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A group of recruits go through Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana's infamous Tigerland, last stop before Vietnam for tens of thousands of young men in 1971.
For more about Tigerland and the Tigerland Blu-ray release, see Tigerland Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on May 26, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins, Jr., Tom Guiry, Shea Whigham, Russell Richardson
Director: Joel Schumacher
» See full cast & crew
Tigerland Blu-ray Review
The Great Schumacher Shift of 2000
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, May 26, 2011
I feel kind of sorry for Joel Schumacher. Yes, he's the guy responsible for putting rubber nipples on Batman's costume in 1997's dreadful, camp Batman & Robin—an unforgivable offense, according to some fans—but I've come to see this as a clever act of subversion. (The movie is still terrible, though.) Warner Brothers pressured Schumacher to make a kid-friendly, Happy Meal-ready Batman film, and the openly gay director responded by sticking it to The Man, so to speak, homoeroticizing the relationship between the Caped Crusader and his codpiece-wearing sidekick. The movie was a massive failure, in the end, and Schumacher's career has never fully recovered. He's had a few minor hits since the Batman debacle— Phone Booth, Veronica Guerin, The Phantom of the Opera—but nothing that has rivaled his commercial success in the 1980s and early '90s. More recently, he's turned his attentions toward smaller budget indie films, a shift that you see starting to take place in 2000's underappreciated Tigerland, a Vietnam era war film that, visually and in terms of story, is quite different from any of his previous, glossier films.
Actually, "war film" is a bit of a misnomer here, one that implies firefights, men-on-a-mission escapades, and a goal-oriented narrative. (Take that bunker! Sneak behind enemy lines! Save Private Ryan!) Tigerland, a distinct anti-war film, isn't like that. In fact, the closest the film's characters ever get to Vietnam is the swamplands of Louisiana. Remember the 40-minute opening boot camp sequence of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket? Well, not to generalize too much, but Tigerland is that, but for an entire film. The setting is Fort Polk, an advanced infantry training center where draftees and new recruits are prepped for deployment in a mock-up, combat simulation version of Vietnam called Tigerland. You might say that this is the last stop before Saigon. Tensions are high. It's 1971, and by this point, most of the grunts recognize that Vietnam is a losing proposition, that they're essentially being sent to fight and die in a tacitly unwinnable war.
Troublemaking draftee Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell) has a problem with this. Bozz' closest analogue in fiction is Yossarian, the hero of Joseph Heller's satirical anti-war novel Catch-22, as both characters are baffled by the contradictions and insanities of the bureaucratic war machine. Bozz flouts authority at every turn, adopts an I don't give a shit attitude about his training, and refuses to be subjugated by the military's fall in line mentality. Yet, there's more to his persona than mere rebelliousness or cowardice. Behind the façade of an insubordinate badass—a defense mechanism of sorts—Bozz is deeply compassionate. Human suffering and inequality bother him. He doesn't want to kill anybody, and he doesn't want to see anybody killed. He even shies away from making friends, specifically because he doesn't want to be emotionally affected by the deaths of fellow soldiers he knows he'll inevitably witness. His sole buddy is Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis), an enlisted man who joined up because he wants to write a novel about his experiences, like Hemingway or James Jones. "What the hell are you going to write, anyway?" asks Bozz. "'War is hell, men are brave,' that kind of petrified crap?"
Tigerland does avoid "that kind of petrified crap" for the most part, thanks to a strong script by Ross Klavan, a former soldier who trained at the real Tigerland camp. This isn't a film about macho bravado or courage under fire. There are no inspirational speeches about honor, and certainly no bleary-eyed, patriotic odes to God and Country. (Although there is one gushingly sentimental scene where an illiterate farmboy ruminates on how the moon in the sky over Fort Polk is the same moon that shines on his young bride back home.) The film is, however, very subtly about sacrifice and empathy. The core of the story concerns Bozz' gradual transformation from smirking wiseass to reluctant leader. With "X-ray vision for loopholes," Bozz helps several members of his platoon get honorably discharged from the Army—earning himself a reputation as a "bleeding heart"— and he courts controversy by standing up to Private Wilson (Shea Whigham), a racist wannabe commando who's peeved over Bozz' surprising promotion to squadron leader. When the platoon arrives at Tigerland—the training stage that puts the troops in uncomfortably real combat scenarios —the antagonism between Wilson and Bozz comes to violent, confrontational head.
