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DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Tropic Thunder: 2-Disc Director's Cut (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Matt Hough

Tropic Thunder: 2-Disc Director’s Cut
Directed by Ben Stiller

Studio: Dreamworks
Year: 2008
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 121 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99

Release Date: November 18, 2008
Review Date: November 6, 2008


The Film

4/5

Movies about making movies often don’t appeal to mass audiences. With all of the in-jokes and parlance that is sometimes beyond the interest of the moviegoing public, such films can often be turn-offs. Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder sidesteps the usual landmines cleverly by switching up the film’s premise fairly early on, thus turning this action comedy into something much different than it initially seemed it would be. The unrated director’s cut represented on this 2-disc set is too long with a quarter hour of material put back into the film from its theatrical release. This is one time when less (the theatrical cut) is more. The film as seen in this director’s cut runs out of gas long before we get to the end. Too bad seamless branching wasn’t used to allow viewers to return the film to its original 106 minutes if they so desired. The movie is still a lot of fun, but it's now inconsistent fun in its present form.

Five spoiled stars on the set of a Vietnam-set film are ruining production with their various problems and rampant egos. Star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is coming off a horrific flop film and has lost his confidence. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) has a heroin addiction problem which leads to focus issues. Five-time Oscar-winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) never drops character and is a giant pain to his fellow actors, especially Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), a rapper trying to crossover into movies and resentful that the leading African-American role in the film has gone to an Australian (Downey) who's had his skin dyed. Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), the fifth actor, is such a nonentity that none of his fellow actors can even remember his name. Profane movie producer Lee Grossman (Tom Cruise) orders ill-equipped director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) to get the production under control or else, so Cockburn hits on the notion of taking the actors deep into the jungle, away from their lackeys and entourages, and filming their scenes in a cinéma vérité style. Little does he know, however, that real Vietcong are there and ready to pounce on the actors who are equipped only with fake rifles, grenades, and other useless movie props. The actors will have only their wits and some luck to make it back to civilization in one piece.

The movie has been cleverly put together by screenwriters Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, and Etan Cohen, complete with hilarious faux trailers and ads with four of the movie’s stars that begin the film. They have made sure to give each of the actors plenty of screen time to develop their characters amid the chaos and frenzy of the ongoing events, and while it’s a completely goofy and outrageously predictable misfits-rise-to-the-occasion scenario, the fun is there as the actors struggle with becoming something other than their on-screen personas. And director Stiller has staged quite a few wonderful action scenes not only in the absurd movie-within-a-movie opening shots but later on when the situation is supposedly anything but fake. Lots of funny sight gags (watching Star Trek on an ipod, a child sailing through the air, bat wrestling, those hilarious trailers, explosions of every shape and size) and a host of surprisingly effective cameo performances give the entire enterprise a nutty aura that’s completely ingratiating.

Two performers steal the movie completely from the rest of the cast. Robert Downey, Jr. gets to show yet again his versatility in mastering accents and body language in a side-splitting performance as an actor who stays so thoroughly into character that he loses his own persona entirely. And if you finally recognize Tom Cruise’s vile, cocksure Grossman through the bald pate, the lumpy body suit, and the muscular hairy arms, you’ll enjoy his showboating in a role that allows him to spew forth venom and invective that makes his role in Magnolia seem like a kindergarten teacher. Ben Stiller does his usual “lost man finding himself” routine that we’ve seen before, and Jack Black is so over the top with his wiggling jawbone and manic desperation that he often forgets to be funny. Much better is Grossman’s right hand man Rob Slolom played persuasively by Bill Hader. And in extended cameos, Nick Nolte as a raspy "Vietnam vet" whose book forms the basis of the original film and Matthew McConaughey as Rick Peck, Tugg’s agent, both give the picture an added buoyancy with spot-on portrayals.


