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HTF Blu-Ray Review: Tropic Thunder Director's Cut

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#1 of 2 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

PatWahlquist

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Posted November 19 2008 - 12:50 PM


Tropic Thunder Director's Cut (Blu-Ray)

Studio: Dreamworks Home Video
Rated: Unrated
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; Spanish, French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; English SDH+
Time: 120 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS/DL BD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2008
Blu-Ray Release Date: November 18, 2008

Hollywood is often at its best when it’s lampooning itself. Most of what goes on there is really quite superficial, with everything done in excess to satisfy the ego’s of all involved. In director/ star Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder he takes each of his main characters and skewers and serves them up on a nice hot platter. Stiller’s character, Tugg Speedman, is starring in a big budget, action packed Vietnam pic based on a true story. As the picture begins, Speedman is filming his big scene and in a crucial moment, he and co-star Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) just can’t emulate the emotion they need. The pseudo fourth wall is then breached and the insanity of the production is revealed. The spending on “Tropic Thunder” (the movie playing the movie, if you will) is out of control and its director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is forced by studio head, Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) to take drastic measures to complete the picture.

So he takes his cast, including Speedman, Lazarus, Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) and Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) into the middle of the jungle to shoot guerilla style, with hidden cameras and no craft services. This plan quickly goes bad, and the men are forced to play out the script with no direction or any clue of the true nature of their plight. They cross paths with a revolutionary jungle force that brings the worlds of film and reality crashing together, and only as a team will they make it out alive to act another day.

The cast is tremendous in this picture. Many times you put together this many A-listers and the whole thing goes to hell, as seen on the “Tropic Thunder” set. However, Stiller has a better reign over his actors and each of them shines here. As much as I liked Downey as Tony Stark, this is his best performance this year, as an actor who delves so deep into character he has his pigmentation changed. Downey makes you forget who he is as he barely breaks character, and his portrayal of a black man in the context of the movie is amazing. Jackson provides some PC balance to Downey, but he too is excellent as a product shilling, crossover rapper. I think we are all lead to believe studio heads are crazy in one way or another, and Cruise’s Grossman is no exception. His prosthetics only enhance the funny Cruise delivers here, making me want to see him do more material like it. Tropic Thunder isn’t the funniest movie I’ve seen, but the script by Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohan, put enough characterization in it for the mains that they are able to carry a thin premise. Stiller shows he can handle both the big budget action material and the comedy leaving me hoping this new found refinement continues on to future projects.


Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.

The Blu-Ray disc is encoded in the MPEG-4 AVC codec at 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. As is to be expected, the picture is flawless and free from any dirt or debris, nor is there any edge enhancement or DNR. The picture maintains a very “real world” feel with none of the colors coming off as over-saturated or garish. Flesh tones are excellent and I kept looking for flaws on Downey’s makeup but I did not see any. Detail is good, as is sharpness allowing us to see good separation of jungle foliage and other background items. Black levels are good but they could be a little better as I did not notice a lot of shadow detail.


Audio:
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 provides a very active soundtrack, keeping the rears busy as the picture progresses. Even outside of the action scenes, all five channels are active and they provide a good soundstage. Dialogue is crisp and clear and free from any distortion. LFE’s were excellent as I heard rumbling of some CD’s sitting on my desk at the rear of my theater (my subs are up front). One thing I noticed was that in at least two of the songs, “For What It’s Worth” and “Sympathy for the Devil” that the main vocals seemed to be mixed slightly off center, which seems to be a flaw in the mix as opposed to my set up. Outside of that, panning and directional effects are excellent.


Bonus Material: all items are in HD unless otherwise noted.

Filmmaker Commentary with Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Stuart Cornfeld, Jeff Mann, John Toll and Greg Hayden: the participants talk about the story and the shoot giving a lot of detail into how the picture was made. However, it’s a basic commentary with the usual type of material we’ve heard many times before in these things.

Cast Commentary with Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr.: Black gets in late, and Downey Jr. stays in character. His rap is just as good as what’s in the picture. Stiller talks about some of the extra footage added to this version, extending some scenes, adding more blood and guts, etc. Overall, it’s a good commentary as the guys keep it funny and Black and Downey, Jr. continually take Stiller off his explanation of the film making process of the scene.

Before the Thunder (4:54): Stiller and Theroux and others talk about the rather long genesis of the movie.

The Hot LZ (6:25): Producer Stuart Cornfeld, Stiller and others explain how the picture was shot utilizing the big budget practical and CG effects.

Blowing Shit Up (6:18): the real life counterpart to Danny McBride’s explosive tech explains how they blew up shit.

Designing the Thunder (7:31): the crew discusses all of the locations, specifically in Hawaii.

The Cast of Tropic Thunder (22:12): the seven main cast members, Stiller, Black, Downey, Jr., Jackson, Baruchel, McBride and Nick Nolte are all interviewed to discuss their characters. They’re all pretty funny obviously, especially Black’s comparison of Stiller to “a young Stallone” and his description of the motivation of the water buffalo. Downey, Jr. let’s a little Iron Man spoiler slip and Jackson validates Downey, Jr.’s “costume”.

Make-Up Test with Tom Cruise (2:46): Stiller does a quick intro followed by some video of Cruise practicing his dance moves.

Rain of Madness (30:00): a spoof of the documentary made of the making of “Tropic Thunder”. Think of Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness, but far funnier. Clips of the movie, some of the documentary pieces and more make up the spoof. This is an excellent piece that must be watched.

Deleted Scenes, Extended Scenes, Alternate Ending (11:36): Stiller again introduces all the material along with Greg Hayden, the movie’s editor, then they go on to comment on them. The deleted scene consists of “Water Buffalo Wrestling” (1:35) and “Speedman Unpacking His Backpack” (1:44) with optional audio commentary by Stiller and Hayden. The extended scenes are “Snorkels” (3:30) and “Eight Minutes in Hell” (8:03), both with optional audio commentary. The Alternate Ending (3:29) shows the original ending they tested to deal with Mathew McConaughey agent character. None of it is terribly interesting, or particularly funny which just goes to make the film that much better.

Full Mags (12:07): Stiller and Hayden again give an intro and then the piece and then you can watch dailies of the footage to see the process Stiller and Downey, Jr. went through for the given scene.

MTV Movie Awards: Tropic Thunder (4:06) (SD): this clip was played at the awards show as a spoof of how Stiller, Black and Downey, Jr. thought to market the picture. They all poke fun at each other and it’s a hilarious piece.

BD-Live Features: as I’m writing this they have not activated these features. Once they do I will update the review.


Conclusions:
One of Hollywood’s best parodies covers many easy targets and reaches out to slap around some new ones thanks to a slick script and great performances from the stars. The BD gives us a great AV experience but with some hit-and-miss extras.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#2 of 2 OFFLINE   Keith Paynter

Keith Paynter

    Screenwriter

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  • Join Date: Mar 16 1999

Posted November 19 2008 - 01:00 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by PatWahlquist
[Cast Commentary with Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr.: Black gets in late, and Downey Jr. stays in character. His rap is just as good as what’s in the picture.

"I don't break character until I've done the DVD commentary".

True to his word, and Downey then plays as Lazarus during the awards ceremony, then finally reverts to himself as the credits begin.

What's his motivation? - "I'm the dude playin' the dude disguised as another dude!"

I love this disc... Posted Image
I don't like SPAM!