Tropic Thunder: Director's Cut (Blu-ray)
Directed by Ben Stiller
Is Tropic Thunder controversial? Yeah. Is it hilarious? Absolutely. And the Blu-ray edition of the Director's Cut is almost a top-shelf release. Almost.
It's not easy to make a good movie about the movie industry, and a parody about movies is even trickier.
Some come across as smug and self-absorbed, such as Robert Altman's self-love letter, The Player. Others are disposable trash, a collection of one-liners like the Scary Movie series, which has unfortunately expanded and become the Fill-in-the-Blank Movie series.
On the one hand, Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo sweetly explored the power of movies. On the other hand, his Hollywood Ending was a disastrous piece of nonsense.
Playing up the world's infatuation with celebrities also leads to junk like Ocean's Twelve and America's Sweethearts.
So along comes Tropic Thunder, a "stupid smart," politically incorrect flambé of the movie industry that is presented on Blu-ray in an extended Director's Cut incorporating an additional 14 minutes of footage. The most notable elements are extra gore in the opening sequence, the restoration of the film crew's "One Week Down" party of sheer excess, and extended mayhem scattered throughout. The disc's two commentary tracks help pinpoint the extra footage. Thankfully, quite a bit of the footage is actually good; it's not a cheap marketing ploy that simply slaps on a few tawdry scenes of gore and sex, although those topics play a factor.
Scorched in Satan's Alley
In either its original theatrical version or in this Director's Cut, Tropic Thunder is a highly comprehensive satire from its very first frames, which take the form of a series of fictional pre-movie commercials and trailers.
There's Scorcher, an over-the-top series of action movies starring Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller, Zoolander) in which Earth stops rotating on its axis… again and again. There's The Fatties: Fart Two, the next installment in a series of fat-suit comedies starring Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black, School of Rock) in a multiplicity of roles with flatulence jokes being ripped left and right. And there's Satan's Alley, an erotic drama starring Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man) and Tobey Maguire (winner of MTV"s Best Onscreen Kiss award). And, while you enjoy those movies, don't forget to grab a can of Booty Sweat, the energy drink with a commercial featuring Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson, 8 Mile).
All of that is done to immaculately set the stage for storyline. Tropic Thunder is about the filming of a movie based on the Vietnam War memoir of the same name written by Four-Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte, Hotel Rwanda). The self-absorbed, self-impressed, and self-infatuated stars of those trailers are brought together in what is supposed to be the most epically awesome war adventure ever committed to the medium of celluloid.
Well, that's the goal, but when the reality is they have agents back home fussing over things like the lack of TiVo availability in their talents' posh hotel rooms and other less pressing matters, such as the fact that the director was killed by a real land mine, things go south in a hurry.
Prior to the director's demise, the cast was duped into believing they were going to effectively go "commando" and shoot the movie in a cinema verite style in order to capture more raw, gritty realism.
Unfortunately for them, the thespians find themselves in a real war zone patrolled by real mercenaries and drug runners.
The Great Mistake
Make no mistake about it. Tropic Thunder: Director's Cut is a vicious comedy that lampoons Hollywood and its mysterious ways with a take-no-prisoners gusto.
Another movie within this movie, starring Tugg Speedman as a mentally disabled young man called Simple Jack, was widely reviled as the worst movie ever made. It becomes the topic of conversation between Tugg and Kirk, who advises Tugg that his big mistake was going for the "full retard." That's a no-no on the path to Oscar glory.
As for Kirk Lazarus, he's a blonde-haired, piercingly-steel-blue-eyed Australian who goes to great lengths to bring "reality" to his acting and his character creations (and he is, in turn, played by Downey, Jr., who was born in New York, N.Y.). For Tropic Thunder, Kirk undergoes pigmentation surgery to become a black man.
All the hullabaloo about the controversial jokes and subject matter generated during the movie's theatrical release aside, Tropic Thunder is a movie that serves up laugh-out-loud comedy, the kind that's so juicy it engenders more laughing out loud long after the movie ends. Relish the fact that this movie actually made it through the studio system. Also savor Tom Cruise in an incredibly startling supporting role of complete and utter self-deprecation.
Yes. Actors play roles. And sometimes they make fools of themselves while jumping up and down while professing their love on national TV. Or they get embroiled in poor personal decisions that send their private lives into a sinister downward spiral.
Here, they simply cut loose and yuck it up, thoroughly aware of the ridiculous nature of a business that has afforded them the wild, lavish lifestyles most only get to dream about.
The good news: the supplemental materials are really good. In fact, some of the stuff is so good, it ventures into that rare territory of actually being every bit as entertaining as the movie itself.
The bad news: the BD-Live content is a collection of video clips accessible only via buffered Web playback; they can't be downloaded to a hard drive. The worse news: those features are included on the standard DVD 2-disc set.
Effectively, Blu-ray owners are once again being penalized by Paramount, one week after Secrets of the Furious Five, the Kung Fu Panda direct-to-video sequel, was left off the Blu-ray release. It's unacceptable that the Blu-ray edition should be in any way perceived as less than definitive; that's not how the format will grow in popularity.
Paramount quickly jumped to the head of the Blu-ray class this summer after HD DVD finally met its end. Beowulf, Transformers, Iron Man, the Godfather set, and Crystal Skull are all top-of-the-line Blu-ray titles. Paramount's latest releases, particularly Tropic Thunder and Kung Fu Panda, have been a step backward.
Nonetheless, purely in terms of the quality of the materials here, they’re Grade A. But, instead of a solid four stars for the supplements, thanks to the BD-Live placement of some features it’s four stars with an asterisk.
