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Pampered action superstar Tugg Speedman is cast in the biggest, most expensive war movie ever produced. He sets out to Southeast Asia with a "Who's Who" of celebrity co-stars. They include Kirk Lazarus, an intense, three-time Oscar-winner; Jeff Portnoy, star of the popular gross-out comedy franchise "The Fatties"; multi-platinum hip-hop-star-turned-entrepreneur-turned-actor Alpa Chino; and first-timer Kevin Sandusky. Soon after the production begins the actors are thrown into a real-life situation and are forced to become the fighting unit they're portraying, in order to find a way out of the jungle in one piece.
For more about Tropic Thunder and the Tropic Thunder Blu-ray release, see Tropic Thunder Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 14, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Tom Cruise
Director: Ben Stiller
» See full cast & crew
Tropic Thunder Blu-ray Review
'Tropic Thunder' is no blunder on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 14, 2008
The most expensive war movie never made.
The Vietnam War film has finally matured into its own industry as genre all to itself, an offshoot of the broader War genre. Now, Tropic Thunder provides a brilliant parody of both Vietnam War films, from Platoon to Apocalypse Now, and of the industry that is Hollywood itself. Over more than three decades, the Vietnam War has probably spawned more films than any other conflict save for World War II, the films a broad array of styles, including the aforementioned Best Picture winners and nominees (not to mention The Deer Hunter); dour, heavy-on-symbolism films like Full Metal Jacket, We Were Soldiers, and Hamburger Hill; and goofy, one-dimensional outings like Platoon Leader. Finally, the Vietnam War has inspired an offbeat, comically over-the-top outing that plays off the best films of the past three decades, delving deep into stereotypes, and combining robust action sequences with a dosage of social commentary. Tropic Thunder doesn't stop there, however. It also offers a humorous commentary on the way Hollywood (supposedly) works. The backstabbing, the politics, the competition, the lifestyles, the films, and, yes, the money, all take a few body blows through the course of the film, each in good fun, of course. Combining action, gore, and enough foul-mouthed humor that might even make George Carlin blush, Tropic Thunder is perhaps the most original, fun, and captivating films of the year.
Over budget, behind schedule, and plagued by rampant blunders, conflicting egos, and an impatient studio executive (Tom Cruise, Top Gun), the movie Tropic Thunder, a big-budget adaptation of fictional Vietnam War hero Four Leaf Tayback's (Nick Nolte, The Spiderwick Chronicles) best-selling novel of the same name, is in dire straits. Facing the potential termination of the project, Tayback convinces the film's first-time director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan, Night at the Museum) to drop the actors into the real jungles of Vietnam, away from their entourages, their agents, their trailers, and all the comforts of the set. The film's primary cast -- action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller, Dodgeball), five-time Academy Award winer Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man), overweight and drug-addicted comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black, King Kong), rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson, This Christmas), and up-and-comer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel, Fanboys) -- soon find themselves deep in the jungles of Vietnam where the action becomes all too real, emotions run high, and each cast member must dig deep to survive the ordeal, discovering they must rely on who they are and not who they portray to make it home alive.
Tropic Thunder features an incredible primary cast that absolutely devours the material, with Robert Downey, Jr., turning in an Oscar-caliber performance as Kirk Lazarus portraying Lincoln Osiris. His impeccable inflections, comedic timing, penchant for delivering fine action scenes, and even they way he carries himself in-character never fails to inspire from a purely technical level. He truly does pull off Kirk Lazarus, who is billed as a highly skilled, intelligent, and classically-trained actor. There is no doubt that Downey, Jr. is every bit the actor the movie portrays his character as being, and despite the controversial role he plays both in the real Tropic Thunder and the movie portrayed therein, it is a classic, bold performance that hits all the right notes. Ben Stiller captures his duel role well, too, though neither he nor his fellow actors dig quite as deep as Downey, Jr, nor do their roles present the challenges of the Lazarus/Osiris character. Stiller's Tugg Speedman is a complex character to be sure, an actor trying to find his place, wanting to be more than a mindless action robot, someone known for more than "effects-driven action." Both his character and Downey, Jr.'s undergo radical, almost spiritual metamorphoses throughout the picture, ascending to a higher level of understanding and self-awareness not only in front of the camera but in their souls, too. Jack Black serves as the film's comic relief, the chubby, M-60 wielding heroin addict who serves up most of the film's crude humor and remains a lost, confused soul for the duration of the picture. Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel are also solid in supporting roles.
