CLOSE
YouTube
YouTube

12 Intense Facts About Platoon

YouTube
YouTube

Before it won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1986, Platoon made waves simply by doing something new: showing the Vietnam War from the perspective of someone who fought in it. Oliver Stone was an infantryman for 14 months in 1967 and 1968, and he was determined to portray the experience accurately in what would be the first Vietnam film made by a Vietnam veteran. Coming 11 years after the official end of the war, Platoon opened a conversation between veterans and civilians that had previously been too painful to have. It’s also a fine piece of filmmaking. Here are a dozen facts to shed some light on it.

1. OLIVER STONE WAS SO TIRED ON THE SET THAT HE STARTED MAKING CRAZY ACCUSATIONS.

Stone has been described as difficult to work with even under the best of circumstances, and the grueling Platoon shoot—10 weeks in the miserable Philippine jungle—was in another category. He later recalled getting so sleep-deprived and paranoid that when he couldn’t find the footage from a particular scene, he accused his film editor, Claire Simpson, of hiding it. Simpson gently reassured him that no, she wasn’t deceiving him, and the reason he couldn’t find the footage was that he hadn’t shot it yet.

2. THEY USED IMPORTED DIRT.

Platoon was shot in the Philippines, which had the advantage of looking a lot like Vietnam without actually being in Vietnam. There was just one discrepancy: the Philippines lacked the red soil that Stone remembered from his days in ‘Nam. So dirt of the proper hue was trucked in for authenticity’s sake.

3. THAT SCENE WHERE EVERYBODY’S REALLY HIGH? EVERYBODY WAS REALLY HIGH.

Willem Dafoe said that to get into character for the sequence where the soldiers are lounging around the tent, smoking and drinking whatever they can get their hands on, he and the other actors got stoned ahead of time. They didn’t think their plan through very carefully, though. By the time they actually shot the scene, a few hours had passed, and everyone had come down. “They were just tired and useless,” Dafoe said.

4. THE SHOOT ALMOST GOT CANCELLED ON ACCOUNT OF REVOLUTION.

Sure, they thought. It’ll be easier to make a movie in the Philippines than in Vietnam, they thought. They would have been right if it weren’t for the fact that when they arrived, kleptocratic President Ferdinand Marcos was in the process of being tossed out of office. The country’s political instability threatened the production, but ended up only delaying it a week. Filming began two days after Marcos and his family vacated the premises. Stone said, “When the change came, we had to make new deals with the new military. You had to get a lot of permissions and bribe a new set of people.” 

5. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME JOHNNY DEPP HAD EVER BEEN OUT OF THE COUNTRY.

He’s a world traveler who lives in France a lot of the time now, but in early 1986, the 22-year-old Depp had never left the U.S.

6. IT TOOK MORE THAN A DECADE TO GET THE FILM PRODUCED.

Stone wrote a screenplay based on his experiences in Vietnam as soon as he got back from the war, in 1969. (He sent a copy of it to Jim Morrison, hoping the Doors frontman would star in it.) By 1976, that draft morphed into what he was then calling The Platoon. Stone couldn’t find anyone willing to make the movie, though. The war was still too fresh in people’s minds; it would be another few years before films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter addressed it. And after that, studios had another excuse not to make Platoon: why bother, when Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter had already covered it?

7. SIDNEY LUMET ALMOST MADE THE MOVIE WITH AL PACINO.

Back in 1976, when Stone was trying to get his screenplay produced, he almost found a taker in Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Network), who was going to cast Al Pacino in the Charlie Sheen role. 

8. IT CHANGED THE WAY HOLLYWOOD LOOKED AT WAR.

A much-decorated retired Marine named Dale Dye, who loved war movies but was disappointed by their failure to convey the mental and emotional realities of combat, offered Stone his services as an advisor. Dye had been turned down by other filmmakers, who felt the way Hollywood had been doing it—you hire a consultant to make sure the medals, guns, and uniforms are accurate, and you don’t worry about the less tangible details—seemed to be working just fine. (Dye said: “They had been making zillions of dollars making war films for decades, and here was some clown coming in to tell them they had a better mousetrap? Go away.”) But Dye’s vision matched Stone’s, and the psychological authenticity they created together was a major factor in Platoon’s success. For the first time, Vietnam veterans were seeing their experiences portrayed realistically. Dye has since become the foremost military consultant in Hollywood, advising (and occasionally acting in) everything from Saving Private Ryan to the Medal of Honor video games. 

9. THE CAST SPENT TWO WEEKS IN A SIMULATED BOOT CAMP.

One of Dye’s ideas was to put the actors through the closest thing to a real boot camp that he could without killing them. They spent two weeks as soldiers in the Philippine jungle, digging holes to live in, eating from ration cans, carrying real weight, and staying in character. There were no showers or toilets, and everyone had to rotate on night watch. “It’s usually around day two or day three [the actors] realize playtime is over and that this guy is serious,” he recalled

10. STONE WAS SO SURPRISED BY THE FILM’S SUCCESS THAT HE DROVE PAST THEATERS WHERE IT WAS PLAYING TO SEE FOR HIMSELF.

Though he’d been lauded as a screenwriter for Midnight Express and Scarface, Stone’s previous directorial efforts—The Hand (1981) and Salvador (1986, 10 months before Platoon)—had been flops. That Platoon, which he’d been trying to make for a decade and which seemed cursed, should be a hit caught him totally off-guard. Elizabeth Cox, his wife at the time, told an interviewer that when they’d drive around L.A., Stone would go out of his way to see it with his own eyes. “He’ll stand outside the theater, listen to remarks,” she said. “He’s amazed that people like it. He’s cute.” 

11. CHARLIE SHEEN ALMOST LOST THE LEAD ROLE TO HIS OWN BROTHER.

Sheen auditioned during one of Stone’s earlier, unsuccessful attempts to get the movie made, and didn’t impress him. The guy Stone really liked was Sheen’s older brother, Emilio Estevez. But financing fell through and the film was shelved. By the time Sheen auditioned again a few years later, he had grown into the role. “This time I knew in 10 minutes he was right,” said Stone. 

12. IT WAS BANNED IN VIETNAM (BUT PEOPLE SAW IT ANYWAY).

Unsurprisingly, the government didn’t care for the film’s unflattering portrayal of the Viet Cong, and wouldn’t let it play there. But in March 1988, the Vietnam News Agency reported that “tens of thousands” of people were watching it on video in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), without noting how the film had been obtained. It was the first American film about the Vietnam War to play in that city.

Additional Sources:
DVD features and commentary

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
iStock
iStock

People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Cost Plus World Market
arrow
Smart Shopping
18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
Cost Plus World Market
Cost Plus World Market

Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

Buy on Amazon.

2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

Buy on Amazon.

3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

Buy on Amazon.

7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

Buy on Amazon.

9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

Buy on Amazon.

10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

Buy on Amazon.

11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

Buy on Amazon.

12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

Buy on Amazon.

13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

Buy on Amazon.

14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios