I’ve always been curious about Gustav Hasford’s acclaimed novel, The Short-Timers. It’s the novel that inspired the film, Full Metal Jacket (1987) directed by Stanley Kubrick (1928 to 1999) and written by Stanley Kubrick, Gustav Hasford (1947 to 1993) and Michael Herr. If you’ve seen the movie then you know or would agree that the first part of the movie is more riveting than the second part. I don’t even think I watched the second half of the film all that closely. It’s that different in tone and wasn’t as engaging. The first part of the movie is just straight up intense as it follows the new recruits on Paris Island as they train to be Marines.
I was curious to read the book after seeing the movie several years ago. I’d read all the accolades for the book with one of them saying The Short-Timers was one of the best novelization of the Vietnam War. I realize that’s probably debatable. BTW, this is not a very deep comparative analysis just my opinion. The first chapter in the book, titled, The Spirit of the Bayonet, introduces the main recruits. Leonard Pratt aka Gomer Pyle, the recruit who can’t do anything right. Then there’s Joker and Cowboy and the drill instructor everyone hates: Gunnery Sergeant Gerheim. A memorable character if there ever was one. In the movie, not the book. Also I noticed the name of the drill instructor is Gny. Sgt. Hartman, different from the book.
The first chapter in The Short-Timersis about 33 pages long and covers the first half of the movie. As I read I took note of several things. First, I couldn’t put the book down once I started reading it. I only wanted to read the first couple of pages when I received it but by the time I set it down I had already read the first 33 pages without stopping and I could have went on reading but had to stop to do something else. Second, the language, the invectives and such were depicted more in the film version than the book. Probably such language could never be published at that time? Who knows. I just remember R. Lee Ermey screaming out insults non-stop in the movie.
The book has a few of the typical insults but nothing compared to the movie. Not at all. There’s an interesting story behind Ermey getting the role as the much maligned drill instructor. As many will already know, Ermey was an actual Marine and drill instructor during the Cold War and he provided a video to the director showing him spitting out insults non-stop while people were throwing things at him to distract him. He didn’t break stride at all.
The movie is much more chilling in depicting the craziness of one of its recruits (trying to stay in non-spoiler territory here). Contrary to the movie, the novel does give a little more insight into that character with the mention of him being a Section 8 which is defined as being unfit for service due to mental illness. While reading, I was also reminded of the movie as some scenes are taken straight out of the book word for word. At any rate, I plan to finish reading this book and put it on my keeper shelf when I’m finished. My curiosity is satisfied in part. The book has nothing on the movie but still, it’s a riveting read in its own right.
Dare I say that the movie is better than the book? Can’t say actually as I am not through reading it. I will update you all when I do at the end of the year round-up. Sadly, this book is out of print and the author died a long time ago. I bought a paper copy of this book at the low end of the pricing scale. This book has been seen to go as high as $2,000 in some places. I don’t know who is buying at those prices but know this: it wasn’t me.
Sources for this post: Wikipedia and IMDb