The gore of Tropic Thunder is so over-the-top that it makes audiences squirm and laugh at the same time. Blown off hands, a head severed from a body and placed on the barrel of a rifle, and a never-ending spray of blood flowing from of a bullet hole to the head that makes the middle-finger-knife-to-neck scene in RoboCop look like daffodils and kitty cats. Of course, what always makes gore grotesque or not is never, ever, about the gore itself -- it is about the attitude of the film, the context of the scene, the drama of the moment that makes a scene squeamishly gross or laughably funny. Take the aforementioned RoboCop, for example. The scene where Murphy is murdered in the warehouse, particularly the longer cut as seen on the X-rated version of the film, is as hard to stomach as they come. The complete lack of humanity on display as the villains relentlessly and gleefully unload on Murphy is downright sickening, each of them deserving of a similar or worse fate not only for killing the man -- but for doing it with such passion, with such vigor, with such unabashed contempt for the man, for the uniform he wears, for the values he upholds. That is true gore. The same can be said of the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The violence is unforgiving, the film gritty and unpalatable, but strangely voyeuristic as the unfathomable terror that besieges the teenagers and the incredibly detailed gore on display makes for a tough watch. Contrast both of these with Tropic Thunder. The film's lighthearted, easygoing, comic over-the-top attitude puts a completely different spin on the what is oftentimes grotesque imagery, but because it is framed in obvious comedic overtones as it parodies the Vietnam War film, the gore itself becomes a character of sorts, perhaps even a macabre comic relief that adds to the charm and quality of the parody on display throughout the entire film.
Perhaps above all else, it is the film's execution, attention to detail, and self-awareness that make it a success. Never taking itself seriously but maintaining a quasi-serious tone amidst the jokes, action, gore, and thoughtful progression of the characters, director Ben Stiller ensures that Tropic Thunder balances each of its attributes, and none outshine the others, nor do one or two areas of the film ever fall by the wayside or feel poorly scripted or developed. The film's tightrope approach works well, and while it plays to two extremes -- war movie fanatics and crude humor enthusiasts -- a middle ground exists, too, one that pulls in general audiences thanks to its star power and promise of something out of the ordinary, something that seems hard to come by anymore. Make no mistake, Tropic Thunder is a polarizing film, but audiences willing to not only give it a chance, but those who understand its intent and, more importantly, the films and culture it parodies, will get the most out of the experience.
Tropic Thunder Blu-ray, Video Quality
Tropic Thunder explodes onto Blu-ray with a high quality 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer. The film's visuals are stunning from beginning to end, that transfer an all-encompassing marriage of fabulous color rendition, attention to detail, and a film-like look that makes this a first-rate visual Blu-ray. The bright greens of the jungle foliage (these scenes shot in Hawaii), the darker army greens of the uniforms and helicopters, and the dirt, grime, and caked-on filth that coats faces and uniforms makes for what is nothing short of pleasing eye candy in nearly every frame. Many of the scenes that take place outside of the jungles of Vietnam are rich and colorful with a myriad of hues that jump right off the screen. Likewise, the jungle sequences are equally impressive, though with a more limited color palette, obviously. Darker, nighttime scenes exhibit good blacks and the film's grainiest sequences. Each actor/soldier wears a basic Army-green uniform with personal effects on each one -- a bandolier across the chest and a Hershey's bar in the helmet strap adorn Portnoy's uniform, for example, and the fine detail on each uniform is amazing, close-up shots revealing every stitch and seam with startling perfection. The disc also features razor-sharp clarity, little-to-no softness, and well-rendered flesh tones. Tropic Thunder is yet another in an ever growing list of visually impressive Blu-ray discs from DreamWorks.
Tropic Thunder Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Tropic Thunder booms onto Blu-ray with an aggressive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The soundstage is filled to the brim with effects, atmosphere, music, dialogue, and bass. Helicopter rotors subtly rattle the floorboards, a party sequence in chapter 5 rattles the windows rather effectively, but the "bungle in the jungle" explosion as heard early in the film doesn't really pack much of a punch for such a large sonic event. Nevertheless, most everything about the track is perfect. Sound precisely follows the on-screen action; as a helicopter flies from front to rear, the sound flows with it, the sound system matching its every move on the screen. The actors' first engagement with a real enemy, whom they consider nothing more than extras firing blanks as squibs go off all around, fills the soundstage with the sounds of automatic weapons fire all over the place; the rear channels spring to life with gunshots and impacts as the confusion and intensity of the all-too-real firefight coming to vivid life, the scene making for a very good wartime movie audio experience. A driving thunderstorm as heard in chapter 11 isn't quite as enveloping an experience as it could have been, but several booms of thunder do shake things up rather nicely. The best sounding moments in the movie may be the scenes featuring Les Grossman dancing to hip hop music. The tune plays smoothly throughout the listening area with deep lows and crisp highs spreading perfectly across the entire stage. Tropic Thunder also features pitch-perfect dialogue reproduction. This is a top-notch soundtrack that comes just shy of receiving a perfect score due to the sometimes inconsistent bass.