Before Tigerland, Joel Schumacher was known primarily for big budget gloss, but here he experiments with quick and dirty filmmaking, using handheld 16mm cameras and minimal movie lighting for a more documentary-style effect. He claims to have been inspired by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg's Dogme 95 manifesto, which laid out ground rules for a purified form of cinema, and though Tigerland doesn't conform to all the Dogme tenets—or even half of them—the film is more raw than most Hollywood productions. Contributing to the documentary vibe is Schumacher's decision to cast what were then mostly unknown actors. You might also recognize Shea Whigham as the jealous brother of Nucky Thomson in HBO's Boardwalk Empire. He's good at playing these kinds of characters, men who want to be in power but who are held back by their own ignorance and self-defeatism. Continuing the Boardwalk Empire connection, Michael Shannon (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done), who plays the pious prohibition agent Nelson van Alden, shows up here as a torture-happy sergeant who shows his men a literally shocking way to get information out of the Vietcong. Of course, this was also Colin Farrell's breakout role, and despite a Texas accent that occasionally seems inflected by his native Irish lilt, he's excellent as the morally conflicted Bozz, his screen magnetism in full force even this early in his career.
Tigerland Blu-ray, Video Quality
Judging Tigerland's picture quality is a bit tricky, given how the film was shot. In order to obtain a more documentary-like look, Schumacher and cinematographer Matthew Libatique—most recently the DP on Black Swan—opted to use 16mm, which is much softer and grainier than 35mm. At the same time, they also put much of the film through a bleach bypass process, which strips it of strong color and gives it that gritty, desaturated quality that became really popular in war films post-Saving Private Ryan. Personally, I think this contradicts Schumacher's documentary-esque intentions. It would make more sense to either shoot straight 16mm without insane color toning—which would give a truer newsreel-type look—or shoot bleach bypassed 35mm. The combo of soft 16mm and stripped out color doesn't really work so well, and that's evidenced in the film's 1080p/AVC- encoded transfer, which—to put it frankly—is quite ugly. Truly fine detail is almost entirely absent, black levels are grayish even while they crush shadow detail, and the film's palette is a murky mixture of washed out greens and muddy browns. Still, you have to respect that this was how the film was shot, and that it's not likely to look much better. Where this transfer falters, however, is that it actively makes the film look worse by applying heavy edge enhancement to make up for the lack of resolve in the 16mm image. This leaves distracting haloing around hard outlines, which is especially noticeable in all scenes shot in the forest, as trunks, twigs, and branches are all awkwardly ringed. Furthermore, the natural appearance of film grain is inconsistent. There are scenes that are indeed heavy with chunky grain, and others where it's clear that at least some measure of DNR has been used to smooth everything out. Does Tigerland look better on Blu-ray than it did on DVD? Sure. But could it look better with a lighter touch on the post- processing? Absolutely.
Tigerland Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track will be far less controversial, even if it doesn't deliver exactly what you'd expect from a "war" movie. Since the troops never actually make it to 'Nam here, there are no battle scenes or real firefights—sequences that typically feature loud, bombastic sound design in your average war film. There are a few mock-combat scenes that include machinegun fire popping off loudly in the rears, along with all the other subwoofer-heavy aural chaos of battle, but Tigerland is a surprisingly dialogue-driven experience. Know that going in and you'll have no problems with this well-mixed track. The surround speakers do have their moments of cross-channel intensity, but they're mostly used for place-establishing ambience: barrack sounds, barroom chatter, outdoorsy noises, etc. Nathan Larson's score also has a strong presence when it comes into play, and in general, the mix has a wide, clear dynamic range. Dialogue is always clean and easy to understand. The disc also includes several dub and subtitle options—see above for details.
Tigerland Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Along with the commentary, screen tests, and TV spots that were included on the DVD edition of the film, Fox has surprisingly added three new Blu- ray exclusive bonus features—an interview with Schumacher, a look at the real-life Tigerland training base, and a conversation with the film's writer.
Tigerland Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Obviously, if it's a choice between Tigerland or Platoon—the two Vietnam-era movies coming out on Blu-ray this week—Platoon is the far superior film. That said, Tigerland is one of Joel Schumacher's best efforts, and it's definitely worth revisiting; it's unusual among war movies in that it never takes its characters to actual war—the whole film is set on a training base—and it features fine performances from some then- unknown actors who you'll certainly recognize now. I have to give props to Fox for including some all-new special features in this Blu-ray rerelease, but I wish the studio had been less heavy handed with the film's edge enhancement-prone 1080p transfer. Is it worth the upgrade from DVD? Maybe, especially if you're interested in the new supplements, but don't expect to add Tigerland to the list of titles you use to demo your home theater system.
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