At the top of the list is Rain of Madness, a 30-minute mockumentary that ranks right up there with This Is Spinal Tap. This one spoofs "making of" documentaries and serves as the perfect companion piece, almost exactly like Hearts of Darkness and Apocalypse Now.
Rain of Madness was originally released as an iTunes video download during Tropic Thunder's theatrical run. One little detail worth pointing out: This spoof of a spoof includes a brief clip from a 1999 Ben Stiller/Jack Black collaboration, Heat Vision and Jack, which features Black in an absurd TV series somewhere along the lines of Six Million Dollar Man meets Knight Rider. This is a hilarious, painfully-detailed piece of work.
In addition to that mini-masterpiece, the cast commentary is an absolute treat. At one point in the movie, the ever-committed Kirk Lazarus says he doesn't "drop character" until he's done the DVD commentary. Well, here Robert Downey, Jr., does indeed stay in character as Osiris, the black soldier he portrays. When the discussion tackles the burning question of how Downey, Jr./Osiris/Lazarus is going to approach his latest role as Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie's upcoming action-oriented take on the literary legend, it's Osiris who says, "It's elementary, my dear Watson," and then he restates the classic line with a very ghetto twist. All the while Stiller and Black simply try to keep it real. It's so unusually entertaining this is one commentary track that should not be missed.
And there's still a lot to go on this set. There's a fairly standard, but informative, filmmaker commentary with Ben Stiller, co-writer Justin Theroux, co-producer Stuart Cornfeld, production designer Jeff Mann, cinematographer John Toll, and editor Greg Hayden. While listening to the track, what appears to be a typo became an unintentional distraction, totally unrelated to any comments being made. As the filming of the opening sequence falls apart, the subtitle "Quang Tri Provence, Vietnam" appears. Hmmm. Shouldn't that be Quang Tri Province? Provence is in southern France. At least they're consistent; the same spelling was used during the faux Access Hollywood sequence.
There's also a large selection of featurettes, totaling around 73 minutes.
The most interesting of the bunch is called Full Mags, which features 11 minutes of raw footage, split screen between Downey, Jr., and Stiller as they repeatedly work through and ad lib their semi-climactic "choose a dude" conversation.
The funniest is a skit from the MTV Movie Awards. Taking place in Stiller's office, he shows off a revised Tropic Thunder one-sheet poster, which now advertises the lead cast of "Panda, Stiller, Iron Man." It plays off the summer's earlier Kung Fu Panda and Iron Man box office successes, predicts The Dark Knight's dominance, then goes down a crude, disgusting path as Stiller tries to create a viral video that"ll meet his nephew's approval.
Before the Thunder is a very funny look behind the scenes while The Hot LZ is a more traditional behind the scenes examination of the making of the opening sequence. Blowing Shit Up is about exactly what the title implies.
Designing the Thunder is another fairly standard behind-the-scenes look at scouting the locations and gets the sets built. The Cast of Tropic Thunder is an above average assembly of featurettes that, through behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and the occasional blooper, gets up close with Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Nick Nolte.
Makeup Test with Tom Cruise is a pretty routine and brief look at just that: Cruise's makeup test, with the twist that during the test is when he introduced his hip hop dance moves.
Finally, there's a collection of Deleted and Extended Scenes that's mostly skippable, particularly in the shadow of the already extended Director's Cut. The scenes each offer an optional audio commentary, which is definitely not noteworthy. The comments mostly introduce and state the obvious. The best ones to check out are Eight Minutes in Hell, an extended version of the heroin camp breakout scene that goes heavy on Apocalypse Now tones, and the alternate ending, which shows the fate of Speedman's agent along with Speedman's Oscar acceptance speech.
The BD-Live content includes Dispatches from the Edge of Madness, a collection of 11 deleted scenes from the Rain of Madness mockumentary. They're all worth a gander, but the segment entitled P.P.S.D. is a must-see. During that one, Kirk Lazarus, suffering from post-performance stress disorder, attempts to exorcise his eldest son in a hotel bathtub. Downey, Jr.'s own commitment to the role is on full, glorious display here.
Also on BD-Live are Full Mags of Danny McBride, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr., as well as a clip of video rehearsals, presented picture-in-picture to show rehearsal footage of the cast in street clothes walking through a sequence in the jungle alongside the final footage.
The BD-Live buffered playback off the Web will likely be a drag for most viewers connecting from home with cable Internet, which is, after all, the most likely scenario. Why wasn't this content simply added to the disc? In addition to the fact that these segments were all included on the standard DVD, it feels like an experiment in conditioning people for online movies and the end of consumer ownership.
If this was the ideal Blu-ray release, it would've included both the theatrical and director's cuts. And the BD-Live footage would've been included on the disc rather than served as streaming playback.
There are none.
Picture and Sound
The chirping on the handling of the BD-Live material aside, this is most definitely a quality presentation of the feature film. The picture holds true from the digital excellence of the fake movie trailers right on through the treacherous tropical adventure of the thespian soldiers.
The English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is also sharp, featuring a nice bass to accompany Cruise's hip hop dance moves, plenty of boom in the explosions, and loads of aural ambience. Also available are 5.1 Dolby Digital French and Spanish tracks.
Optional subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, an d Portuguese.
It's also worth noting that all of the on-disc supplements are presented in high-def, with the exception of the MTV Movie Awards skit.
How to Use This Disc
Should the uninitiated watch Apocalypse Now then Hearts of Darkness or vice versa? Well, in this case anyway, watch Tropic Thunder then Rain of Madness. After that, be sure to access P.P.S.D. via BD-Live and don't forget to revisit the movie with the cast commentary.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.