.

Platoon is the warrior's viewpoint, is probably Stone's most highly regarded film, and is based on his own combat experiences in Vietnam.

Heaven and Earth is told from the point of view of a young woman who grew up in a peaceful Vietnamese village, and is Stone's own screenplay based on Le Ly Hayslip's two books, "When Heaven and Earth Changed Places", and "Child of War, Woman of Peace"

The film has some real structural problems. It uses far too much narration, and it tries to cover a lot of ground:

First there is her village: from Le Ly's peaceful childhood, to the arrival of the French, to the arrival of the Cong, to the appearance of the Americans

Then there is her struggle to survive in Saigon and DaNang, as a naive village girl adapting first to city life, then to the new GI-based economy.


Hiep Thi Le was seen topless in a rape scene and a childbirth scene

A miscellaneous stripper is seen dancing topless

Finally, there is her transition to life in the United States. She copes with an ex wife, kids, in-laws, and a drunken guilt-ridden husband. Stone gets in some very effective digs at American life here, as he views it from the eyes of Le Ly. There is a brilliant shot of her first view of a suburban refrigerator, in which it seems to her to be larger than the walk-in at McDonald's

There is also a fourth act, which I hated, where LeLy returns to Vietnam.

It is difficult enough to condense one book into a movie, let alone two.

I recommend the film highly, despite some criticisms I am about to level. I also highly recommend listening to Stone's commentary on the DVD, which is honest and passionate and knowledgeable. He doesn't speak as much about filmmaking as about the people of Vietnam, a subject which he has obviously pondered at length.

This was enough material for several movies, and after you've watched this one you'll either feel that the two and a half hours were too short to do it justice, or that they should have found a better place to start and/or end the film. I wouldn't have minded if the first (Vietnam) and third (America) acts had been expanded, even though it was a long film. Those acts were both excellent. In my opinion, it should have been two highly detailed movies instead of one which was long, but still seemed to shortchange us on details.

So, Oliver, if you're reading.

  1. I would have liked one entire movie about the first two acts - her life in Vietnam, with no more on city life, but the village portion expanded- their beliefs, their way of life, and how it was interrupted so many times even before the Americans came. This would have been a poetic and bittersweet film with a "happy ending" as she and her children escaped to America. And I feel you should have left the original opening in the film. How could you create something so beautiful and not use it? (see below)
  2. And I would have enjoyed one entire movie about her adjusting to life in America. This would have been a black comedy with plenty of satire of American culture, and a grim ending (Tommy Lee's suicide)
  3. And I would have taken the script for the last act (the return to Vietnam), and thrown it in the trash.

As I mentioned above, the beginning has already been changed at least once. The original beginning had her return to a burnt-out village, which then came alive and became beautiful again only in her recollection of the past. That was quite a poetic opening, magnificently filmed, and actually a good use of narration. (The original opening, which I love, can be seen in the deleted scenes) That was, in my mind, a much better structure than the cold beginning "I can remember in my childhood always working with my mother ....", and the hyper-corny existing ending. The movie's final narration, as it stands now, is poorly done, with sappy words and swelling music.

I think it was a better film as he originally wrote it, because the problems with the existing version are:

1. Le Ly's corny return home

2. the corny closing speeches (I was looking for Kevin Costner)

3. the length and excessively ambitious scope of the film. (Yet, despite the 150 minute length, you wish he had spent more time on some things)

The dustbowl version of the town was Le Ly's dream - done in black and white, a town without people, shot with a mimimalist emptiness, as in Ingmar Bergman's films. I do think that the dustbowl opening and the elimination of the fourth act would make a better film poetically and structurally, but I think the existing film has a big life-embracing heart, and that causes me to forgive the structural flaws and corny closing speeches.

It's a good film despite its flaws, one that searches for the intrinsic truth in the situation, and that tries not to interpose too much of Stone himself into the picture. In fact, while it is critical of America's effect on the country of Vietnam, it is equally critical of the effect of other foreigners. In the eyes of the villagers, the Americans were simply the latest in a long line of invaders - the Chinese, the Japanese, the French. Le Ly's father talked about how each generation of his ancestors fought against a different foe.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length director commentary, including in the deleted scenes

  • extended/deleted scenes

And it wasn't just foreigners who disrupted village life. The Viet Cong are portrayed no more favorably. Although they preach a good line about social justice, they end up being ruthless torturers and rapers, just like everyone else.

The saga of the village since the beginning of time always contains peaceful times, just growing their rice, until someone comes along to destroy their world. Then they rebuild it and the story begins anew.

There are many moments of stark beauty, and many more of emotional depth. Oliver Stone keeps his technique secondary to the story, unveiling his audio-visual pyrotechnics only when appropriate (to maximize the intensity of torture scenes, for example).

If the entire story isn't quite perfect because it seems to ramble and cover too much territory, well, I found it in my heart to forgive that for the many raw and honest moments it delivered.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 2.5

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. only four reviews

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.1,
  • With their dollars ... it didn't do well. It it took in only $5 million domestic. I'm not sure of the budget, but it's a big sweeping epic and must have cost in the tens of millions.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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