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Views of Vietnam: `Platoon' vs. `Rambo'. Why did films with very different images of war and heroism both become hits?

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Except for the studios that turned ``Platoon'' down for more than a decade - saying it wasn't a ``commercial'' project - nobody has been more amazed by the film's wildfire success than Oliver Stone, who wrote and directed it. ``We didn't expect anything like this,'' he told me in a recent phone conversation. Backed up by eight Academy Award nominations, the picture's popularity has become the season's hottest movie-news story. Behind the headlines, however, lies a deeper issue - the significance of ``Platoon'' as an answer to ``Rambo: First Blood Part II,'' the previous blockbuster about the Vietnam conflict.

To some extent, Hollywood movies constitute a dialogue with the public and each other. Sometimes the dialogue amounts to a debate, with box-office figures measuring the response of moviegoers to each argument.

Seen in this light, the flamboyant action of ``Rambo'' represented a radical turn away from the ambiguity and skepticism of earlier Vietnam films like ``The Deer Hunter'' and ``Apocalypse Now.''

In the same way, the success of ``Platoon'' can be seen as a strong and perhaps surprising reply to the ``Rambo'' world-view, which was thought by some to augur a new flowering of aggressive anti-Communism and conservatism.

``Platoon'' also appears to have opened up a more searching kind of introspection among moviegoers than ``Rambo'' did - focusing not just on Vietnam and the longing to ``win,'' but on the physical and psychological destructiveness of all combat.

``Students are constantly bringing up `Platoon' and asking about the war,'' says the director of a university film department in the New York area. ``And parents have come to me, wanting to talk about it with me and their children. They aren't just titillated by the violence. They're troubled by the film, and it's opening many doors to discussion.''

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