DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    George C. Scott as GENERAL HARLAN BACHE
    Ronny Cox as COLONEL KERBY

    Rated PG
    Studio: 20th Century Fox

    Directed by: Harold Becker
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I was only ten years old in 1981, so a film like “TAPS” wasn’t exactly in my repertoire. But for some reason, I remember the film when it came out in the theaters.

I actually wasn’t aware that it was such a significant film in many people’s careers. It was Sean Penn’s acting debut. It was also the second film Tom Cruise was in, and his first major role. (His first role was actually in “Endless Love” as basically a walk-on with a couple lines.) Moreover, it was Timothy Hutton’s first film he did after he won the Oscar for “Ordinary People.” (In fact, he practically took a plane from the Oscar ceremony straight to the “TAPS” set.

When the movie came out in its 25th anniversary special edition, it was interesting to watch it for the first time with this much history behind it.

The film begins as the Bunker Hill Military Academy, a school for boys that grooms them to be soldiers. However, due to condo development and a waning public interest in military schools, it is announced that the school is to be closed. The roster of soldiers-in-training as well as the staff are hurt and depressed, but no one is as upset as General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott).

To be frank, this opening was a little dull for my tastes. Nothing against military academies, but there didn’t seem much excitement about one that is being closed. However, things took a very interesting turn when, during an altercation with local students, General Bache’s gun discharges and kills one of them.

The film then falls into a tense pit of confusion and worry as the powers that be are even more determined to shut down the school. While the doors are getting closed, the new commanding student Major (Timothy Hutton) leads a rebellion of students. They confiscate the schools weapons and take over the grounds. This begins a long stand-off between the students inside and the authorities of the town.

With the rash of school shootings in recent news, the themes of violence in schools, by the students and against the students couldn’t be more relevant. The film also brings up some serious issues of how young is too young to give kids a gun. Of course, this is all sanitized by the Hollywood left in the making of this film.

“TAPS” really isn’t about a military stand-off. It’s about power and when it is appropriate to use violence. It examines the danger of power without leadership, and it also reveals what can happen when your home is threatened.

The performances are pretty strong in this film, and with the exception of George C. Scott, the older cast is really shown up by the newcomers. It’s interesting to watch Tom Cruise in the role of a pseudo-villain, which is something he never really repeated until he did “Collateral.” (It is true that technically Lestat was a villain in “Interview with the Vampire,” but he was portrayed as a hero.) It’s also interesting to watch a very young Sean Penn playing the noble kid against Cruise’s craziness.

The DVD comes with a nice selection of trailers, including teasers, work prints and TV spots. There’s also a commentary track with director Harold Becker. In case you were wondering about the history of the bugler’s sound of taps, there’s a short history in the special features. Finally, a new 30-minute documentary examines the movie in retrospect with new interviews with Timothy Hutton, Ronny Cox, producer Stanley R. Jaffe, cinematographer Owen Roizman and director Harold Becker.

Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1) – Enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French and Spanish language tracks. Spanish subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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