Video Quality

4.5/5

The anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 transfer features deeply saturated color and excellent sharpness. In fact, sometimes the flesh tones appear a bit too hot though this may have been the look the director was after. Blacks are very deep with obviously deliberate crushing applied in certain jungle scenes. There is some minor pixilation and noise seen here and there, but it never spoils the sharp, clean picture offered here. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio Quality

4.5/5

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is much more active than the usual Hollywood comedy since the action scenes in the picture deserve and get much needed surround involvement. There is deep bass present to give the subwoofer something to do, and some fine panning sounds that make good use of the complete soundfield.


Special Features

4.5/5

Two audio commentaries are available for listening. Ben Stiller spearheads both tracks; in the first he’s joined by various members of the production team and in the second, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. (in character as Kirk Lazarus in his African-American persona). Both tracks are stop and start affairs but each contains enough interesting anecdotes about the filming to make them worthwhile listens.

The second disc contains the majority of the bonus features. All are in anamorphic widescreen unless noted otherwise. An asterisk (*) next to a feature means this feature is available on the single disc edition of Tropic Thunder. The commentary with Stiller, Black, and Downey is also included on the single disc edition.

“Before the Thunder” is a 4 ¾-minute discussion with writers Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux detailing the various ideas they had for the film before working off and on for years on the particular idea that became the final movie.

*“The Hot LZ” spends its 6 ½ minutes with director Ben Stiller talking about the three weeks of shooting that was required for the opening battle footage used in the movie.

*“Blowing Shit Up” is a 6 ¼-minute featurette focusing on the special effects work supervised by FX supervisor Mike Meinardus.

“Designing the Thunder” finds production designer Jeff Mann talking about the intensive three months of work that went into scouting the Kawai locations and the construction of the sets for the film there despite daily monsoons and other natural interferences. This featurette runs 7 ½ minutes.

*Seven members of the cast are given 3-4 minute biographies which can be watched individually or in one 22-minute clump. The actors focused on are Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Nick Nolte.

“Rain of Madness” is a faux 30-minute documentary modeled on Hearts of Darkness in which writer-executive producer Justin Theroux plays German filmmaker Jan Jürgen telling the real story behind the failed epic Tropic Thunder.

“Dispatches from the Edge of Madness” is more silliness with Justin Theroux’s Jan Jürgen discussing his observations behind-the-scenes of Tropic Thunder. The 11 dispatches can be viewed separately or in one 22 ¾-minute chunk.

There are two deleted scenes which can be viewed with optional commentary by director-writer-star Ben Stiller and film editor Greg Hayden.

There are two extended sequences which also can be viewed with optional commentary by Stiller and Hayden or not.

The original ending of the movie seen in previews and (wisely) replaced runs 3 ½ minutes.

*A 4-minute skit for the MTV Movie Awards has some good jokes between Stiller, Black, and Downey. It’s presented in nonanamorphic letterbox.

*“Full Mags” are four complete improvisational sequences which contained one or two good quips used in the finished film. They can be viewed individually or in a 33 ¼-minute group.

The original makeup test for Tom Cruise is seen here in a 1 ¾-minute clip. A variation of this test is used in the film but with slightly different makeup and costume for Cruise.

Two silent sequences are shown as video rehearsals with an accompanying window showing how the scenes look in the finished movie. These run 2 ½ minutes.

The first disc contains preview trailers for The Soloist, Eagle Eye, Van Wilder, and Ghost Town.


In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)

An enjoyable if completely silly comedy with a host of stars doing their thing to usually good effect, Tropic Thunder is a fun time. The two-disc set provides an ample number of bonus features that true fans of the movie will really enjoy.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC
 

Jonny_L

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Nov 6, 2004
Messages
158
Sweet, I caught this at Comic-con and then later in the theater. It's hilarious and probably the only movie I've ever found Jack Black to be really funny in. The whole thing that gets me though is Jay Baruchel, he's really blowing up big. I remember watching him and Elisha Cuthbert on Popular Mechanics for Kids.
 

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