Tropic Thunder Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Tropic Thunder touches down at the LZ and presents viewers with a enough extras to fill the belly of a Huey. The fun begins with a filmmaker commentary track featuring actor/writer/director Ben Stiller, writer and executive producer Justin Theroux, producer Stuart Cornfeld, production designer Jeff Mann, cinematographer John Toll, and editor Greg Hayden. Though the track is a bit slow, it's particularly interesting at the same time. Heavy on technical jargon and substance, each participant chimes in with their thoughts on the film, its look, script, and attitude. While the track is better suited to more technically-minded audiences, general audiences may find plenty to enjoy here, too. The second track features actors Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. keeping his promise and remaining in-character as Lincoln Osiris/Kirk Lazarus for the DVD (Blu-ray) commentary. No beating around the bush here: this is perhaps the finest cast commentary every recorded, with Downey, Jr. stealing the show for two straight hours, even changing character where appropriate. It manages to be even funnier than the movie itself, even when it serves up some serious insights, and is an absolute must-listen.
Before the Thunder (1080i, 4:54) looks at the long evolution of the film from its inception during the boom of Vietnam War films in the mid-to-late 1980s to what the film attempts to do in its final version. The Hot LZ (1080i, 6:25) takes a look at the making of the film's opening action sequence. Blowing S#!t Up (1080i, 6:18) is a fun feature that looks at the magic behind movie explosions. Designing the Thunder (1080i, 7:31) examines the challenges of building the film's various sets. The Cast of 'Tropic Thunder' (1080i, 22:12) features cast and crew members discussing the characters portrayed and the strengths brought to the project by Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny R. McBride, and Nick Nolte. Rain of Madness (1080i, 30:00) is a mockumentary of "the making of a Hollywood nightmare" that was Tropic Thunder, or the movie as portrayed in Tropic Thunder, anyway. The pseudo-documentary examines the made-up true story behind the fictitious film as portrayed in the real film. Confused yet? This is a fine feature, itself a parody on the famous Heart of Darkness documentary that chronicled the creation of the Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now.
Moving along, viewers find Make-up Test With Tom Cruise (1080p, 1:34). Here, Tom Cruise is seen in his bald-headed make-up dancing to a hip-hop track. The feature is preceded by an optional introduction by Ben Stiller and editor Greg Hayden (1080i, 1:12). Two deleted scenes -- Water Buffalo Wrestling (1080p, 1:35) and Speedman Unpacking His Backpack (1080p, 1:44, with optional commentary) are next. Two extended sequences -- Snorkels (1080p, 3:30) and Eight Minutes in Hell (1080p, 8:03), this time both with optional commentary, are included. Also available is an alternate ending (1080p, 3:29). Once again, these deleted and extended scenes and alternate ending are preceded by a short introduction with Ben Stiller and editor Greg Hayden (1080i, 1:55). Full Mags (1080p, 11:14) is a magazine's (not of a rifle or pistol, but of film) worth of raw footage shot for the film. The feature is again presented with an optional introduction from Ben Stiller and Greg Hayden (1080i, 0:53). MTV Movie Awards - 'Tropic Thunder' (480p, 4:06) is a hilarious vignette created for the MTV Movie Awards. Concluding the supplements is Paramount's BD-Live functionality, which was not yet available at time of writing.
Tropic Thunder Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Tropic Thunder features a rather unconventional marriage of genres, pairing intense War with over-the-top Comedy, littered with parodic overtones. Nevertheless, the film meshes incredibly well, thanks to the fine assemblage of talent that understands the roles they play and the tongue-in-cheek wit and over-the-top elements that make the film work. Still, Tropic Thunder is not for everyone, but considering that it is no secret that grotesque violence filtered through comedic overtones and crude humor form the cornerstones of the film, audiences turned off by one or both of these elements need not screen the film. For those brave enough to test the waters and discover what Tropic Thunder has to offer, this Blu-ray edition is the way to go. DreamWorks' presentation is fabulous, the disc featuring first-class audio and video quality and a long list of entertaining supplements to make this a can't-miss title that fans will appreciate for years to come, and it is to those fans that this disc comes highly recommended.
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